Visita Iglesia

Earlier this week I and my grandmother went around Davao to perform the Holy Week tradition of Visita Iglesia. I may be an atheist but I’m proud of my Roman Catholic heritage, and the rest of my family continues to remain devout.

For the past three years I’ve been the one accompanying my grandmother in performing the Visita, taking over from my mother. My grandmother is getting on in her years, and in a rare (but not uncharacteristic) display of filial piety I took it upon myself to help her go around the city.

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My grandmother was born and grew up in Pasay, but the Holy Week tradition she remembers has always been in our hometowns of Kidapawan and Davao. When I was younger we would go from Kidapawan to Davao, where my grandmother has been based since my grandfather died, and my mother would accompany her with the Visita, with me sometimes tagging along. As a metropolis Davao has more churches than Kidapawan, making it more ideal for the Visita.

One of the beautiful stained glass windows in the St Francis of Assisi Parish in Maa

One of the beautiful stained glass windows in the St Francis of Assisi Parish in Maa

The halo on Christ in this stained glass window was glowing because of the position of the sun

The halo on Christ in this stained glass window was glowing because of the position of the sun

Rolling lawn of the Shrine in Matina. Just beyond the walls is Jack's Ridge

Rolling lawn of the Shrine in Matina. Just beyond the walls is Jack’s Ridge

One of the altars in the Matina shrine. The place's seclusion makes it an ideal place to contemplate.

One of the altars in the Matina shrine. The shrine’s seclusion makes it an ideal place to contemplate.

A crucifix in the Matina Shrine, made of olive wood from Bethlehem in 1978

A crucifix in the Matina Shrine, made of olive wood from Bethlehem in 1978

The version of Visita Iglesia my grandmother performs is less rigid than what is traditional, but it also has its peculiarities. The Visitation of the Seven Churches is usually held on Maudy Thursday and limits itself to seven churches. We usually perform it on Maudy Thursday too, but this year we went about with it on the Monday of the Holy Week to avoid large crowds and traffic. And we never limited the Visita to seven churches, it usually amounts to more – this year we went to ten. Most devotees pray the Lord’s Prayer, the Hail Mary, and the Gloria Patri in every church, or read two of the fourteen Stations of the cross. My grandmother continues the rare tradition of reading through all fourteen Stations in each church, before ending with the Lord’s Prayer, the Hail Mary, and the Gloria Patri.

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Bell tower of the Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish in Obrero

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The beautifully ornate bell tower of the Sta Ana Shrine

One of the spires of the Carmelite church

One of the spires of the Carmelite church

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Bell tower of the St Jude Parish in Juna

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The iconic bell tower of the San Pedro Cathedral

Aside from keeping the tradition alive, I find that the Visita is also an excellent way of touring the city. Davao has many lovely churches, and it’s a great way of seeing different ones in one day. The practice also lets me see parts of the city my daily routine usually doesn’t let me see.

Facade of the Sta Ana Shrine, facing Sta Ana Street. Its distinct motif of ornate white flourishings against red brick walls extends to the interior

Facade of the Sta Ana Shrine, facing Sta Ana Street. Its distinct motif of ornate white flourishings against red brick walls extends to the interior

Exterior of the Sta Ana Shrine facing Lapu Lapu Street, with the north east tower shown

Exterior of the Sta Ana Shrine facing Lapu Lapu Street, with the north east tower shown

Center isle of the Sta Ana Shrine

Nave of the Sta Ana Shrine

The altar of the Sta Ana Shrine, with one of the distinct curlicued corner decors in the foreground

The altar of the Sta Ana Shrine, with one of the distinct curlicued corner decors in the foreground. The lovely old piano was unfortunately covered when we went there.

The Sta Ana Shrine has many beautiful murals, including this one about the last supper.

The Sta Ana Shrine has many beautiful murals, including this one about the last supper.

Stairs leading to the north eastern tower. One has to remove footwear before going up here, and preferably go up kneeling

Stairs leading to the north eastern tower. One has to remove footwear before going up here, and preferably go up kneeling

Inside the northeastern tower of the Sta Ana Shrine there is this statue of Nazarene bearing the cross. The climb up the stairs kneeling is in commemoration of his struggle up Calvary

Inside the northeastern tower of the Sta Ana Shrine there is this statue of Nazarene bearing the cross. The climb up the stairs kneeling is in commemoration of his struggle up Calvary

The Sta Ana Shrine also features many replicas of famous Catholic icons of veneration, including this one of the Nuesta Señora de Baranggay. It's interesting because the costume on this Mother Mary has a distinctly Filipino feel

The Sta Ana Shrine also features many replicas of famous Catholic icons of veneration, including this one of the Nuesta Señora de Baranggay. It’s interesting because the costume on this Mother Mary has a distinctly Filipino feel

Public transportation in Davao is very convenient, and this year we learned it’s improving even more. We could only reach Matina Shrine Hills by either riding a taxi or driving (and my grandmother has not driven in almost a decade), but now we hear a jeepney route was going to be started in the area, making the Shrine there more accessible than ever.

