Santa Maria de Assunta Church of Ilocos Sur

Santa Maria Church, Ilocos Sur
Santa Maria Church, Ilocos Sur

It was my first time conquering Ilocos Sur, the land of my ancestors (mother side). My primary aim there together with my family was to have the grasp of the heritage that our Filipino ancestors left during the Spanish colonial era. Vigan City was one of them of course, but I have set my eyes towards one of the four baroque churches inscribed in the World Heritage List, the Santa Maria Church or Iglesia de Nuesta Señora de la Asuncion (Simbahan iti Asunta sa Ilokano).

The Grand Staircase at the Northwestern Flanks of Santa Maria Church
The Grand Staircase at the Northwestern Flanks of Santa Maria Church

The Church of Santa Maria or sometimes called Santa Maria de Assunta Church is found at the town of Santa Maria in the province of Ilocos Sur, about an hour away from Vigan City. This magnificent ancient structure is located in the town’s narrow hill overlooking the poblacion (town proper) and its vast plains and hills. The church compound is made up of the church itself, the belfry and the convent in front of it. If you are a Kapamilya fan, you should’ve seen this in their soap opera “Panday.”

Santa Maria Church Hexagonal Belfry, where Jericho Rosales pulled out Pandays sword.
Santa Maria Church Hexagonal Belfry, where Jericho Rosales pulled out Panday's sword.

Built starting in 1810, it was believed to be the place where the Blessed Virgin’s image was frequently found after series of disappearance during the Spanish colonial period. (Sounds very familiar to other stories in the islands as well.) The church was made by the Ilocanos under the supervision of the Agustinian friars (therefore it’s an Agustinian church, same as with the rest of UNESCO’s baroque churches in the country!). The church is dedicated to its patroness Our Lady of Assumption or La Nuestra Señora de la Asuncion.

Just me and Santa Maria church
Just me and Santa Maria church

Upon entering the church, you’ll be greeted by a grand flight of staircases towards the church on top of the hill. It has 83 steps so better have your bottled water ready for those who haven’t had an exercise in a long time!

Grand Staircase of Santa Maria Church
Grand Staircase of Santa Maria Church

The church itself is narrow, made up mostly of red bricks, stone and lime. In detail, the church’s decors on the wall have its floral design. The façade itself, although not intricate, yet simply has a rectangle column with massive circular buttresses on its side soaring towards the urn finials on the top of the pediment. The façade of the church is blocked by a bridge linking the church and the convent some few meters away. The buttresses on its sides serve as its protection against possible collapse. On its northwestern walls, there is a mural of Our Lady…but I heard that this is somehow a more recent addition to the church and not during the construction of the church itself. The narrowness of the hill has somehow made this impressive and massive structure a bit smaller compared to its sisters in Ilocos. However, this factor was one of the reasons why it is one of the most outstanding in its simplicity of its baroque features.

The more recent addition of the relief of Our Lady of Assumption in Santa Maria Churchs walls
The more recent addition of the relief of Our Lady of Assumption in Santa Maria Church's walls

The hexagonal belfry on the other hand is separated from the church itself. One popular theory states that the parish priests tend to move away the belfries to avoid major damages during earthquakes which rattle the country.  It was later remodeled however it began to lean after the foundations have settled…well a bit leaning but it’s still safe to go there though.

The eastern staircase leading to an abandoned Spanish colonial era cemetery, Santa Maria, Ilocos Sur
The eastern staircase leading to an abandoned Spanish colonial era cemetery, Santa Maria, Ilocos Sur

Because of its uniqueness in execution of the baroque architecture, culture and historical value, it was designated as a national landmark by the National Historical Institute during 1970’s and was finally designated as part of the World Heritage List by 1994. Truly, it is a landmark that Ilocanos are proud and behold of. Too bad I had a short time and the church was closed…haven’t seen the interiors of the church.

The UNESCO World Heritage Marker at Santa Maria, Ilocos Sur...and its fading!
The UNESCO World Heritage Marker at Santa Maria, Ilocos Sur...and its fading!

Going there:

We went there upon returning from our trip to Vigan. Again, its about an hour away either by private or public buses. The most convenient way for you to access Santa Maria are Ilocos-bound buses such as Farias, Partas, Viron bus lines that serve either Laoag, Vigan in Ilocos or Bangued in Abra.  The fare directly to Santa Maria is probably approximately between PhP 400 to PhP 500 one way and its about 7 hours trip from Manila. (Well, last year, it was a grueling 14 hour ride, almost all of the cars in Metro Manila I think left for the provinces, and major traffic jams that lasted for miles occurred in Dau, Tarlac and most especially Rosales-Villasis-Urdaneta area!)

View of Santa Maria tpwn proper and several of its seven hills
View of Santa Maria town proper and several of its seven hills

More photos here on this slideshow:

Bernardo Arellano III

Berniemack Arellano, is the blogger behind HabagatCentral and ViajeroFilipino. A simple and boring guy who wants to go amok whenever he’s being prevented going somewhere else. Traveler, Blogger, Food Lover, Proud Pinoy, Mexiphile, Isko ng Bayan, Passion with History and Urban Planning, FSX Pilot and future professional cartographer Since birth, he has been traveling due to the transient nature of the work of the father: NPA for short (no permanent address) or a nomad. Prefers to do more than just sightseeing, but experience anything local--from food, festivals, cities, culture, heritage and more.

  • http://www.lawstude.net Lawstude

    ang ganda ng church. i’ll check that out when i return to ilocos. i always say that ilocos has the best churches in luzon.

  • http://www.habagatcentral.com Berniemack Arellano

    Ako nga eh, bitin na bitin sa Ilocos trip ko. I like to come back there…

  • neilbino

    im so excited……were going there on april 12….yahooooo!!!!!!!

  • jerome

    ganda ng mga churches ng nuestra senora de la assuncion sa phil. another church ng assumpta ay sa bulakan bulacan na 500 years na..^_^..2nd oldest church sa bulacan, mas matanda p sa barasoain church..hehe..na isa sa 3 simbahan sa pilipinas na may ngdudugtong na tuloy mula sa simbahan going to kampanaryo..share lang..thanks pu..^_^

  • arkinizta

    Hello Mr. Historian., your details about the baroque church in Santa Maria satisfies me well, as a student i need an actual site visit to make my report interesting so that my information i’ll be presenting to my classmates would answer their queries and consciousness as well… I should pursue going Vigan tomorrow..

    Thank You so much…God Bless!

  • dheygriegoenriquez

    My mom’s hometown was Sta. Maria Ilocos Sur from the TUZON and Darang Family. Hindi lang ang Sta Maria church ang maganda dyan. next time you visit there try mo puntahan ang Pinsal falls! :)
    http://dheygriegoenriquez.blogspot.com/2012/05/trip-to-pinsal-falls.html?spref=fb 

  • Pao

    What time did you take the pics of the church?

  • http://www.habagatcentral.com Berniemack Arellano

    Thanks for dropping by Pao. It was around noon time already.