Seven Churches To Visit in Tarlac and Pampanga

One of the many traditions done by Catholics during the Lenten season is the visita iglesia, where you visit seven churches in one day and pray in each of them.

There is nothing wrong though with visiting churches within our area of vicinity, however, for a change why not, this time, visit churches you may have never visited? This experience is not only a form of prayer, but it also doubles as an opportunity to explore new places especially to anyone who is interested with travel.

It’s exactly what La Isla Tours, Inc. Is offering this Holy Week. It has prepared two tour packages for interested participants who may want to visit churches around the Philippines, one on the 8th of April (Tarlac and Pampanga) and another on the 12th of April (Cavite).

To anyone interested in visiting Tarlac and Pampanga, you may want to check out some of these churches in these provinces. ↓

1. Shrine of St Josemaría Escrivá

The Shrine of St Josemaría Escrivá, located in Gerona, Tarlac, is the first church in Asia dedicated to Opus Dei founder St. Josemaría Escrivá. One of the most recent churches in the Philippines, it was established on February 24, 2003 by Tarlac Bishop Florentino Cinense. He decreed 11 years later, before some 2000 people at the already-completed church, that the parish will be the diocesan shrine of St Escrivá. Its first Parish Priest was installed on March 3, 2003.

Saint Josemaría Escrivá de Balaguer y Albás (1902–1975) was a Spanish priest who started Opus Dei, a Catholic organization with its mission to teach that everyone is called to holiness and that one can be sanctified through ordinary living. Opus Dei is Latin for “work of God”. It is for that reason that St. Escrivá became known as the “Saint of the Ordinary” and is recognized and venerated by Christians of different social classes, particularly the working class. He was canonized in 2002 by St. John Paul II, who declared that St. Escrivá should be “counted among the great witnesses of Christianity.”

Bishop chose St. Escrivá for the parish for his “ordinariness of life”, a virtue that has been demonstrated among residents of Tarlac. Said of the church’s development, “Many of the inhabitants here are farmers and they could not give much of what they have [materially]; but what they do have in abundance is work”.

It did resonate well with the establishment of the parish, as evident by its stunning façade and innovative architectural features. Fr. Alex Bautista, a renovations consultant at CBCP (Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines) and an architecture professor at the University of Santo Tomas, was perhaps the person behind the visual masterpiece that is the Shrine of St Josemaría Escrivá.

The church introduces an innovative concept – a feature known as a “drive-through Blessed Sacrament”. A window was installed at the back of the church,allowing drivers and passengers to view and pray at the Blessed Sacrament without leaving the car. From temporary barangay facilities, it now became “one of the most aesthetically notable churches in the diocese of Tarlac”.


2. Cathedral of San Sebastian

The San Sebastian Cathedral, also known as the Tarlac Cathedral, lies at the heart of Tarlac City. Located in Brgy. Mabini, it is a post-war, Neo-Gothic church with a fairly rich history.

The cathedral was said to be established in 1686 by priests from Magalang, Pampanga, dedicating it to Saint Sebastian. Augustinians took control of the parish until the 1720s when Tarlac separated from its distant matrix and hence became an independent parish. It was however annexed back to Magalang in 1757.

The first parochial building was attributed to Father Agustin Barriocanal in 1740. Later, Father Baltasar Gamarra erected a wood and stone structure in 1872. Father Tomas Fito continued the structure in 1875 and Father Fermin Sardon completed it in 1890, with the completed church said to have been identical to the church of Concepcion. The church was completely destroyed during World War II in 1945, resulting to its reconstruction to its present structure.

The Tarlac Cathedral was once the site of the Revolutionary Congress and the “Literario-Scientifico” Universidad of Malolos in Bulacan. The latter, known for being the highest Filipino seat of learning, was transferred to the cathedral when it was formerly the Tarlac Catholic Convent in the late 1880’s. The first graduation ceremonies were held inside the convent in 1890. At present, the cathedral is the seat of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Tarlac.


