Sunday, August 25, 2013

Santa Maria Church : A UNESCO World Heritage Site

(This is part of my Ilocos Sur townhopping last June 15-16, 2013)

From my fulfilling and successful Abra town hopping, I hopped onto a bus to continue my town hopping, this time in the Heritage Province of Ilocos Sur. I was so excited then because my next destination is the town of Santa Maria to visit and see the world famous Santa Maria Church, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Santa Maria Church. Baroque Church of the Philippines. UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Santa Maria Church is one of the four churches (the others being Miag-ao Church in Iloilo, Paoay Church in Ilocos Norte, and San Agustin Church in Manila) clumped as the Baroque Churches of the Philippines inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage Site List. 

Santa Maria Church on a hill. Ilocos Sur.
Santa Maria Church is different from the usual Spanish-era churches in the Philippines, not because of how it look but rather because of its location. The church is perched on top of a hill encircled with a wall which makes it look like a fortress. It doesn't follow the usual plan of a pueblo which places the Church in center of the town with other structures such as the town hall, and school surrounding it. The Department of Tourism describes the church as having an "... appearance [that] evokes a Mediterranean hill town, the only example of such in the Philippines".

Santa Maria Church. Ilocos Sur.
The side walls of the church is supported by massive buttresses to protect it from earthquake. The church's facade is devoid of intricate carvings but is a classic example of a beautiful geometric form design. The church is primarily built with red bricks, adding to it the elegance which only red bricks exude.
Santa Maria Church historical marker.
At the lower right side of the facade is the National Historical Marker stating the church's history from it's creation. The marker says that the church was founded in 1769 as an independent parish from being a chapel and a visita of Narvacan. The construction of the bell tower and the church started in 1810 while the stone walls encircling the church complex was built in 1863. At the other side is a blue marker declaring the church as one of UNESCO's World Heritage Sites.

Santa Maria Church Bell Tower. Ilocos Sur.
Santa Maria Church's bell tower is built a distance away from the main church, also a precaution to earthquake. The church evokes a Chinese pagoda, where octagonal shapes of decreasing diameter is stacked and then crowned by a small dome (DOT). 

Santa Maria Church Grotto. Ilocos Sur.
At the left side of the 85 stone steps stairway leading to the main church, is a newer addition to Santa Maria Church complex, a Grotto depicting St. Bernadette. The place is provided with benches for anyone who would want to stay there though no shade is available during noontime. 


The church interior is surprisingly devoid of any intricate designs and paintings usually found inside a Spanish-era Ilocos churches. The wall and the ceiling is characteristically bare though the altar is also beautiful.

Santa Maria Church Altar
The Church's altar is currently under renovation during my visit so I was not able to see how it looks, before and after my visit. The altar is composed of a main altar in the center and two retablos on both sides.

Santa Maria Church Choir Loft
Santa Maria Church Pulpit
Santa Maria Church Interior
Exiting the church on the other side, I found another stairways that  descends to a pathway built over rice fields leading to a cemetery. I have also snapped a picture of that other stairway showing the greeneries on that side of the church (the picture though, is not included in this post).

Santa Maria Church is the second church I am able to visit among the four consisting the Baroque Church of the Philippines, and the 5th among 8 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the Philippines (I have yet to visit San Agustin Church in Manila, Miag-ao Church in Iloilo and the Tubbataha Reef in Palawan).

How to get to Santa Maria Church, Ilocos Sur :

From Vigan or Abra, just take a bus going to Manila or Cubao. The travel will take no more than an hour.

From Cubao, just take any bus going to Vigan or Laoag (Florida, Partas, Dominion, etc). The travel will take 8-9 hours so be sure to bring jacket for a long, cold ride. Be sure to ask the conductor if they are passing through Santa Maria because it is not along the highway though some buses also passes through it.


To know more about my Ilocos Sur Tour, please keep posted for detailed posts about the different towns I have been to in the coming days. Thanks! 

For the meantime, visit:

A Blast from  the Past : Ilocos Sur
Sinait : A Town of Legend
Strolling around Cabugao, Ilocos Sur
Magsingal : A Town of Wanderers
San Vicente : the Barrio Destined to Become a Town
The Heritage City of Candon

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About the Author

I am ROMEL RAFOR JAIME, the man behind San Josenyong Gala. My travel blogger name came about because I am a proud resident of the City of San Jose del Monte, Bulacan. In real life, I am a licensed librarian who works in a college in Gapan, Nueva Ecija as a librarian and teaches general education subjects from time to time. My goal is to visit all the 81 provinces of the Philippines before visiting other countries. As of 2017, I have already visited 73... :)


  1. It is one of my favorite church here in the philippines..its quite relaxing. that church portrays many historical background of our country. :)

  2. Ganda! I love the interior... mabuti at na-maintain nila. Naku, isa palang nakikita ko St. Agustin sa Intramuros... hehe!

    1. Yup, ganda nga niya... pero pinakamaganda sa apat, yung Miag-ao Church... Nakakalungkot nga eh, yung sa San Agustin, masyado nang napakialaman kaya halos iba na itsura niya sa dati...

    2. Kaya plano na para sa Santa Maria, Paoay at Miag-ao Church! :)

  3. ang ganda.ito nalang yung kulang ko!i've been to miag-ao,paoay and san agustin in intamuros.hope to visit the province of abra den!:)

    1. Pack your bags na sir and hop on a bus to Ilocos Sur and Abra... You won't regret it... :)

  4. Eto na lang ang kulang ko sa 4 na baroque churches. Thanks for posting kung paano pumunta. Madami kasi nagsasabi na out of way cya sa mga usual na pasyalan sa ilocos sur

    1. Hindi naman po masyado out of way... Kayang kaya puntahan... :)