Church-hopping at Rizal Countryside

Easter Sunday just came to a close. So in light of the Lenten season, I’d like to share some pictures of my family’s little Catholic road trip around the much unexplored countryside of my home province of Rizal. While we wanted to visit a total of fourteen churches to complete the Stations of the Cross (Via Crucis) for Visita Iglesia, I still think we came up with a pretty decent number in less than a day of driving around and getting lost.


Visita Iglesia
, which translates literally to “church visit” in Spanish, means to explore churches with prayer, meditation and full acknowledgement of Jesus’ sufferings. It is a Holy Week tradition of Roman origin, which is practiced by a number of Filipino Christians by visiting at least seven churches usually starting Maundy Thursday.

Our province, which is just east of of Metro Manila and subdivided into thirteen municipalities and a city, is named after the country’s national hero Jose Rizal. Personally, this place evokes simple, provincial charm with small dashes of Manila-like urbanity scattered all over its generally mountainous terrain. There are many Catholic Churches and religious destinations spread out in Rizal, here’s nine:

1. Our Lady of Antipolo Shrine – Antipolo City
P. Oliveros St., Antipolo City 1870 Rizal
Call 697-0274/696-3110
Parish Priest: Most Rev. Gabriel V. Reyes, DD

The Antipolo cathedral, which was built by Rev. Juan de Salazar, is home to the miraculous virgin of Antipolo–known to many as the Our Lady of Peace and Good Voyage (Nuestra Señora dela Paz y Buenviaje). It is said that the religious icon saved the Spanish galleon “El Almirante” not only from the destruction brought by fire and the seas, but also by pirates and British and Dutch blockades.

This church is the seat of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Antipolo (formerly Archdiocese of Manila), which includes the expanse of the whole Rizal province, Marikina City and a section of Pasig in Metro Manila.

2. St. Rose de Lima Parish – Teresa, Rizal
Brgy. San Gabriel, Teresa 1880 Rizal 
Call 344-1153
Parish Priest: Rev. Fr. Bienvenido C. Miguel, Jr.

Named after its patron saint St. Rose of Lima, the church used to be a mere kamalig-like structure (Tagalog word for barn) that was destroyed during the Japanese occupation. After the country’s liberation, the old chapel was reconstructed and eventually replaced by the larger church to accommodate the growing number of Catholic faithful.

According to its marker, there was a legend of a woman thought to be St. Rose who was seen walking around the fields when the image of the patroness was lost. When the image finally reappeared on the chapel’s altar, traces of amor seco (love grass), a kind of perennial weed, was seen on its clothing.

3. St. Jerome Parish – Morong, Rizal
Turentigue St., Brgy. San Jose, Morong 1960 Rizal 
Call 653-1259
Parish Priest: Rev. Fr. Lopito P. Hiteroza

Undeniably one of the town’s more popular landmarks, the church, which is sometimes referred to as Iglesia de San Geronimois a neo-baroque architectural stunner with a school adjacent to its left and a view of the Morong skyline.

Built by Chinese craftsmen in 1615, the newer parish replaced the first church that was destroyed by a fire in 1612. The frontispiece and the bell tower were built by one Bartolome Palatino of Paete sometime between 1850-1853.

St. Jerome’s is famous for its impressive facade, octagonal belfry– whose large bell’s lifting reportedly still remains a mystery because of the seemingly impossible ascent through the church’s narrow staircase–and the bullet holes and pockmarks on the church walls left by a gun battle between Spanish Guardia Civil and Katipuneros (Filipino insurgents) during the 1896 Spanish Revolution.

4. St. Joseph Husband of Mary Parish – Baras, Rizal
San Jose St., Brgy. San Juan, Baras 1970 Rizal 
Call 330-1598
Parish Priest: Rev. Fr. Romarico V. Hilario

Dating back to 1595, St. Joseph was the first church to have been built by the Franciscan order in Baras and is one of the oldest in the region. Made from dark adobe, it has balustrade trimmings atop its belfry and near the cross on the triangular pediment, a seeming checkerboard for a wall exterior and tiles from the Intramuros ruins. The interior is home to rich contrasts, like the golden fixtures against the exposed wooden beams.

During a renovation in the late 1960s, a huge stone altar was said to have been discovered underneath the sanctuary. The altar, which is presently used along with the sanctuary, sacristy, church interiors, facade, grotto, roof and columbary, has been preserved and restored.

5. San Ildefonso de Toledo Parish – Tanay, Rizal
MH DEL Pilar St., Tanay 1980 Rizal
Call 654-1015
Parish Priest: Rev. Fr. Noeh E. Elnar 

Located at the heart of Tanay, this 405-year-old church has bore witness to a number of interesting historical events.

Named after Archbishop Ildefonso of Toledo, Spain, the Church of Tanay was initially built as an independent parish in 1606 and later on transferred to San Antonio, with its thatched roof made only of cogon grass and wood. The present church was completed in 1783. Fransciscan lay brother Fray Pedro de Talavera, who founded a mission in Pantay, served as the first priest.

