Miag-ao’s Church of Santo Tomas de Villanueva: One of the Baroque Churches of the Philippines

The Miag-ao Church or the Church of Santo Tomas de Villanueva is a Roman Catholic church built in 1787 by Spanish Augustinian missionaries  in the municipality of Miag-ao, in the province of Iloilo, the Philippines.

I went here on August 30, 2013 at 2:55 p.m. with my old office mates, Aileen, Chenie, and Lindsay. This was during my first time in Iloilo, the 25th province on my list.

Miag-ao Church

Miag-ao Church


Buttress of Miag-ao Church

Buttress of Miag-ao Church

The present Miag-ao Church is actually the third church constructed in the town. The first two churches wre built in Ubos, due to frequent piratical raids, it was transferred to Tacas, the highest elevated area in the municipality.

Construction of the present church was started on a Saturday, the town’s market day, in December 1786 and was completed in 1787.

By virtue of P.D. 260, 1 August 1973 as amended by P.D. 375, 14 January 1974, Miag-ao Church was was declared as a National Landmark.

In 1993 it was listed by the UNESCO as one of the World Cultural Heritage Sites along with three other churches (San Augstin Church, Santa Maria Church, and Paoay Church) known collectively as the Baroque Churches of the Philippines.


Miag-ao ChurchMiag-ao Church shows various design, a mix of Hispano-American and Medieval Sapnish architecture with local as well as Muslim and Chinese touches. It is predominantly baroque-Romanesque, like the other Spanish-era churches in the country.

It was built from yellowish sandstones quarried from Sitio Tubog in San Joaquin and in the mountains of the Igbaras. According to miagao.gov.ph, the church sinks six (6) meters deep into the ground with walls one-and-a-half (1 1/2) meters thick and buttresses thrice thicker in size.

Its facade employs is decorated witha relief sculpture of Saint Christopher carrying the Christ child on his shoulder clinging to a coconut tree and surrounded by papaya and guava trees. A large stone image of Saint Thomas of Villanova, parish patron saint, dominates the center. Supporting the facade are the twin belfries, one towering two-storeys and the other three-storeys high.

Inside, a carved life-size statues of the Pope and Saint Henry with their coat-of-arms above them flank the main entrance while the interior of the church’s arched ceiling is highlighted by a striking gold-plated retablo.

NHCP Marker

The NHCP historical marker reads:

Construction of this church began in 1787 while Fray Francisco M. Gonzales O.S.A. was parish priest of this town and Domingo Libo-on was Gobernadorcillo. The church was completed in 1797. It served as fortress against Muslim raiders. In 1898, during the revolution, the church was destroyed. Subsequently rebuilt it was damaged by fire in 1910. It was damaged by earthquake in 1948. Restoration work  began in 1960 and completed in 1962. During the term of office of most Rev. Dr. Jose Ma. Cuenco, D.D., Metropolitan Archbishop of Jaro, of Msgr. Fernando s. Javillo, O.P., Parish priest of this town and Dioscoro Mueda, Municipal Mayor.

Miag-ao Fortress Church

Interior of Miag-ao Church

Interior of Miag-ao Church

Miag-ao Church and its towers were built with thick walls and, reportedly, secret passages possibly for two reasons. First, it helps defend the town and its people against the occasional attacks of Muslims. Noting that the first church in Miag-ao was burned by Muslim raiders in 1741. Second, the location of the Philippines along the Pacific Ring of Fire called for the emphasis on the buttresses and foundations.



How to get to Miag-ao Church

From Kalibo International Airport, take a five-hour bus or van ride going to Iloilo City then take a jeepney going to Miag-ao from the Mohon Terminal in Molo District or from the Iloilo Terminal Market (“super”).

From San Jose Airport in the capital of the Province of Antique, take a one-hour bus or van ride going to Iloilo City and tell the driver to drop you off at Miag-ao. Miag-ao is around 58 kilomenters from San Jose.

From Iloilo International Airport in Cabatuan, take a van going to Iloilo City. The van will drop you off at SM City Iloilo. From there, take a jeepney going to Miag-ao from the Mohon Terminal in Molo District or from the Iloilo Terminal Market (“super”). Travel time is 30-45 minutes. Miag-ao is located roughly 40 kilometers southwest of Iloilo City.

Miag-ao Church

Barangay Tacas, Miag-ao
Iloilo, Philippines

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