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 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.”
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.
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!
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 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.
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.
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!)
More photos here on this slideshow: