BESIDES engaging in death-defying, ultra exciting extreme adventure activities and discovering the unique flavors of Naga both on its own and as part of the Bicol region, Naga Excursions, a tourism campaign that consolidates the best that Metro Naga has to offer, also encourages everyone to embark on a pilgrimage tour of old churches. After all, Naga is known as the Pilgrim City of the Philippines, being the center of a more than 300-year-old devotion to Nuestra Señora de Peñafrancia.
Naga Excursions, better known as simply Naga X, a new brand of tourism of Metro Naga developed under the Local Government Support Program for Local Economic Development (LGSP-LED) of the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG), offers a package tour that takes visitors on a Visita Iglesia tour of the many Spanish era churches that abound in the area.
The group of Manila-based journalists, including myself and my husband Raff, who visited and explored Naga from April 19 to 21, 2013, got to experience the Pilgrimage Tour on our second day of stay, and the spiritual journey fed the soul and enriched the spirit.
SAN FRANCISCO CHURCH
The first church that we visited was actually the San Francisco Church, when we took a walk around the cultural destinations of Naga after a hearty dinner at Nikko’s Ark on our first night in Naga. We walked over to the San Francisco Church, which was the first church built by missionary Franciscan friars in the Philippines and in the entire Southeast Asia back in 1578. It was originally built facing the old village of Pueblo de Naga to the east, across the Naga River.
During Sunday Masses these days, the church attracts an overflow crowd of devotees that extends all the way out to the streets of Centro Naga.
NAGA METROPOLITAN CATHEDRAL
AND PORTA MARIAE
Perhaps the largest church in southern Luzon, the Naga Metropolitan Cathedral is considered as the Mother of All Churches in Bicol. Built using Spanish Royal money, which explains why the Spanish Royal Seal can be seen emblazoned above its door, the Naga Metropolitan Cathedral, with its Roman-Baroque architecture, now serves as the seat of the Archdiocese of Caceres.
The church stands on a spacious property that also houses the Porta Mariae, which is one of the only two triumphal arches in the Philippines and was built in commemoration of the 300th year of devotion to Our Lady of Peñafrancia. It features staircases on the left and the right wings, which devotees can climb to reach the art gallery that cuts across the two wings. A 12-foot image of Ina could be found on top, where visitors can see vestiges of the rich religious heritage of Naga over historic Barlin Street, which was named after the first Filipino bishop, Jorge Barlin, a Bicolano.
Bishop Barlin was also a proud graduate of the adjacent Holy Rosary Major Seminary, which now houses the Ecclesiastical Museum and Museo Arqueologico. In the Ecclesiastical Museum, visitors can find religious items, such as altars and statues, while Museo Arqueologico features pre-colonial artifacts from eras gone by, including Chinese porcelain, stone tools, burial jars and fossilized dinosaur eggs that are believed to be 146 to 65 million years old and were found in Gobi Desert, Mongolia.
CHURCH OF MILAOR
Our Pilgrimage Tour also took us to the Church of Milaor, one of the oldest churches in Metro Naga and can be found in the town of Milaor. Its construction started in 1725 and was completed in 1935 but fire destroyed it five years later. It was reconstructed that same year, while its belfry was put up a century later. Both the church and the belfry have remained intact to this day.
IMMACULATE CONCEPTION CHURCH IN QUIPAYO
One of the oldest churches in the Bicol region, the Quipayo Church was founded in 1578 by the Franciscan missionary priests Pablo de Jesus and Bartolome Ruiz and was constructed in 1616. It’s made of ladrillo (bricks) and is devoted to Marian veneration. Located in Quipayo, the church features a museum behind the church altar, where rare artifacts can be seen.
SANTO ENTIERRO SHRINE
Also known as the Chapel of Amang Hinulid (Entombed Christ), the church in Calabanga attracts thousands of devotees, especially on Fridays, who visit the church to touch the 172-year-old image of Amang Hinulid (The Sepulcher Christ or Dead Christ) , which is believed to grant the wishes of the faithful. The water used to bathe the image is said to be miraculous and has the ability to cure illnesses of any kind. So devotees come to touch the image and be healed by it.
PARISH OF THE MOST HOLY ROSARY
Our next stop was at the Parish of the Most Holy Rosary in the town of Bombon, which was built in 1864. Dedicated to Marian devotion, the church has a leaning belfry standing right beside it, and it reminds visitors of the Leaning Tower of Pisa in Italy because it’s very similar to that in the sense that they’re both leaning and yet are surviving the ravages of time.
The belfry really leans at an angle, away from the church, but when we all tried to photograph it in its leaning state, the modern features of our cameras all tried to correct the “lean,” so that the belfry doesn’t look as obviously leaning as it truly does in actuality.
OTHER CHURCHES OF INTEREST
On our way back to The Avenue Plaza Hotel in Naga City, where we were billeted, our group also passed by the Peñafrancia Shrine, which is considered as the original home of Ina, housing the original image of Nuestra Señora de Peñafrancia that was stolen in 1981 but subsequently returned after a year. The original church was made of nipa and other local materials, whose construction was undertaken by locals led by Father Miguel Robles y Covarrubias, who brought the devotion to Ina to Bicol. The present-day structure was built in 1745 and is considered as the oldest existing structure spared from the ravages of World War II.
Also a point of interest is the Peñafrancia Museum, located right across the Peñafrancia Shrine, near the banks of Naga River. It was built in honor of the Bicolanos’ devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, and it houses the Peñafrancia Diorama, a tri-dimensional presentation of the Bicolano’s pilgrimage of faith and devotion to Ina.
Naga X’s Pilgrimage Tour showcases yet another facet to Naga’s rich history, culture and other attractions.