History and Culture · Laguna

Lake Towns of Laguna and Centuries-Old Churches

The province of Laguna is cherished for its heritage churches, houses and architectures – remembrances during the Spanish era that are preserved up to this time.

On Philippine Independence Day, I thought of doing a solo trip to explore Laguna and successfully accomplished my mission for the day! I was able to visit six towns along Laguna de Bay loop, particularly its old churches built with baroque architecture. Let me walk you through my itinerary, learning and unforgettable experiences on the journey.

Town of Bay and St. Augustine Church

Bay (pronounced as Ba-i) is the home of the old St. Augustine Church, which was built at Aplaya in 1571 by the Augustine priest, Reb. P. Martin de Rada and transferred to the Poblacion (its current location) in 1804 by the Franciscan missionaries (Philippine National Historical Institute/PNHI).

Church of Bay

Town of Pila and San Antonio de Padua Church

Pila is known for its preserved heritage houses around the plaza. Modern establishments such as 7-11, Mercury Drugstore and Pan de Sally (bakery) are situated in these houses.

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Heritage Houses at Pila

History tells us that a priest, in the person of Rev. Juan de Florencia OFM, came to minister to this town in 1578. In 1606, the Franciscan missionaries established a printing press under Tomas Pinpin and Domingo Loag (PNHI). Tomas Pinpin is known as the First Filipino printer and is referred to as the “Prince of the Filipino printers” (e.wikipedia.org). The Franciscans even established a rest house in this town for its sick missionaries from 1618 to 1673.

Pila’s old San Antonio de Padua Church stands along the highway. It was built at the beginning of the 19th century (1800s). Eye-catching are the well-maintained stone pillars and capiz windows of the liceo (old convent) and the floor tiles that were laid in front of the church premises in an organized fashion.

       The Church of Pila and its old convent

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Town of Sta. Cruz and the Immaculate Concepcion Church

Sta. Cruz is the capital town of Laguna. Its church, the Immaculate Concepcion Church, was originally constructed in 1608, got burned in 1945 under the liberation, and reconstructed in 1948 under the auspices of the 10th post-war Executive Planning Council of Sta. Cruz (PNHI).

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Town of Lumban and San Sebastian Parish Church

Lumban is known for the craft of embroidery. Along the highway at Lumban are neighboring embroidery shops which display and offer hand and machined baro’t saya and other linen products at lesser costs than those found in the malls. The embroidery industry progressed during the Marcos regime when Imelda Marcos required cabinet members to wear barongs and Filipiniana gowns during government functions. More of my memories in Lumban is discussed in this article: Lumban’s Embroidery.

Female barong and cocoon and chiffon shawls on display
Female barong and cocoon and chiffon shawls on display
Elegant Filipiniana gown and barong displayed at Cris Allen's Embroidery
Elegant Filipiniana gown and barong displayed at Cris Allen’s Embroidery

The church of Lumban, San Sebastian Parish Church, is located 10-15 minutes away from the town market. Upon entering the church vicinity, I felt like walking along ancient pillars and pathways of its old convent; they seemed untouched for years, hence, preserving its antiquity. So is with the bellfry. Only the facade of the church was renovated. Unfortunately, the church was closed after the townsfolk celebrated Independence Day in the morning. While taking pictures, I met and exchanged a few conversations with the band master of Banda Alejandro, the drum and lyre band of Lumban.

I felt like walking along the fort at Intramuros. This is the old convent of the Church of Lumban.
I felt like walking along the fort of Intramuros. This is the old convent of the Church of Lumban.

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According to historical narratives, Lumban (“Lumbang”) was for a time the center of all missionary activities in Laguna (in the late 1570s). The San Sebastian Parish Church, which was originally made of wood and thatch, got burned and was replaced by the stone church in 1600. In 1606, Rev. Juan de Sta. Maria, OFM, a Franciscan missionary, conducted a regional school where “400 boys were taught liturgical hymns and the use of musical instruments” (PNHI).

Across the church is a close view of the Lumban River. Its natural beauty was simply invigorating!

Lumban River

Town of Paete and St. James the Apostle Parish

Paete (pronounced as Pay-ti by the locals) is the home of export-quality woodcarving and papier-mache (taka). Many refer to it as the “Carving Capital of the Philippines.”

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According to an article written by Ms. Mailah Baldemor, an artist and daughter of the famous artist-painter, Manny Baldemor, Paete derived its name from “paet” (chisel) which is primarily used for woodcarving. Paete is founded in 1580 by Rev. Juan de Plasencia. The Franciscan monks honed the woodcarving skills of the Paetenos in the late 1580s and “helped establish Paete as the leading carving center in the Pacific.” Later on, Paetenos also catered to clients in Europe. For instance, based on one source, the life-sized crucified Christ in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome was sculpted in Paete.