Facade of the Monastery of the Discalced Carmelite Nuns in Bajada

Facade of the Monastery of the Discalced Carmelite Nuns in Bajada

Interior of the Carmelite church

Interior of the Carmelite church

Altar of the Carmelite church

Altar of the Carmelite church

One of the Carmelite church's beautiful wrought iron chandeliers

One of the Carmelite church’s beautiful wrought iron chandeliers

The Carmelite church has several of these old aspersoriums to contain holy water

The Carmelite church has several of these old aspersoriums to contain holy water

Some of my favourite churches in Davao are the Sta Ana Shrine in Sta Ana just beside the Holy Cross of Davao College, the Monastery of the Discalced Carmelite Nuns along Bajada, and the San Pedro Cathedral. Many churches also have beautiful bell towers

San Pedro Cathedral, the icon of Davao, has its roots in 1847, when the first Spanish governor Jose Oyangguren had a church built in its location. The current structure is the third, built in 1964.

San Pedro Cathedral, the icon of Davao, has its roots in 1847, when the first Spanish governor Jose Oyangguren had a church built in its location. The current structure is the third, built in 1964.

The distinct shape of the San Pedro Cathedral is designed, depending on the source, either to resemble a Moro salakot or a boat. In both cases it is to imply the cultural diversity and confluence that makes multi-religious Davao distinct.

The distinct shape of the San Pedro Cathedral is designed, depending on the source, either to resemble a salakot, a badjao boat, or a lumad tubao. In all cases it is to imply the cultural diversity and confluence that makes multi-religious Davao unique (people often mistake it for a mosque). The boat appearance is also said to imply Peter’s profession as a fisherman. When I first saw it as a child I thought it was a warship. In this shot the boat like appearance makes the bell tower look like a lighthouse.

One of the side altars of the San Pedro Cathedral. In fact this one, located to the church's east, is the original pre-World War altar. That the church has two side altars hark back to the days when the church had a transept. Now the church's interior is semicircular in structure.

One of the side altars of the San Pedro Cathedral. In fact this one, located to the church’s east, is the original pre-World War altar. That the church has two side altars hark back to the days when the church had a transept. Now the church’s interior is semicircular in structure.

The current grand altar of San Pedro Cathedral, more opulent and more ornate than the old one. I love the gilding against the dark mahogany wood!

The current grand altar of San Pedro Cathedral with the mensa, more opulent and more ornate than the old one. I love the gilding against the dark mahogany wood!

I snapped a photo of these curule seats to the left of the altar. Curule seats were used during Ancient Roman times to denote the imperium of Republic officials, but it traces back to Ancient Egyptian symbolism. Originally used as a stool for military leaders on the battlefield, it became a symbol a civic, then today religious authority. It originally had no back rest and was meant to be uncomfortable, both to imply that the occupant of the seat was not there to rest but to work, and to make sure he/she does not stay in it too long. These seats though look very comfortable.

I snapped a photo of these curule seats to the left of the altar. Curule seats were used during Ancient Roman times to denote the imperium of Republic officials, but it goes all the way back to Ancient Egyptian symbolism. Originally used as a stool for military leaders on the battlefield, it became a symbol of civic, then today religious authority. It originally had no back rest and was meant to be uncomfortable, both to imply that the occupant of the seat was not there to rest but to work, and to make sure he/she does not stay in it too long. These seats though look very comfortable. They even have an electric fan.

San Pedro Cathedral is dotted with motifs of the keys, like this wrought iron grill. The keys of course are the emblem of St Peter, patron saint of Davao. Behind the grills you can see vendors selling candles and folk remedies, ranging from dried wood burnt for incense  that ward away evil spirits, to root oils that make you menstruate

San Pedro Cathedral is dotted with motifs of the keys, like this wrought iron grill. The keys of course are the emblem of St Peter, patron saint of Davao. Behind the grills you can see vendors selling candles and folk remedies, ranging from dried wood burnt as incense to ward away evil spirits, to root oils that make you menstruate

Our full itinerary of churches included:

Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish in Obrero

Fatima Church in the Boulevard

Sta Ana Shrine along Sta Ana Street

St Jude Parish near Davao Doctors’ Hospital

San Pedro Cathedral

Monastery of the Discalced Carmelites in Bajada

The Redemptorist Church in front of Abreeza

St Paul Parish in Juna

St Francis of Assisi Parish in Maa

Shrine of the Holy Infant Jesus of Prague in Matina

Assumption Church along Torres Street

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