A young boy and a young girl lit candles as they stood in the middle of the candle racks. They then closed their eyes, said a silent prayer, walked towards the series of pews that filled the nave of the basilica, and joined their parents who were both deep in prayers of their own. The Poor Traveler is not really a religious person but it was heartwarming to see little kids spending quality time with their parents.
The Basilica of the Immaculate Conception is the center of Catholic faith in Batangas City, the province’s capital. It is not difficult at all to reach this place as anyone in Batangas knows where it is and how to get there. It was almost dusk when we arrived and although we were actually planning on paying this church a visit the next morning, we decided to step into this peaceful spiritual haven after seeing the heavy clouds threatening to shower the city.
Facade and Interior
Old trees surround the basilica, which stands just across the city’s central park, Plaza Mabini. Its facade is simple — smooth and beige with four cornered columns and tall, narrow windows. Next to it is a massive three-layered bell tower with the base of each layer fringed by balusters. On the other side is the Basilica Pastoral Center.
It is what’s inside that makes it more interesting. As with most basilicas, the nave is huge, filled with carefully aligned pews for the congregation. The benches lie below chandeliers hanging from the church’s very high ceiling and are fenced by big arches, the sides of which had wall fans for the comfort of the people inside. One end of the transept shelters candle racks and statues of saints and angels all confined in a beautifully balustraded corner.
Color is almost absent inside the basilica. Its interiors are predominantly gray. Of course there are still other colors but they are pale, which is not a bad thing. It is actually stunning. It’s gray, yes, but not dull. There are vivid and elaborate paintings on some parts of the walls while striking patterns covered the ceiling and the floor.
History of Batangas Basilica
The church on the site had been rebuilt several times since the construction of the first church in 1581 under Augustinian Pastor Father Diego Mojica. Twenty years after the first church was built, in 1601, the foundation for the second church was made but the church itself was constructed from 1682 to 1721. The second church, however, was demolished 179 years later for the third church, the rise of which was made possible through the efforts of Father Pedro Cuesta. On February 13, 1948, Pope Pius XII granted the church a Basilica status.
The Basilica’s lack of color is something that was refreshing for me since most of the churches I had visited before had its interiors heavily painted by colorful, vibrant images and patterns. To me, that’s what makes it stand out and gives it character.
Outside the church was a woman selling balloons. These little air-filled joys beamed with color and sparkle, a stark contrast. A family of three emerged from the church and the father bought one for his baby daughter. The little girl smiled. The parents smiled. I did, too.