Story goes that the aged icon of La Purisima Concepcion (which translated loosely refers to the image of “immaculate conception” of Mary) was the only survivor of a Church fire. Hostile Aetas, who were indigenous inhabitants of the area of Monte Tan-ay, gutted the church and forced the Spanish regiment of one Captain Juan de Salcedo to immediately retreat.

The miraculous image, which was reportedly discovered and attacked by spears by Chinese rebels during an uprising, supposedly caused the spears to rebound and kill the men. The lone surviving rebel allegedly committed suicide after witnessing the event, hence the site “Pinagbigtihan” (Place of Hanging) in the area.

San Ildefonso is also among the five Jubilee churches of the Antipolo Diocese.

6. Parokya ni Santa Maria Magdalena – Pililia, Rizal
Brgy. Imatong, Pililla 1910 Rizal
Call 654-4836; 654-2881 
Parish Priest: Rev. Fr. Jose Victor D. Nepomuceno

Also known as the St. Mary Magdalene Parish, the parish’s inscription recounts how Franciscan priests first ordered the construction of the church in 1583 under the patronage of St. Mary Magdalene using cogon and bamboo. This led to a better and improved infrastructure but a fire burned down the first church in 1632, and eventually gave way to the building of a stone church sometime 1670-1673.

Outside, the marked difference between the belfry and upper, and lower bodies of the church is noticeable. Inside, the entire stretch of the church’s wooden ceiling against the colorful tiles leading up to the altar easily draws one’s eyes towards the equally impressive golden altar and sacristy, while the ceiling-high stained-glass windows illuminate the interior with various shades and hues.

7. St. Michael the Archangel Parish – Jalajala, Rizal
Ciriaco Villaran St., Brgy. 1st District, Jalajala 1990 Rizal 
Call 401-4858
Parish Priest: Rev. Fr. Gerald G. Metal

Named after the archangel and patron saint of Jalajala, St. Michael the Archangel Parish seems a tad out of place in this list of big and aged Church destinations. It is a small church, as opposed to all aforementioned, but it is also the only Catholic church in the area (well…probably in its barangay).

After getting lost, God or probably our guardian angels pointed us to this place to find our former parish priest and now St. Michael’s primary steward, Fr. Gerald Metal, to ask him for directions.

Residents of Jalajala celebrate the archangels’ feast day through fiestas (town festivities) and fluvial parades annually. They generally regard the angel–whose famous armored image is usually seen wielding a sword (sometimes, a spear) and crushing Satan–as having brought them various miracles, such as interceding to help save them from the havoc brought by gusting wind and heavy rains of recent typhoons.

8. Regina RICA Sanctuary – Tanay, Rizal 
Sitio Aguho, Brgy. Sampaloc, Tanay, Rizal
Call 985-3878; 401-2036
Open 8-5PM, closed on Tuesdays

This place took probably most of our time with maps and random directions-asking from strangers–aside from Sta. Ursula Parish in Binangongan, which we found closed, unfortunately, after we drove around countless times due to the one-way streets. Sitting at the peak of the mountains of Tanay, Regina Rosarii Institute for Contemplation in Asia or Regina RICA (which translated means “rich lady”)  is home to the 71 ft-tall statue of the Regina Rosarii (Queen of the Holy Rosary), also known as “Our Lady on Top of the Hill”. Masterfully sculpted by Jose Barcena Jr., the icon’s construction started on October 7, 2009. It was blessed on March 19, 2010.

The 13.5 ha land, which is managed by the Dominican sisters of Regina Rosarii, holds the second of three Regina Rosarii statues in the Philippines and is blessed with three waterfalls, organic gardens, a creek, an endless view of blue skies, gorgeous flowers and greenery, rolling hills and a huge chapel on the road to completion (and lots, lots more). Do check out the Pasilungan (Ilonggo for “shelter), Kakahuyan (Tagalog for “woods) and the Sulod (which in Ilonggo stands for “enter”) and other similar spots within the compound.

Aside from its iconic statue (and stunning gate), which impressively draws tourists and pilgrims, this sanctuary is held to be a place reserved for retreats and healing. The security is quite particular with the dress code, smoking, noise and picture-taking so yes, please follow the signs. And make sure you gas up before going there! Gas stations in the area are very far and few between.

9. Our Lady of the Holy Rosary Parish – Cardona, Rizal
Cardona 1950 Rizal 
Call 652-0019
Parish Priest: Rev. Fr. Bonifacio V. Chavez, Jr.

Just fronting the Municipal Hall of Cardona, the parish of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary is part of the Vicariate of St. Jerome and a place of worship for the predominantly Catholic municipality. The cross sitting atop its bell tower glows bright blue and usually lights up the night sky. The church is also currently under the stewardship of Fr. Bonifacio Chavez, Jr.

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