Born and raised in a Catholic household in Batangas, I was used to spending a day of the Holy Week on the road for our family’s annual Visita Iglesia. Also called the Seven Churches Visitation, Visita Iglesia is a Roman Catholic Lenten tradition that originated in Ancient Rome. Back then pilgrims prayed at seven basilicas on the evening of Maundy Thursday as penance.
It was brought to the Philippines by Augustinian missioners in the 1560s, but it has changed over the years. It doesn’t need to be on Maundy Thursday anymore, and one can make more than seven stops. I remember waking up early in the morning, squeezing myself in a fully packed rented jeepney, and hopping from one church to another under the scorching summer sun.
Batangas is predominantly Catholic. For over 300 years, the Spaniards built a number of stunning churches and monuments all over the province. It is also home to some sites that the faithful believe to be miraculous. No wonder it is a favorite visita iglesia destination for many.
This itinerary is actually the route that our family takes every year. The difference is, we do it the other way around. Here are some notes to bear in mind if you wish to follow this.
- This is a seven-stop itinerary, but feel free to skip or add. There are many other notable churches, but these are what I recommend not just for their historical, cultural, and religious significance to the Batanguenos, but also because they are conveniently located along an easy, smooth route.
- This itinerary assumes you’ll be coming from Manila. If you’re coming from Tagaytay, Silang, Dasmarinas (Cavite), or Santa Rosa (Laguna), you might want to do it the other way around like our family does.
- Start early. If you’re coming from Manila, you might want to catch the first mass at the Lipa Cathedral at 5:30am. I know it’s too early, but this is a packed itinerary. The churches are far apart and will take the entire day. Know that the Caleruega Chapel, the last stop, closes at 5:30pm.
- Use a private car. It’s a lot easier. Taking the public transportation is not advisable as most people are taking a break and observing Lent, too. Having a private ride allows you to control your departure times from each spot.
- Be patient. Most of the population is Catholic, and many people from neighboring provinces visit Batangas during the Holy Week, especially on Good Friday. Traffic can be terrible. Expect long queues especially at the Caysasay Chapel
- Bring water. The summer heat can be unforgiving, and the crowd doesn’t help.
- Be a responsible traveler. Don’t just throw your garbage anywhere. Keep a trash bag inside your vehicle.
Let’s get started.
Interactive map: This is going to be your route.
WHAT'S COVERED IN THIS GUIDE?
1. San Sebastian Cathedral, Lipa City
According to the Lipa City Tourism Council, the history of the Cathedral can be traced back to as far back as April 30, 1605, when it was administered by the Augustinians under the title “Convent of San Sebastian in Comintang.” The original building was made from only light materials.
But the construction of the Cathedral that we see today, done in the Romanesque tradition, started in 1779. It has big circular dome, giant walls and columns, balconies, and arches. Standing proudly in front of the church is a bell tower, which, like the dome, is decorated with moldings.
More information: Lipa Cathedral
2. Mt. Carmel Chapel, Lipa City
Known throughout Batangas as simply “Carmel,” the Monastery of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel is the site of the multiple apparitions of Mary Mediatrix of All Grace. The Virgin Mary was said to have appeared to nun Teresita Castillo at the garden here.
This is also the site of the miraculous shower of petals that occurred on 24 January 1991.
Its chapel is open to everyone who wish to see the statue that the Lady asked to be built in her image and venerate the Lady. The convent was actually founded in 1946, two years before the Apparition, right after the Second World War. It became the home of the Carmelites who transferred to Lipa from Manila.
More info: Mt. Carmel Chapel
3. Immaculate Conception Church, Bauan
Not to be confused with the Immaculate Concepcion Basilica in Batangas City or Immaculate Concepcion Church in Balayan.
More commonly known as Bauan Church, it is a neo-classical structure that houses what many call “Mahal na Poon ng Banal na Krus.” It is a cross that is believed by devotees to be miraculous. The cross is 2.5m long with 1m crosspiece. At the part where two arms meet is a golden sun embossed with a human face. It has a remarkable tale surrounding it too.
