“Pananampalataya at Sining” (Faith and Art): The Filipino Visita Iglesia

The Visita Iglesia: The Practice

In the country where the dominant religion is Roman Catholicism, the Season of Lent and the Holy Week are marked by colorful liturgical celebrations and popular Filipino devotions. For Filipino Catholics, the Lenten Season starts on Ash Wednesday, while the Holy Week starts at Palm Sunday and ends at Easter Sunday, a slight deviation from the liturgical canon (The Holy week should start from the evening of Saturday before Palm Sunday until Holy Thursday before sunset). Among many popular Filipino Holy Week devotions are the usage of blessed Palm Fronds at Palm Sunday to seemingly send off bad luck and evil spirits, the Pabasa or reading of the Passion of Christ (a 200-paged book containing lyrics narrating the whole salvation history), the Visita Iglesia or church-to-church trip to pray the Way of the Cross, the Senakulo or theatrical play of the salvation history,  the Last Supper Mass at Maundy Thursday, the Veneration of the Cross at Good Friday, the long procession for the interred Christ, the Easter Vigil Mass (Saturday night), and the Salubong or meet-up of two images (Christ and Mary) at the dawn of Easter Sunday. All of these, plus few other activities depending on the local community, make up the liturgical life of Filipinos during the Holy Week, where penance and reconciliation with the Lord are deemed necessary.

Initially, Visita Iglesia is the practice of visiting at least seven (7) churches on Maundy Thursday to honor the Blessed Sacrament, which Jesus Christ has instituted (Sacrament of Eucharist). But the practice evolved through time. The day of the visit is no longer limited to Maundy Thursday alone, but to anytime during the lenten season until black Saturday. The visits have become more than an spiritual endeavor (of meditation and pilgrimage). It has become a touristic activity, promoting the old churches in the country.

Spiritual and Museum Experience of the Visita Iglesia

The Visita Iglesia, with its contemplative nature, is similar to a museum exhibition. There are objects (churches) in display and ready for the viewers to be experienced aesthetically or spiritually. Each of these object-churches narrates the (his)stories of their communities and of their people. These his-stories can then be read by the viewers-pilgrims in many forms (i.e. didactics, oral, written). The viewers-pilgrims can weave their own grand narrative of stories through self-guidance and DIY itineraries. The itineraries, or order of the visits, provide for the self-directed aesthetic experience preceding the deeper spiritual journey. Some artistic exhibitions work similarly: self-directed, contemplative, and “pilgrimage”-like.

The Itinerary

For the first time, I did my own walking Visita Iglesia within the central district of Manila, the beacon of the Catholicism in the Spanish colonial period. As being a devout Catholic and with my personal interest in Church art, I took the visita iglesia as both a pilgrimage and curatorial (museum-like) experience.

The Visita started at the (1) Sto. Domingo Church (National Shrine of Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary of La Naval de Manila) along Quezon Avenue. This ecclesiastical complex is established by the Dominicans in the early 1500’s. This church is a treasure-vault on its own. It has murals made by National Artists Botong Francisco and stain-glass windows made by Modernist Galo Ocampo.

Sto. Domingo Church (Our Lady of Most Holy Rosary - La Naval de Manila), Quezon City
Sto. Domingo Church (Our Lady of Most Holy Rosary – La Naval de Manila), Quezon City

I hailed a jeepney and went westward to the University of Santo Tomas (UST) where another parish dedicated to the Our Lady of Most Holy Rosary is located. Inside UST, one can find the (2) Santissimo Rosario Parish. Across the main gate of UST, one can find an alley towards Loyola Street. Along Loyola, there is a small alley which leads towards the Sampaloc Public Market, where the twin Churches of Sampaloc, the (3) Our Lady of Loreto Parish, and the (4) Saint Anthony Shrine are located.

I walked few meters towards Legarda and find the (5) San Sebastian Church (Our Lady of Mt. Carmel).

San Sebastian Church (Our Lady of Mt. Carmel), Quiapo, Manila
San Sebastian Church (Our Lady of Mt. Carmel), Quiapo, Manila

I came back to Mendiola and walked to the (6) National Shrine of St. Jude Thaddeus.

Altar of National Shrine of St. Jude Thaddeus, San Miguel, Manila
Altar of National Shrine of St. Jude Thaddeus, San Miguel, Manila

I rode a jeepney towards SM Manila, and waited for bus that goes to Pandacan. I dropped by the (7) Santo Nino Church.

Facade of Santo Nino de Pandacan Church, Pandacan, Manila
Facade of Santo Nino de Pandacan Church, Pandacan, Manila

I rode a tricycle to Pedro Gil street and had transferred to another jeepney going to Sta. Ana to find the (8) Sta. Ana Church (Our Lady of the Abandoned).

Facade of the Our Lady of the Abandoned, Sta. Ana, Manila
Facade of the Our Lady of the Abandoned, Sta. Ana, Manila

Then, a jeepney-ride back can bring one to the (9) Ermita Church (Nuestra Seniora de Guia), Another jeepney ride, southbound, to my final church, which is the (10) Malate Church (Our Lady of Remedies).