3. Monasterio de Tarlac

One of Tarlac’s most visually enticing points of interest is the Monasterio de Tarlac, which sits atop Mount Resurrection in the town of San Jose. Besides being a church, it also doubles as a tourist attraction. Elevated 300 meters above sea level, the monastery is best known for its Relic of the True Cross, enshrined in the monastery’s chapel, and for its colossal statue of the Risen Christ. The Monasterio de Tarlac is among the most recent churches established in the Philippines, with its construction having only been concluded in the year 2000. It is already considered to be recent for a monastery, unlike others which were centuries old.

The Relic of the True Cross, which may be said as ‘miraculous’, has an interesting story dating back to the days of St. Helena. She found three crosses while digging under Calvary Hill in Jerusalem. One of them revived a dying woman; hence that cross was declared to be the “True Cross”. At present, the relic is housed in an ornate golden box under the church altar, and faithful Christians are only allowed to touch the box after every mass. However an open veneration of the relic is held every January and September, commemorating its enshrinement and the anniversary of the Servants of the Risen Christ.

Besides the Relic of the True Cross, Monasterio de Tarlac also has a 278-hectare Tarlac Ecotourism Park, surrounded by the calming fresh air coming for the mountain, among others. But the 30-foot colossal statue of Jesus Christ stood out from other areas in the monastery. Overlooking Tarlac City, the colossal statue is a definite scene stealer and it likens to that of Rio de Janeiro.
With the entire place surrounded by fresh air, calming silence, and everything else nature has to offer, the Monasterio de Tarlac is the best place for retreat and prayer.


4. Cathedral of the Holy Rosary

Situated at the epicenter of Angeles City in Pampanga, the Cathedral of the Holy Rosary is known by locals as “Pisambang Maragul” – their own translation for “Big Church”. With a rich history and architectural highlights, the cathedral has been recognized by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts as a national historical site. It is located along Santo Entierro corner Santo Rosario Street.

Emulating Renaissance-style architecture, it was first built on nipa and wood by Fr. Guillermo Masnou in 1855. Through forced labor or “polo y servicio” enforced during the Spanish colonial period, Fr Ramon Sarrionandia improved the structure in 1860 through stone and brick. Fr. Juan Merino continued it in 1880 and Fr. Pedro Ibeas completed it in 1891. Fr. Rufino Santos restored the structure between 1893-1897. Its backyard was used as an execution ground for Filipino rebels from 1896-1898, and later as a military hospital from 1899-1900.

The church measures 70 meters long, 20 meters wide and 12 meters high. The Renaissance-inspired architecture resonated in its beautiful transept, its Romanesque façade made of Corinthian pilasters and recessed arch and segmented windows topped by triangular canopies, a projecting portico with elliptical arches at the main entrance, and its spandrel and pier dados ornamented with relief carvings, as well as its well-known twin bell towers which helped the structure stand out in contrast to the more modern buildings surrounding it. Angeles City is located 84 km from Manila and 16 km West of the City of San Fernando.


A Tourist Guide to Philippine Churches (Layug, 2007)

5. Church of Sta Rita

The town of Sta. Rita, Pampanga, as well as its church, was dedicated to Augustinian saint St. Rita de Casia, who was known for her interesting story of troubled family life and domestic violence. St. Rita was married to an abusive husband, who was eventually murdered. It caused her children to promise revenge, but St. Rita’s intense prayers made them change their minds. St. Rita joined the Augustinians and has since led a life of mortification.

The parish of Sta. Rita was initially established in 1722 and became a separate parish in 1726. Construction of the present church of Sta. Rita started in 1839. Fr. Francisco Rayo, then the town’s parish priest, spearheaded its establishment through “Polo” or forced labor. An 1835 document asserted that Don Alejandro Rodriguez may be credited as a benefactor of the church. Fr. Juan Merino completed it in 1869, with one of the church’s 5 bells inscribed with his name. Both Rayo and Merino were also responsible for opening roads that links the town of Sta. Rita with Guagua and Porac.