Furthermore, it was during the American regime that the art of papier-mache (taka) was further developed. The rising newspaper industry produced more newsprint useful for taka-making. More information about Paete and the shaping of its folk arts could be found here http://www.artesdelasfilipinas.com/archives/6/paete-s-taka.

The Quesada Street is the business district of Paete where woodcarvings (such as religious statues, statuettes and wall decors) and papier-mached products (such as horses, fruits, masks, etc.) are sold. Also, the Paeteneo souvenir shop lying at its entrance sell pasalubongs (keychains, ref magnets, t-shirts, bracelets, etc.).

Amazing papier-machied horses and fruits. Pick one! 🙂
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If you are looking for masks, a shop along Quesada street offers a variety of designs.

The street has food stalls like siomai station and mini-restaurants such as Aklo, which offers Ilocos-inspired empanada and silog (sinangag-itlog) of different kinds. It is also home to Kape Quesada Art Gallery, a cozy coffee shop which features the paintings and sculptures of artists from Paete and other towns in Laguna.

Artists' masterpiece at Kape Kesada
Artists’ masterpiece at Kape   Kesada

I happened to know Kape Quesada through the blog Traveler on Foot, which featured the beauty of Paete. Check out the blog here https://traveleronfoot.wordpress.com/paete/. I had a great time meeting new friends from Quezon – Carol, Zarina and Prox who, like me, read about the coffee shop online and intentionally went to Paete to experience the place. We are blessed to be given the chance to meet and chat with the owner, Dr. Nilo Valdecantos, over a cup of coffee. He is a friendly dentist, a poet and an arts advocate who is passionate to boost the tourism in Paete.

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                  Kape Kesada Art Gallery

Paete’s St. Joseph the Apostle Parish was originally built in 1646. Unique to this church are the artistic and intricate carvings on the facade and walls, illustrating the unusual talent of the townsfolk on visual arts. Also, it seemed to reflect a more yellowish color during noontime, making it even more beautiful. The church was closed during my visit, hence, I was not able to see the famous old paintings inside the church. This will be included in my next itinerary to Laguna.

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Intricate designs on the walls of Paete Church

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Town of Pakil and St. Peter of Alcantara Parish

Pakil had been part of Paete until 1676. Its church, St. Peter of Alcantara Parish was originally built from bamboo and nipa and was replaced by stone church in 1732. It is easy to spot since it is situated along the highway.

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The Church of Pakil with Sierra Madre mountain in the background


I started my journey from Waltermart in Calamba, Laguna. I opted to ride jeepneys to carry me from one town plaza to another. The plazas are my landmark since the old churches are always a few steps away from it.

1. Bay plaza – from Waltermart-Calamba, ride a jeepney bound to Sta. Cruz (P25.00). Travel time is 30-45 minutes (depending on flow of traffic at Los Banos).

Sightseeing mode: Calamba has several natural hot spring resorts and man-made resorts for you to choose from. What was fascinating along the highway at Calamba are the neighboring displays of colorful “salbabidas” (lifesavers) for sale. Under the heat of the sun, some men waved their “private pool” rectangular signs to motorists and passing vehicles to get the attention of pool goers.

2. Pila plaza – from Bay church, ride a jeepney bound to Sta. Cruz (P15.00). Estimated travel time is 20 minutes.

Sightseeing mode: You will observe neighboring gardens (with plants for sale) along the highway and pass by the Isdaan Resto Fun Park.

3. Sta. Cruz plaza – from Pila plaza, ride a jeepney going to Sta. Cruz (P18.00). Travel time is 25-30 minutes.

4. Lumban church – from the Sta. Cruz plaza, ride a jeepney bound to Lumban market (P15.00). It will take you around 15-20 minutes to get there. From the market, walk for around 10-15 minutes towards the church. If you wish to go to the shops, ride a tricycle at the market and ask the driver to bring you to the shops.

5. Paete town – from the national highway, ride a jeepney bound to Paete or Siniloan (P16.00). It will take you around 15 minutes to get to the drop-off point. From the drop-off at the highway, walk towards the wet market and into the village until you reach the plaza with the statue of Jose P. Rizal (15-20 minutes).

Sightseeing mode: You will have a breathtaking view of the mountains and Laguna de Bay along the highway.

6. Pakil plaza – from the Rural Bank of Paete at the Quesada Street, ride a tricycle going to Pakil (P10.00) or jeepney bound to Siniloan (P8.00). Pakil Plaza is less than 10 minutes away from Paete. Alight at the Pakil plaza.

End of the day’s journey: From Pakil plaza, ride a jeepney going back to Sta. Cruz (P32.00). I left Pakil at 4:00PM bound to my hometown. 🙂


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