Every Holy Thursday during Lent, also known as semana santa or cuaresma, it has been the tradition of the Filipino Catholic faithful to do the visita iglesia, literally, church visit. This practice, introduced by the Spanish colonizers, goes back to the time of the early church where Christians would visit the seven great basilicas in Rome for the adoration of the Blessed Sacrament during Maundy Thursday. These churches are: The Saint John Lateran, St. Peter, Saint Mary Major, Saint Paul Outside the Walls, St. Lawrence Outside the Walls, Holy Cross in Jerusalem and St. Sebastian Outside the Walls. The last was replaced by Pope John Paul II with the Sanctuary of the Madonna of Divine Love in 2000.
For Filipinos, it’s not only the Blessed Sacrament but a contemplation of the fourteen stations of the cross. Traditionally, seven churches are visited with two stations per visit. While others, with more time and effort, visit fourteen. Starting with this post, the Visita Iglesia series will commence where I will be featuring colonial era churches, located in certain places or provinces where it is possible to visit at least seven of these religious structures rich in history, heritage and architecture.