I am very much amazed by the sheer number of old-churches the Philippines has. I have been to many, and as a matter of fact, I make sure that whenever I go to any road trip that I get to visit at least one of them at my destination. Of the hundreds of old-style churches that we have here, only four of them are recognized by UNESCO (United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization: an agency of the United Nations that promotes education and communication and the arts) as World Heritage Sites.
Located in the sleepy town of Paoay in Ilocos Norte, the San Agustin church boasts of high and thick walls serving as its fortress. With a beautiful structure to die for, visiting this one is a must. Your trip to Ilocos wouldn’t be complete without visiting the marvelous Paoay Church.
I’ve been to the Northern part of Luzon a couple of times in the past – one during my 2009 Northern Luzon Loop, and another one on a booked van tour 8 years ago. I did enjoy both trips although I felt there was something missing and they were somewhat rushed. Maybe the missing thing is visiting one of the most beautiful churches we have here in the Philippines. And that is the Paoay Church – officially named The Church of Saint Augustine. I have always been fascinated by old churches but visiting a church that is recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site makes it even more special, as we only have four in the Philippines.
From Manila to Northern Luzon
It will never be an easy journey from Manila to the Northern part of Luzon if you will be bringing a small bike. The first thing is because of the distance. Depending on your route and side trips, a trip to Paoay from kilometer zero will yield an approximate 470 to 500 kilometers more on your odometer – and that is only one half of the trip, mind you. The second challenge would be the exhaustion you will get from the trip. There is basically nothing to see when travelling via MacArthur Hi-way from Valenzuela to Bulacan. What is even more exhausting is the heavy traffic you will encounter along the way – and this includes the ubiquitous jeepneys that would stop at the middle of the road to load and unload passengers, tricycles making sudden u-turns, and the like. Maybe more than being physically draining, going thru that may be more mentally draining for the average rider. But I guess it is not too bad after all as you will be rewarded with great views and your grand prize – being able to visit one of the most beautiful and majestic churches you will see in the Philippines – Paoay church.
The road is long but it will all be worth it
Since Ilocos Norte is basically the northernmost province in the north western part of Luzon, the distance alone will ensure that you will have a full day’s travel ahead of you, one full day at least. I left Manila at almost 4 AM on a Sunday to give me a worry-free trip. I tried to break down my journey to Ilocos Norte into two parts so as not to rush my trip and risk my safety. By having enough time to travel safely at a controllable pace, the less hazardous an epic ride like this would be. On the first day, I travelled almost 300 kilometers to La Union via the more scenic route in Pangasinan, passing through the town of Manaoag, before settling down by 5 pm somewhere in Bauang, La Union. I even got to visit the famed Our Lady of Manaoag Shrine in Pangasinan en route to my first day destination. By the 2nd day, I would only have to cover an easier 200 kilometer trip on a leisurely pace.
I was fortunate enough to reach Paoay by lunch time and on a week day. That meant that I had the place basically all to myself. Although the temperature was very hot, I barely noticed it out the sheer excitement I had when I reached Paoay.
It is surely worth a visit. As I got there, there were no people around. But even if the place is to be filled with tourists, I still believe that the parking spaces there would be more than adequate as the compound is so huge that it would not fit the lens of my camera.
One of 4 Baroque Churches recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site
According to Wikipedia, Paoay Church is the Roman Catholic parish church of the municipality of Paoay, Ilocos Norte in the Philippines. Completed in 1710, the church is famous for its distinct architecture highlighted by the enormous buttresses on the sides and back of the building. In 1993, the church was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site as one best examples of the Baroque Churches of the Philippines.
Paoay church is prime example of Earthquake Baroque architecture, which is the Philippine interpretation of the European Baroque adapted to the seismic condition of the country. Destructive earthquakes are common and have destroyed earlier churches all throughout the country. Aside from Baroque, the church facade also exudes Javanese architecture reminiscent of Borobudur of Java.
The town of Paoay was originally called “Bombay” as the earliest inhabitants believed to have come from India. The earliest historical record of the area dates back to 1593, becoming an Augustinian independent parish in 1686. Building of the present church was started in 1694 by Augustinian friar Father Antonio Estavillo, and it was completed in 1710.
