Manila Cathedral

7 churches to visit for a historical tour of Intramuros

Ornate carvings and intricately-painted ceilings are just some of the things you’ll see as you tour the churches of Intramuros. Each church has a story to tell, whether it be about how it survived the bombings of World War II or how old ruins paved the way for new buildings.

More than a week ago, my camera crew and I were the first media group to visit the seven places after the Department of Tourism (DOT) started promoting Intramuros for faith-based tourism. You can watch my report (featuring DOT and Ivan Man Dy of Old Manila Walks) in Filipino here or read about the seven churches in English below.

San Agustin Church – While it may not look as opulent outside, the inside of San Agustin Church is a treasure trove of Filipino workmanship and religious art. The ceilings are painted in a way that it looks 3-D while the museum houses hundreds of antique furniture and paintings, including the oldest pipe organ in the Philippines. The reason why it was mostly unharmed during World War II? According to Johann Ararao of the Intramuros Administration, it was made into the headquarters of the Red Cross and housed injured patients. Because of this, the church was spared and has stayed in its mostly original form since the Spanish colonial period. (Click on the pictures to see larger versions)

San Agustin Church in Intramuros

San Agustin Church in Intramuros

Manila Cathedral – The Manila Cathedral was not as lucky. It has been damaged seven times during wars and earthquakes until it was reconstructed years after the war under the supervision of architect Fernando Ocampo. It houses the biggest pipe organ in Southeast Asia and is known for its beautiful stained glass windows.

Manila Cathedral

Manila Cathedral


Chapel of Our Lady of Guadalupe – The third on my list is a chapel that will only be opened to the public on Holy Thursday and Good Friday. It used to be an outpost of soldiers defending the borders of Manila. It was transformed into a chapel in 1991 for the devotees of Our Lady of Guadalupe. For now, it is open once a month for the devotees. It is an extremely opportune time to visit it in Fort Santiago. If you have visited Fort Santiago during the Manila Biennale, you might have seen a tunnel that housed old dolls in cages (creepy but quite interesting as a symbol of the children of war). The end of the tunnel apparently leads to the chapel which is often closed to the public because it is in the middle of a golf course!


Knights of Columbus Fr. Willmann Chapel – Though small and simple, the church serves as a solemn place to pray and reflect, away from the hordes of tourists pacing the aisles of San Agustin and Manila Cathedral. It is just across the gate once you enter the compound of the Order of the Knights of Columbus.


Mission House – The Mission House used to be known as the San Ignacio Church ruins. San Ignacio was among the many churches reduced to rubble during the war. Today, they are building a new church for the site. While that is underway, they plan to turn the first floor of Mission House into a prayer room for those who will visit Intramuros for Visita Iglesia.


Mapua University Chapel – We didn’t have the time to get clearance and visit the chapel inside Mapua University but it will be open to the public for Holy Thursday and Good Friday. It is important because the school is standing where the San Francisco Church used to be. The church was damaged by earthquakes in the 1800s before it was destroyed during the Battle of Manila. Outside the school is a signage that tells of the brief history of the once majestic church.
 Lyceum of the Philippines Chapel – Like the one in Mapua University, the chapel inside Lyceum will be open during Holy Week.


Trivia: Ivan Man Dy says that several Intramuros landmarks have replaced Spanish colonial churches, including the Lourdes Church, which is now the Silahis Antique shop and Ilustrado restaurant; the Recoletos Church that is now the Manila Bulletin office; and the majestic Santo Domingo Church, which is now the BPI building.

Coincidentally, I have also featured the current Santo Domingo Church for another Visita Iglesia report for Bandila. I’ll post about it and other QC churches later.

Here’s a map of the seven places. The Fr. Willmann chapel is near San Agustin Church while the Our Lady of Guadalupe Chapel is inside Fort Santiago.

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