For years, Augustinian priests served the church until 1898, during which the last of them, Fr. Celestino Garcia, became involved in the Revolution. The first Filipino priest was Fr. Braulio Pineda. From there, Filipinos succeeded leadership in the Church of St. Rita.  The church originally measured 55 meters long, 13 meters wide and around 10 meters high. Its triangular windows exhibited the Baroque influences in its architecture, only to be enhanced by other notable features including a large, well-lit transept, a spacious portico and a bell tower placed at the left side of the façade. its pediment showcasing a small retablo flanked by mini towers. At its right is a convent arcaded with stone. Sta. Rita is located 79km from Manila.


A Tourist Guide to Philippine Churches (Layug, 2007)

6. Church of St. James the Great

Established in 1607, the Church of St. James the Great or otherwise known as “Betis Church” was declared a National Cultural Treasure by both the National Museum and the National Commission for Culture and the Arts. The church, dubbed as “Sistine Chapel of the Philippines”, is located in Brgy. Betis in Guagua, Pampanga under the patronage of St. James the Apostle.

Its main nave was completed during its first stage, with transept and façade added in 1738. Both the church and convent were repaired by Fr Camanes between 1868 and 1894. Measuring 60 meters long, 16 meters wide and 12 meters high, the church embodies Baroque architecture at its finest. It was first built in light materials and later rebuilt in stronger materials during 1660-1770. Its two-level German Baroque façade was profusely ornamented, and murals of nineteenth century artists Flores and Ligon (finished before World War II) also adds to its charm. Several Bible interpretations are exhibited in its ceiling,dome, and its entrance doors, which is carved with an inscription of “Dreams Of Jacob” from the Old Testament. Guagua is located 77km from Manila and 10km from the City of San Fernando.


A Tourist Guide to Philippine Churches (Layug, 2007)

7. Church of San Guillermo

At present, the Church of San Guillermo, located in Bacolor, Pampanga, does not seem like one is only seeing half of the original structure. This fact is due to an interesting history about its architecture. The church is named after and dedicated to the town’s patron saint, San Guillermo Ermitaño.

The church was originally established by Augustinian priests in 1576, with Fr. Diego De Ochoa, OSA installed as the first Parish Priest two years later. Two earthquakes and a fire have destroyed the church in its original structure before Fr. Eugenio Alvarez rebuilt it in 1886.

Barely over a century later, in the 1990s, lahar flow submerged half of the church, then at 12 meters high. The church has since been restored and reconstructed while in its half-buried state. The original door, which has been buried by mud, ash, and lahar, can no longer be seen. In its place were the original windows which is now being presently used as doors.

Built in the style of Baroque architecture, the structure is made out of brick and stone, which gave an illusion of the church being made of concrete when seen from a distance. The rich history of the church is displayed at an art gallery known as “Museo de Bacolor”, originally a convent used during the 1762 British invasion of Manila, which is located near the façade of the church. It contains paintings of the 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo. They are not the only works of art present in the church though; some art installations were also displayed in its interior halls.

It was said that some people were trying to preserve the church’s heritage by digging up the original retablo and its centuries-old images. However, the retablo was refitted and the floor was concreted.

Despite its half-burial, one can still notice its age, with its history likened to that of Cagsawa in Albay. What makes it different is that it is still functioning and standing high and proud even if the original is not fully seen.

The church, as well as the town of Bacolor, became the filming location for the hit TV series “May Bukas Pa” in 2009-2010.


A Tourist Guide to Philippine Churches (Layug, 2007)


This Holy Week, you are invited to participate in La Isla’s annual visita iglesia on Saturday, April 8 (Tarlac/Pampanga) and April 12 (Cavite).

You can make a reservation through email at

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