It’s this time of the year once more when motorists drive back to their hometowns to fulfill religious obligations and reunite with family members in the provinces. While the pandemic disrupted last year’s observance with the nationwide lockdown, this year might be a bit better in some areas where a protocol-compliant Visita Iglesia can be done.
With a relatively low COVID-19 cases and the rich historical and religious heritage of its Baroque churches, the Bicol region is ideal for the pilgrimage. For your safety, it is best to plan the route and travel exclusively with household members.
Below is a curated Visita Iglesia route of seven churches of three provinces in mainland Bicol. For long drives, you can also mix your choices across the region.
Camarines Sur. A riverine churchon the edge of Naga City proper, Peñafrancia Shrine is the traditional home of the Nuestra Señora de Peña de Francia, the patron saint of the Bicolandia fondly called “Ina” or mother. The Iberian-themed church hosts the Peñafrancia Festival every September, the biggest and oldest Marian devotion which dates back to more than three centuries, and lures close to a million pilgrims and guests.
Basilica Minore de Peñafrancia has become the permanent home of the “Ina” since opening in 1985 to accommodate the increasing number of religious devotees from all over the country. It houses a replica of the centuries-old image after several attempts to steal the original.
Naga Metropolitan Cathedral, officially the Church of St. John the Evangelist, is seat of the 400-year old Archdiocese of Caceres, which is among the first to be established by the Spaniards in the archipelago. Devotees flock here when the Peñafrancia image is transferred here for the traslacion and novena during the September pilgrimage.
Attached to the cathedral is the Holy Rosary Minor Seminary, the regional center of ecclesiastical education, and the Museo Conciliar de Caceres, a museum containing artifacts, religious statues and vestments, art, and memorabilia of the first Filipino bishop, Jorge Barlin.
You can also visit the St. Francis of Assisi Church, plus the neighboring Our Lady of the Assumption Church in Canaman, Quipayo Church in Camaligan, and the St. Joseph the Worker Parish in Milaor.
Albay. This province is blessed with heritage gems which have been a source of local pride. The National Museum has recognized the St. John the Baptist Tabaco City and the Our Lady of the Gate Church in Daraga as National Cultural Treasures, and the St. John the Baptist in Camalig as an Important Cultural Property.
Cathedral of St. Gregory the Great, popularly known as Albay Cathedral, has an arched gate with portico, flanked by niches and pedestaled columns supporting the triangular pediments. Damaged during World War 2, it was elevated to a cathedral when the Diocese of Legazpi was created in 1951. Its claim to fame is being the site of an open-air Papal Mass in 1981 officiated by Pope John Paul II.
The twin-domed St. Dominic Guzman Church in Sto. Domingo is a witness to the musical genius of its famed parishioner, Potenciano Gregorio, a military bandmaster and composer of the regional folk song “Sarung Banggi.”
Round up your list with the churches of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel in Malilipot, St. Rose of Lima in Bacacay, and St. Lawrence the Martyr in Tiwi.
A big bonus is the perfect-coned Mayon Volcano which can be seen in all of these churches.
Sorsogon. Tucked at an interior village in Magallanes, Gibalon Shrine is a galleon-shaped spot which is regarded as the site of the first Mass in Luzon where the first seeds of Christianity were sown. In 1569, Fray Alonzo Jimenez and Captain Luiz Enriquez de Guzman sailed to southern Luzon to explore, pacify and evangelize the area upon orders of Spanish authorities.
Noteworthy churches to include on your Visita Iglesia route are the Cathedral of Sts. Paul and Peter in Sorsogon City, the Our Lady of Annunciation in Bacon District, St. Joseph in Barcelona, Immaculate Conception in Bulan, St. James in Bulusan, and the St. Michael Archangel in Gubat.