Church Hopping in Manila – Quiapo, Sta Cruz & Binondo

IF there’s one thing you’ll come across a lot in Manila (other than malls), it’s churches. Not surprising, seeing that 83% of the Philippines (about 84mil people) are Catholics.

The Filipino love for religion isn’t just about praying – it’s a way of life. I mean, when the Pope turned up, a whopping 6mil people came to attend Mass at Rizal Park. That’s like the entire population of Selangor (an entire state) in Malaysia! Mass is a big thing and religious symbols are everywhere – I’ve never seen that many figures/pictures/paintings of Jesus and the saints anywhere else on the planet. Even the Jeepneys have names like ‘God Bless the Philippines’ or  ‘Santa Maria’.

So it would be poor form as a traveler if I didn’t at least drop by to visit a couple of churches – to understand more about how this religion pervades the life of the average Filipino. Also, I had the perfect guide for explaining stuff to me, since E is Catholic


Our first church for the day was Quaipo Church, or the Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene. It is famous as the home of the Black Nazarene, a black statue of Jesus carrying a cross over his shoulder. The church site has been there since the 1500s, even though earlier structures were destroyed in fires/earthquakes. The current building was reconstructed in 1899. It is done in the Baroque style.


Only got one picture in. I think they were having mass so we were told not to take pix.


Exterior of church.


There were a few Black Nazarene statues; some are copies while the original is enshrined in a glass case at the back of the church. Believed to have been carved by a Mexican artist from black wood, it is reputed to be miraculous and was brought to the Phils in a Spanish galleon in the 17th century. Every year, there is a procession to honour the Black Nazarene and thousands of people turn up for the devotion. Some men carry the statue as a way of purging their sins for the year.


The statue’s detailing was exquisite, and it wore a rich dark red gown embroidered with gold stitches, and wore a golden, three-pronged crown. The artist did well with the face – Christ wore a sad yet compassionate expression. I followed what E did : wiped the statue with a cloth and then kissed the feet. It was surprisingly fragrant and smelled like sandalwood, with a velvety, oiled texture.


Devotees lining up in the rain to touch the statue.

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Other side of the church, which had figures of saints lining the walls.


Behind the church was a small chamber with more religious figures.


The original Black Nazarene. The statue’s foot was outside the case and devotees touched, wiped and kissed it for blessing.


At the marketplace outside the church, prayer candles and other paraphernalia were on sale. Rosary beads, figures of Jesus on the cross, Santo Nino (child Jesus), Mother Mary and etc.

But there is a dark side to Quaipo. The streets surrounding the church are a popular spot to find abortion elixirs. Abortions are illegal in the Phils, and people resort to unsafe practices to get rid of their unwanted foetuses. This despite teachings that discourage pre-marital sex; and abortion is definitely a no-no that would earn you a free pass to the fires of hell.

Idk, I find that ironic.

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Our next church was the Santa Cruz church, also done in a Baroque style and built by Jesuits in the 1600s. It was completely destroyed in the Battle of Manila, then rebuilt in 1957. The interior had a Chinese flavour – red lanterns hung at the entrance. Maybe because Chinatown is just nearby.

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Outside Santa Cruz.

Exiting the church, we were assailed by small children selling flower garlands. They were dressed in old, worn out clothes, slippers worn down to thin rubber soles, and looked at us with huge puppy eyes. This was a common sight throughout Manila. It was really sad. Here there were churches and everyday people attending mass, and outside were poor children running around, sniffing glue (we saw a row of them by the streets) and scraping by for a living when they should be in school and getting an education. The contrast is jarring. The tranquil interior of the holy place vs the sweat and tears of poverty stricken people outside.

Sometimes, I wonder.


Our last church for the day was in Binondo, or Chinatown. This looked the grandest among all of the churches we had visited, and it was decked out for a wedding ceremony with white drapes and flowers lining a red carpeted aisle. Founded in 1596 for Chinese converts in Manila, it was destroyed by British bombardment, and then the second world war, before being restored. Once upon a time, it was considered to be the most beautiful church in the Philippines.


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Peddlers selling everlasting flowers,

20160206_133318-tileRed and gray granite facade of Binondo Church.

My church hopping experience in Manila was an interesting one, to say the least. It was an insight into not only a religion, but a way of life for the Filipinos.