Parish founded by Augustinian Missionaries in 1953. Cornerstone of Church laid in 1704; of convent 1707; of tower, 1793. Used before completion and kept in repair by the people under the joint auspices of the church and the town officials. Inauguration ceremonies, February 28 1896. Church damaged by Earthquake,in 1706 and 1927. Tower used as observation post by Katipuneros during the revolution, by Guerilleros during the Japanese occupation.
The Paoay Church, along with La Nuesta Senora de la Asuncion Church in Santa Maria, Ilocos Sur, Church of Santo Tomas de Villanueva in Miag-Ao, Iloilo, and the San Agustin church in Intramuros, Manila are the 4 Baroque churches recognized by UNESCO as World Heritage Sites.
With the other 3 scattered in Luzon and Visayas, make sure to visit Saint Augustine Church in Paoay when you get the opportunity to visit the Northern part of Luzon.
Paoay Church is a marvel in itself. Recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the exteriors of the church are just amazing. Even from afar, you’ll be awestruck by its sheer beauty and majesty. You may even feel that you were taken back in time. The stone buttresses have had its share of destruction from weather and the times, but generally it has been well-kept all throughout these years. Definitely a sight to behold, it is a fusion of Spanish architecture and native materials. This church was built by the Augustinian friars during the Spanish colonization of the Philippines. The layers of the church’s exteriors have history written all over it. Built with bricks, corals, and lumbers which are still preserved up to this day, it is just so uniquely done and just by looking at it you would be able to say that is definitely standing strong. There is a reason why it is classified as an “Earthquake Baroque Architecture” and that is because it is earthquake proof, and can withstand the test of time. So far it has.
The street in front of the church has been kept cobble-stoned to give you that old world vibe. There is also a big garden that encloses the church and the huge bell tower, which makes it all the more beautiful. This is one of the must see places for the history buffs out there. Visiting for the first time, I wish to be back in this place very soon as surely it would be one that would be worth remembering due to its beauty.
The interior of the church is somewhat the same as the other old churches you will see in other provinces. It is not as impressive as the Miag-Ao church in Iloilo, nor does it have an ostentatious altar you would typically in a church this huge. It would be only fair to say that all throughout the years, it has been kept simple. The simplicity of the interior will give you a feeling of solemnity as it will help your weary soul to rest and reflect. I just hope that they can bring back the historical features inside the church, as it is a World Heritage Site in the first place. Do not fret though, as the exterior of the church would still more than make up for everything.
There are also small souvenir shops at the back of the church selling bags, foods, shirts with Ilocos Norte and Paoay prints, and other pasalubongs you could take home to your loved ones. This is also the place where in you could try out the famous Pinakbet Pizza of Ilocos at Herencia Cafe.
While the focus of this trip was to visit Paoay Church, I also had the opportunity to visit the other beautiful places in the north (which will be showcased in a future Northern Loop series here in Inside Racing Magazine) and most of them were near Paoay. Some of the other places I visited in Ilocos Norte that were equally interesting were: Fort Ilocandia in Laoag, Sand Dunes in Paoay, Riverside Empanadaan in Batac, Marcos Museum and Mausoleum in Batac, Cape Bojeador Lighthouse in Burgos, Patapat Viaduct in Pagudpud, among others.
I definitely enjoyed authentic Ilokano food.
The Paoay Church is definitely worth a visit if you are in the Philippines. Mind you, this church could be more than just a side trip, it could be the highlight of your trip – whether as an important part of your Northern Luzon Loop itinerary, or as a single destination road trip – it will be worth it anyway.While it looks to be very sturdy and stunningly beautiful, places like this won’t last forever and should be enjoyed while they are still standing. I recommend you guys to visit this place at least once in your life time, the experience will be sufficiently good. As I have been saying every time, the Philippines has a lot to offer, is very beautiful, and every road trip will be an adventure.
– Erik Gatmaitan is the author of https://www.pinoyrider.com – Journeying the Philippines SOLO on a motorbike.
Follow his adventures on his website or through his Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/PinoyRider