Facade of the Our Lady of Remedies Church, Malate, Manila
Facade of the Our Lady of Remedies Church, Malate, Manila

The Visita Iglesia is more than a “field trip” for the believers. The aesthetic appreciation of the church facade, interiors, retablos and treasures should aid the devotees to a deeper relationship with the Lord. The liturgical arts and space are there to facilitate prayer and devotion. The focus must not be on the destination but on how does the journey transform devotees to a better Christian person.


From Korea to the World: A reflection on Chunhyang (2000 film by Im Kwon-Taek)

“The wild geese desire the sea, the crabs desire their holes, and a butterfly desires a flower.”

It was, perhaps, a desire to showcase Korean culture to the world that drove celebrated Korean director, Im Kwon-Taek, to give the world a glimpse of ancient Korean society through p’ansori, a unique method of storytelling that is traditionally performed live and on stage. In retelling the legend of Chunhyang to a global audience, Mr. Im not only reinvented the narrative experience of a known epic to his local audience but also presented his international viewers a colorful representation of medieval Korean society and its culture. This attempt was succesful as the 2000 film “Chunhyang” received numerous accolades worldwide such as a nomination in the 2000 Cannes Film Festival.

"Chunghyandyun" (original title) Director: Im Kwon-Taek
“Chunghyandyun” (original title)
Director: Im Kwon-Taek

The film begins with a scene set in modern-day South Korea featuring a p’ansori´ singer, kwangdae, who performs the Chunghyungga (the story of Chunhyang) in front of an audience with a varied demographic. The kwangdae then tells the main narrative of the film: a Romeo-and-Juliet romance set in 18th century Korea, but with a happy ending. A romance story which has perhaps inspired the blooming of local romantic films and TV dramas which have recurrent themes of love between classes. Chunghyungga, the story being told in Chunhyang (2000), is wrapped with the themes of 1) young and careless romance that has matured into the virtues of sacrifice and perseverance, 2) system of hierarchy in politics and domestic affairs, and 3) display of ancient Korean culture. These themes built up an appealing plot that became a surving oral traditional art which made its way into the modern cinema.

The film work is basically a retelling of Chunghyungga as being perfomed through p’ansori, but with dramatized sequences. The film switches back and forth with the p’ansori singer and the telenovela-esque scenes. It is vital to note that the dramatic scenes were synchronized with the kwangdae’s story, which is either sung or spoken. The pace and mood of the drama depended largely on the singer’s tempo and melody. For example, there is a scene where the servant, Pangja, is tasked to look for Chunhyang. As Pangja frolicked his way into the woods, the kwangdae performed the narration in a similar ecstatic and delightful manner. The viewers are confronted with a narrator who knows how to influence emotions as they experience the film. Also, there are times when the singer takes over the voice of the actors in the drama, as to emphasize a significant dialogue. The typical Chunghyungga performance takes more than five hours, but the film sliced it down to around two hours, maintaining the essential story plot and significant narrative lines for imagery and emotional appeal. Without the p’ansori narration, the main romance story would perhaps come out as a typical modern period drama with the same overused plot.

In addition, the production and its design are not to be ignored. Creating a period drama is a costly undertaking. Costumes, set design, location, set pieces and other cultural motifs have to be meticulously prepared. The film Chunghyang features beautiful landscapes, sufficient village structures, wardrobe, and numerous supplementary actors; determinants of a highly–budgeted film.

Furthermore, Chunghyungga is famous among the local audience and has been made into film numerous times and retold through various art forms. Koreans are familiar with the story, as well as the p’ansori performance. Thus, a film about a p’ansori performance of Chunghyungga that is targeted to the local audience would be would not be appealing. Im Kwon-Taek, perhaps, aimed at showcasing the beauty of Korean culture to the world by re-presenting the art of p’ansori and re-packaging the story of Chunghyang. With the production and the performance as a feast to the senses and emotion, the film is made to enhance the aesthetic appeal of the Korean culture to the rest of the world.

Celebrated Korean director, Im Kwon-Taek.
photo from: http://www.biff.kr

In other words, Chunhyang (2000) is made to be appreciated and experienced by non-Korean film viewers. The p’ansori performance, the impressive production, the heroic and persevering love, and the nostalgia for ancient culture, all of these work to depict the “Korean-ness” (Lee 2005) of its thriving nation, as seen in the preservation of its culture and in its embrace of modernity and progress.

Chunhyang (2000) IMDB


Clark, Donald T. Culture and Customs of Korea. Greenwood Press: London, 2000. Pp72-73.

National Academy of Korean Language. An Influential Guide to Korean Culture.

Karten, Harvey. “Chunhyangdyun”. Harvey Karten. Retrieved 12 November 2013.

“Pansori”. Wikipedia. Retrieved 10 November 2013.

“Chunghyang (2000 film)”. Wikipedia. Retrieved 10 November 2013.

“Chunghyungga”. Wikipedia. Retrieved 10 November 2013.

Lee, Hyangjin (September 1, 2005). CHUNHYANG: Marketing an Old Korean Tradition in New Korean Cinema. NYU Press. Retrieved from http://books.google.com.ph/books?id=s4oA19by0uYC&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false; 10 November 2013.