Sto. Tomas de Villanova Parish Church or also known as Miag.ao Church is located at the heart of the town, Miag.ao, Iloilo, Philippines. It is a Roman Catholic Church. It was also called the Miag.ao Fortress Church since it served as a defensive tower of the town against Muslim raids.
On December 11, 1993, the Church was declared as one of the UNESCO World Heritage Site together with San Agustin Church in Manila; Nuestra Señora de la Asuncion Church in Santa Maria, Ilocos Sur; and San Agustin Church in Paoay, Ilocos Norte under the collective title Baroque Churches of the Philippines, a collection of four Baroque Spanish-era churches.
A brief history, the Miag.ao Church was formerly a visita of Oton until 1580, Tigbauan until 1592, Guimbal until 1731 and San Joaquin until 1703. It became an independent parish of the Augustinians in 1731 under the advocacy of Saint Thomas of Villanova.
With the launch of the parish, a church and convento was constructed in a land near the sea called Ubos. Father Fernando Camporredondo served as the town’s first parish priest in 1734.
When the town experienced frequent Moro invasion in 1741 and 1754, the town moved to a more secure place. From there, a new church was built in 1787 through forced labor under the supervision of under Fray Francisco Gonzales, parish priest and Spanish gobernadorcillo Domingo Libo-on. It was built on the highest point of the town to safeguard from invaders called Tacas.
After ten years, the church was completed in 1797. It was premeditated to have thick walls to serve as fortification from the invaders.
During the Spanish revolution on 1898, the Church was relentlessly damaged, but it was later rebuilt. 12 years after, a fire damaged the Church. It was also spoiled during the Second World War and an Earthquake in 1948. In the present day, the Miag.ao Church is third church built since its establishment in 1731.
It underwent several restorations for almost two years, starting from 1960 and completed in 1962 for preservation.
Former President Ferdinand E. Marcos declared the Church as a national shrine by a Presidential Decree No. 260.
The church’s over-all architectural style falls under the Baroque Romanesque architectural style. Baroque means, exaggerated or relating to a dramatic style of art that was common in the 17th and early 18th centuries and that contained many decorative parts and having too many details. It is very obvious when you try to see what is inside and outside.
The materials used when constructing that bravura church were adobe, egg, corals and limestone, which are why the color of it is ochre.
It has a foundation that reaches 6 meters deep and enormous stone walls at 1.5 meters thick are intensified through the use of 4 meter thick flying buttresses.
The façade or the front appearance of the Miag.ao church consists of an ornately decorated bas-relief in the middle of two huge watchtower belfries on each side. The bas-relief is a mixed influence of Medieval Spanish, Chinese, Muslim and local traditions and elements, a unique characteristic of the church façade. A bulging part of the façade is a coconut tree portrayed as the tree of life where St. Christopher holds on.
St. Christopher is dressed in local and traditional clothing carrying the Child Jesus on his back.
The rest of the façade features the daily life of the people of Miag.ao during that time including native flora (like papaya, coconut and palm tree) and fauna.
Above the wooden door entrance at the center of the façade just below the image of St. Christopher is a carved image of the town’s patron saint, St. Thomas of Villanova. At each side of the door are the images of St. Henry of Bavaria on the left and Pope Pius VI. Above the images of St. Henry and Pope Pius VI is their respective coat-of-arms.
The two mammoth bell towers on both sides is directly attached to the main church for is it served as the watchtowers to defend the town from the invaders. It has two different designs since it was bespoke by two different priests.
On the left side is the older belfry, the tallest west belfry with four levels. Originally, the east belfry was assembled only with two levels. It was in 1830 when Father Francisco Perez decided to add another story to the east belfry. Until now, the east belfry (three levels) is one level shorter that the west belfry (four levels).
The interior’s most prominent structure is the gold plated retablo or a raised shelf above an altar cross, lights, and flowers.
During the fire of 1910, the present altar was alleged to be lost. It is the original altar from the late 1700 and it was only revealed during repair excavations on 1982.
On the middle is the crucifix and on both sides are the statues of its patron saint, St. Thomas of Villanova and St. Joseph.
The tabernacle or the chest below the crucifix is completed in 98% pure gold and silver.
On both sides of the sanctuary are images of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary which dates back in 1780.
And last, the baptistery comprehends the image of the Birhen ng Barangay in limestone and traditional Filipino clothing recovered from the 1982 excavations.
The original late 1790’s images of St. Tomas of Villanova can also be found enclosed in a glass case in the rear side of the church.