Best Local Places

Beautiful and Historic Catholic Churches to Visit in Cebu and Bohol

Marvel at these notable Churches; get a glimpse of the locals’ spiritual life

By: Peter Parcon | June 25, 2016
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Being the only Christian country in Asia, churches are scattered in nearly all major areas in the archipelago. A good number of these Roman Catholic churches are located in the Visayas area, particularly in Cebu and Bohol. In fact, the oldest Roman Catholic Church was established in the Queen City of the South, Cebu City.

The following are some of the top Roman Catholic Churches worth visiting in Cebu and Bohol. These beautiful historic churches reflect the faith and life of generations of locals in the region.

Santo Niño Church (Cebu)

The Basílica Minore del Santo Niño, or the Santo Niño Church, is the first Roman Catholic church established in the Philippines. The church was established in 1565 and built on the spot where Spanish explorers found the Santo Niño de Cebu. The image of the child Jesus was the gift given by Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan to the wife of Rajah Humabon after he and his followers were baptized on April 14, 1521. The image is permanently housed inside a chapel within the basilica, protected by bulletproof glass.

popular Roman Catholic Churches Cebu Bohol Santo Nino Church

The collapsed bell tower of the Sto. Niño Church, following the 2013 earthquake

popular Roman Catholic Churches Cebu Bohol Santo Nino Church

Sto. Nino Church today after rehabilitation efforts were completed (Photos by Writer)

The image of the Santo Niño de Cebu has a special place in the hearts of Cebuanos, who venerate it every year during the Sinulog Festival. A dawn procession marks the start of the celebration where a replica of the image is brought through a major street in the city. The procession is followed by novena masses, and ends with another dawn procession of the image of the Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe de Cebu. The two images are brought to the National Shrine of Saint Joseph in Mandaue City. This reunites them with the image of Saint Joseph to form the Holy Family. The two images are later brought back to the basilica through a fluvial procession.

popular Roman Catholic Churches Cebu Bohol Santo Nino Church

Photo from Basílica Minore del Santo Niño Facebook Page

The Basílica Minore del Santo Niño was initially made of nipa palm, hard wood, and earth. But this structure burned down in 1566. Another structure was built in 1626, but it was also destroyed in 1628. The present structure of the church was built using hard stone in 1735 following the order of the Spanish governor general at that time, Fernando Valdés y Tamon. In 1990, a Pilgrim’s Center was built in the basilica compound to serve as the venue for the weekly Santo Niño novena and mass.

The bell tower and façade of the basilica were severely damaged on October 15, 2013 after a 7.2-magnitude earthquake shook the Visayas area. Rehabilitation efforts on the basilica were completed in time for the 2016 Sinulog Festival.

Some Tips for Visitors

popular Roman Catholic Churches Cebu Bohol Santo Nino Church

Pilgrim Center at the Basílica Minore del Santo Niño (Photo by Writer)

The basilica is one of the preferred venues for weddings in Cebu City. The best time to visit the basilica would be mid-morning since people normally attend masses early in the day or late in the afternoon. Since the Basílica Minore del Santo Niño is located in the heart of the city, it may be a struggle to find a suitable place to park in the area. While parking spaces are available a few meters from the church close to another cultural icon of the city, the Magellan’s Cross, it can fill up quickly whenever there is a major celebration at the church. Most jeepneys pass through the area close to the Santo Niño Church, including those marked 04B, 04C, 04D, 06B, 06C, 13B, 17C, 17B, and 17D.

Cebu Metropolitan Cathedral (Cebu)

The Cebu Metropolitan Cathedral is the ecclesiastical seat of the Archdiocese of Cebu. It is one of the oldest churches in the Philippines. The construction of the cathedral itself started in 1689 after Bishop Diego de Aguilar accumulated funds through a royal grant and income from the encomienda. However, it was not completed after the unfinished structure was destroyed by a typhoon. Reconstruction efforts were made in the next centuries, but were interrupted by numerous issues including the lack of funds and some unexpected events. The cathedral was finally completed during the term of Bishop Juan Bautista Gorordo in 1909.

popular Roman Catholic Churches Cebu Bohol Cebu Metropolitan Cathedral

Bell tower of the Cebu Metropolitan Cathedral

popular Roman Catholic Churches Cebu Bohol Cebu Metropolitan Cathedral

Façade of the Cebu Metropolitan Cathedral (Photos by Writer)

The cathedral was severely damaged during the Second World War with only the walls, façade, and belfry left standing. Reconstruction started in 1945 under the direction of Archbishop Reyes. The 2013 earthquake caused superficial damage to the cathedral, which resulted in its closure for a short period of time.

Some Tips for Visitors

popular Roman Catholic Churches Cebu Bohol Cebu Metropolitan Cathedral

Minor damage on the bell tower of the Cebu Metropolitan Cathedral (Photo by Writer)

Similar to the Santo Niño church, the best time to visit the cathedral is just before lunch or early in the afternoon since most of the faithful attend early morning or late afternoon mass. The Cebu Metropolitan Cathedral is also one of the favorite venues for weddings in the Queen City of the South. While the cathedral has ample parking space inside the compound, it may not be enough to accommodate all vehicles during major church events. But parking is also available along the street in front of the cathedral. The Cebu Metropolitan Cathedral is located within walking distance from the Santo Niño Church.

Sta. Monica Church (Bohol)

Many of the centuries-old churches in Bohol were destroyed or damaged by the 7.2-magnitude earthquake that hit the Visayas area on October 15, 2013. But some churches withstood the quake with only minor damage. These were then repaired in no time. One of these churches is the Sta. Monica Church in the town of Alburquerque, Bohol.

popular Roman Catholic Churches Cebu Bohol Sta. Monica Church

Photo courtesy of Joelaldor (own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Built in 1842, the church is among the oldest stone churches in the archipelago. The church was run by the Augustinian Recollect friars during the Spanish era. The parish was given ecclesiastical recognition in 1868 after being given royal approval on November 1868. The Sta. Monica Church was declared an Important Cultural Property by the National Museum of the Philippines in 2013. On August 27, 2014, the National Historical Commission of the Philippines unveiled a historical marker in the church.

Some Tips for Visitors

popular Roman Catholic Churches Cebu Bohol Sta. Monica Church

A notable feature of the church is its ceiling which is adorned with paintings by Ray Francia, who worked on them in the 1930s. The Sta. Monica Church was typically overlooked by travelers before the earthquake damaged the Baclayon Church. Today, however, the church is the preferred location for weddings since many of the damaged churches have yet to be fully rehabilitated.

The town of Alburquerque is located around 17 to 21km. from Tagbilaran City. Travel time from Tagbilaran to Alburquerque is around 30 minutes. Getting to the church is as easy as getting on a jeepney bound for the town at the jeepney terminal. The church grounds offer suitable parking space for people attending mass at the church.

The presence of churches across the archipelago reflects the piety and spirituality of Filipinos. This piety and spirituality strengthens the resilience of Filipinos as they face all the challenges in life with a smile, which is why Filipinos are among the happiest people in the planet. Aside from helping churchgoers keep the faith, visiting these churches also offer them a glimpse of our country’s rich history and what helped mould the Filipino identity as a people today.
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About Peter Parcon
After leaving spending 16 years of his professional life in the academe, Peter decided to try his luck in the world of online freelancing. For the past eight years, he has been creating content for clients all around the world. He can work on just about any topic - from tattoos to technology and food to finance. He dreams of visiting every island in the archipelago some day.
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