Facade of the Basilica of St. Martin de Tours in Taal, Batangas

TAAL BASILICA, BATANGAS: Asia’s Largest Catholic Church

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A giant scaffolding rose right before the basilica’s altar at the point where the nave and the transept meet. Apparently, the church’s interiors were undergoing a minor renovation. The top of the bamboo scaffold reached to the ceiling of the dome which was being painted. I could not imagine how difficult it was for the painters. After all, they were inside the biggest Catholic church in the Philippines and in the whole of Asia.

Basilica of St. Martin de Tours

Basilica of St. Martin de Tours

The Basilica de San Martin de Tours, simply known as Taal Basilica, is Asia’s largest church and it was not very difficult to see. Sitting on top of a hill, the basilica towers over the old heritage town of Taal. It is a very dominant structure and is visible in most parts of the town proper and even in some parts of the neighboring town Lemery.

History of the Taal Basilica

The original town of Taal was founded by Augustinian missionaries in 1572 on the banks of the Taal Lake (where the municipality of San Nicolas now lies). Fr. Diego Espinar led the construction of the town’s very first church in 1575. In almost two centuries, the church continued to improve and was rebuilt only to be utterly destroyed in 1754 after the biggest explosion of nearby Taal Volcano. It wasn’t just the church, though, as the whole town of old Taal was so devastated.

Asia’s largest church — Taal Basilica

The town moved to its current location, on top of a hill overlooking Balayan Bay. In 1755, the construction of a new church was launched under Fr. Martin Aguirre. Over several decades, new elements and features were added for the beautification of the church. However, on September 16, 1852, tragedy struck yet again. A massive earthquake hit the province and  destroyed the church.

Four years after the catastrophe, another church was built at the same site under Fr. Marcos Anton, who commissioned architect Luciano Oliver to create the design and run the construction. In 1865, almost a decade later, the newly erected church was inaugurated despite its unfinished state. The construction was finally completed in 1878 with the addition of its gigantic 79 ft altar under the supervision of Fr. Agapito Aparicio. It was a massive church, the biggest at the time and would remain the biggest even centuries later.

On January 16, 1974, it was declared as one of the country’s National Shrines.

Facade and Interiors

Certainly the biggest church in Asia, Taal Basilica is 96 meters long, 45 meters wide, and 96 meters tall. This colossal Baroque structure was made of coral stones and adobe. The most noticeable features of its facade were the 24 classical columns in pairs and lined up two rows of six on top of the other. It has 10 windows and 5 doors. The edifice is topped with a triangular roof and gable on each side and one in the center. On the left side rises the bell tower.

Facade of the Basilica of St. Martin de Tours in Taal, Batangas

The interiors of the basilica was dusty and cluttered when we visited because of the ongoing renovation but its beauty radiated through. Of course, the first thing we noticed was the size and how spacious it was. While most churches have only two lanes of pews arranged in the nave, the Taal Basilica had more. Its aisles could even accommodate more benches.

It also fosters a much lighter atmosphere than the other churches we visited primarily because of the white and pale peach (?) walls and ceiling, painted intricately with what looked like three-dimensional patterns from afar. The main altar of the basilica is 24 meters high and 10 meters wide with three Doric columns lined up on each side of the centerpiece where a statue of crucified Jesus stands. There are other statues of saints and angels within the balustraded altar area. The church’s transept houses minor altars with more images of saints. The altars are showered with light coming from the windowed dome above.

The altars of the Basilica

The pinkish ceiling of the Basilica with intricate patterns. And oh, that’s a pink balloon right there.

The Basilica’s side nave and right aisle

Restoration of the Basilica’s interiors was ongoing when we visited

I can’t say anything more about the interior really because I bet that it has changed drastically now that the restoration is complete. I had not returned to the site since then but my mom, who is an active member of the this church, has been raving about how stunning the ceilings and domes have become with the addition of vivid images of scenes from the Bible. While I believe my mom, I have to see it for myself and come back soon.

Taal Park and Nearby Structures

The Taal Basilica is the most prominent structure in Taal Park, which also harbors several buildings including Escuela Pia: Taal Heritage Center, the Rizal College, and Our Lady of Caysasay Academy (where the kids in our family go to for afterclass tutorials). The Municipal Hall of Taal also stands nearby. Vendors of Batangas delicacies and other street food abound in the park. Although some tourists (like the friend who was with me at the time) get irked by how insistent they are sometimes, it just needs some getting used to.

The Heritage Town of Taal is small and can be explored by foot. Once you’re at the Taal Park, most tourist attractions such as the many ancestral houses, the Well of Sta. Lucia, the public market, and the Shrine of Our Lady of Caysasay are just a few minutes walk away.

How to get to Taal Basilica: From Manila, take the bus bound for Lemery and tell the driver to drop you off at the Taal Basilica. If the driver tells you it the bus will not pass by the Basilica (because some buses really don’t), get off at the Taal Lemery Bypass Junction and take a jeepney to the Basilica. If you miss the junction, don’t worry. Alight at the Lemery Terminal (the last stop) instead and take a trike to the Taal Basilica.

BATANGAS GUIDE

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Yoshke Dimen

Captain Dreamer at PhilippineBeaches.org
Yoshke is a part-time digital marketing consultant, part-time travel blogger, and full-time dreamer. He has three passions in life: social media, travel, and --- wait for it --- world peace. Yoshke has won 3 Philippine Blog Awards and received 9 nominations. Learn more about his personal journeys at Yoshke.com.



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  • http://themarkofanexplorer.blogspot.com Michelle

    Nice trip you had even though you’re in a tight budget. You inspire me to travel not spending money so much :D

    • The Poor Traveler

      Thanks Michelle! Yes we have limited budget but to be honest, we don’t really try to push our limits when it comes to budget. When we want to spend a little bit more to enjoy, we do so. :)

  • Lourdes Holgado

    I live around 30min drive from there. Crazy, I was thinking about this church yesterday. Thinking of it’s poor condition and hoping they will do some major renovation. and now i’ve learned that they’re doing just that. Will gladly visit this church again as soon as I can

    • The Poor Traveler

      Hi Lourdes! Yep, the interior has been restored. I’m excited to see it too! :) I’ll be back later this month. I’ll write about it! :)

  • brigitte

    Hi! Would you have any recommendations on hotel/venue spaces around Taal Basilica? We’re from overseas and we’re planning to have our church wedding there, but I can’t seem to find any suitable venue for the wedding reception. Any tips? :)

    Thank you very much!

    • The Poor Traveler

      Hi Brigitte, I’m not that familiar with venue spaces to be honest. The only hotel I know near the Basilica is Casa Punzalan but I don’t think it’s a good venue for a wedding reception. You can visit CASA CECILIA in Taal, too. I had lunch here once and they have a good garden. It’s also a popular venue for wedding reception and debuts. :)

      • http://www.lead-asia.com Danny Anuran

        yes Casa Cecilia is a top option for reception venue, Taal Bistro is another one.

    • http://thebestoftaalbatangas.com/ Dexter | The Best Of Taal Batangas

      You may get some information at our site :) http://www.thebestoftaalbatangas.com/ check it out..

  • ChristopherRey Thomas Sy

    I’ve been here last thursday only.. I am so amazed.. As if you’re in Spain..

  • http://bornfreehitstheroad.blogspot.com Ian Fresco

    yeah i agree yung restoration sa interior ng basilica mjo modern na, pero amaze pa din ako kasi ang ganda nya! :)

  • Dan

    For more on Taal, Batangas check out: http://www.taal.ph

    Be sure to check out the fun December Fiesta Week 2012 in Taal!