Seven or 14 churches? Explaining the origins of Visita Iglesia

April 6, 2023 - 10:46 AM
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Churchgoers in Manila
Catholic devotees enter the Quiapo Church as part of Visita Iglesia on Maundy Thursday (March 29, 2018). Visita Iglesia is a tradition to visit seven churches either on Maundy Thursday or Good Friday and recite the Stations of the Cross. (PNA/Jess Escaros Jr.)

The Visita Iglesia pilgrimage is an age-old practice that some historians trace back to the 1500s.

The Department of Tourism, Culture and the Arts of Manila (DTCAM) offered a brief history of this popular church visitation on Facebook for the Holy Week.

The government agency uploaded this information on its Facebook account on March 30.

DTCAM said that nowadays, some devotees visit either seven or 14 churches on Thursday in the last week of Lent.

“The Visita Iglesia is a Holy Week devotion among Filipino, visiting the seven or fourteen churches in order to pray or to meditate on the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ,” it said in the post.

“It commences in the late afternoon or early evening of the Holy Thursday after the Mass of the Last Supper when the Blessed Sacrament is already reserved at the altar of Repose or adoration inside the Church until midnight when it is concluded without solemnity since liturgically, the day of the Lord’s Passion has already begun,” the agency added.

RELATED: Your guide to Visita Iglesia 

The exact origin of the devotion to visit several churches during Maundy Thursday has yet to be determined.

Several historical accounts, however, have similar accounts that the activity was propagated by the Augustinian friars, the first missionaries who arrived in the Philippines in 1565.

They were believed to be influenced or inspired by Saint Philip Neri, also an Augustinian friar, who established the visitation of seven traditional pilgrim churches in Rome as a form of penance in 1559.

Neri is the patron saint of Rome, special forces of the United States, humor and joy. His feast day is celebrated on May 26.

Back then, the “circuit” of seven pilgrim churches in Rome are as follows:

  • Saint Peter’s Basilica
  • Saint Paul Outside the Walls
  • San Sebastian
  • Saint John Lateran
  • Scala Santa
  • Santa Croce in Gerusalemme
  • Saint Lawrence Outside the Walls
  • Saint Mary Major

In the Philippines, the Visita Iglesia has become both a solemn religious gathering for devotees and a unique trip to churches for travelers.

During the two-year strict travel restrictions, several churches launched virtual platforms for their parishioners to be able to still practice their traditions.

RELATED: Rundown: Where you can access virtual Visita Iglesia for Holy Week 2021 

In 2020, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines revived its decade-old website that offers an interactive view of select churches in the country in time for Visita Iglesia under a nationwide lockdown.

READ: ‘Virtual Visita Iglesia’ made possible via a decade-old website of CBCP