There are two versions. Legend has it that in the 16th century, a faithful and kindhearted woman was always forced by her cruel husband to fetch water from the lake, a dangerous undertaking especially at night. One day, asking for mercy, she prayed near an anubing tree (a local hardwood). Suddenly, water sprung out of the tree. Since then, she no longer had to go down the ravine to get it from the lake. The place was called Dingin (a place of worship) in Alitagtag. Word got out that the tree performed wonders, so the friars had a cross built out of it. It was originally enshrined in a place now called Binukalan (literally “where water springs up”).
But according to local archives, the cross was a sturdy post of a demolished house in a village in Alitagtag in 1595. It was transformed into a cross and was said to drive away ghosts and protect the area from plagues and calamities. There were also accounts of it moving around the village.
In both versions, the cross was moved to the parish church in neighboring Bauan. It was kept in a silver case because people used to chip away a part of the cross and use it as talisman. Miracles are also attributed to these little pieces. But when Alitagtag had its own parish, the cross was split into two. One remains in Bauan Church and the other in Binukalan Chapel, near the site where it first appeared in the first version of the story. They are called “magkapatid na krus” (sibling crosses). And they are both venerated by the faithful, believing that it would grant your wish and protect you if you pray enough. Some dance the subli, a native Batangan dance, to pay homage to the cross.
4. Basilica de San Martin de Tours, Taal
The largest Catholic 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. Sitting on top of a hill, Taal 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.
This is actually the second church. The original edifice, which was devastated by the eruption of Taal volcano, was in present-day San Nicolas.
More info: Taal Basilica
5. Caysasay Shrine and Sta. Lucia Well, Taal
The Shrine of Our Lady of Caysasay is a chapel built to shelter and honor the 17th century image of the Virgin Mary that many residents and devotees revere. It was said to have been found by a fisherman named Juan Maningcad while fishing in the Pansipit River in 1603. The image was said to be glowing. The Parish Priest learned about the event and upon seeing the image he, too, prostrated and adored it. He then tasked Madam Maria Espiritu to look after the image. Maria then discovered that the image would disappear in the evening and reappear in the morning. It would happen over and over until one day, the image did not return at all.
In 1611, a native girl by the name of Catalina Talayn was by the spring at a hillside when she saw the image of the Lady brilliantly reflected in the springwater. Local stories narrate that she and a companion saw the Lady with two candles on her side on a Sampaga tree branch, surrounded by kasay-kasay birds (casay-casay, kingfisher). It was just the beginning of the series of sightings of a brilliant light near the spring.
Today, the site is marked by a huge arch made of coral stone, crowned with a bas relief of the Lady. The arch stands on top of the 11-ft deep wells. We call the site Banal na Pook (literally Holy Place).
I remember when I was a kid, my family would fall in line from the side of the Caysasay Chapel through the staircase all the way to the second floor at the back of the church for our turn to honor the Lady. And then we would go to the well, now referred to as Sta. Lucia Well, to light candles and pray. The water here is believed to have healing properties.
Don’t be surprised to see a big crowd (and a lot of garbage) here during Holy Week.
More info: Caysasay Church
6. San Rafael the Archangel Church, Calaca
Another image that people believe to be miraculous is that of St. Raphael the Archangel, cradled in the centuries-old church of Calaca. St. Raphael is the patron saint of healing, and people from all around the country would come to the church to pray and pay tribute to the saint.
7. Caleruega Chapel, Nasugbu
More casually called Caleruega, the Transfiguration Chapel isn’t really historic, unlike the other churches in this list. But it is one of the most picturesque, making it one of the most popular wedding venues and retreat destinations in the region. Perched on top of a garden-adorned hill, it offers a spectacular view of the Batangan countryside, with Mt. Batulao dominating the landscape.
It’s the much-needed breath of fresh air in this itinerary.
The reason I put Caleruega last is so you could have a more relaxing finish. This is quite an exhausting itinerary because the churches are far apart. This arrangement will also allow you to stay overnight in either the beaches of Nasugbu or Tagaytay highlands, where accommodations are plenty.
Again, you can do this the other way around by passing through Tagaytay and then to Nasugbu. But note that Caleruega opens at 8am.
✅ MORE INFO: CALERUEGA TRAVEL GUIDE
Where to stay
Batangas has a lot of good hotels as well as beach and lakeside resorts. You may choose or check rates here: Batangas Hotels
If you prefer to spend the night in Tagaytay, see rates here: Tagaytay Hotels