Charming Chapels of Negros

“Visita Iglesia” is a Roman Catholic tradition performed right after the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday. It involves going about town, visiting several churches and seeing their various renditions of the Altar of Repose that ranges from pastoral to ornate. In the more eclectic Philippine church, the observance could stretch until the wee hours of Good Friday, all depending on the location of the churches visited – some drive out of town for this. And the manner of practice is sundry. Choosing seven churches is significant as it is associated with the seven last words of Christ. But others push the overnight pilgrimage to the limit by stopping at 14 churches, this time in honor of the 14 stations of the cross.

Kapilya San Miguel

Chapel of Cartwheels

That’s the how of things. When asked why they practice “Visita Iglesia”, most simply say to pray – a novena, or the rosary, or even the entire stations of the cross at each stop – as if the visit is just another creative expression of prayer. Maybe. But there are unusual reasons as well. One motive is to avoid a repeat of something that happened some two thousand years ago at the Garden of Gethsemane. Matthew reminds us in his Gospel. In Chapter 26, Verse 40 he writes: “Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. ‘Couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour?’ he asked Peter.”

Chapel of the Fallen Tree

And on that, the “Visita Iglesia” takes on a penitential veil, to dehex, if you will, any spell to doze off on the eve of Christ’s passion and death on the cross. Unorthodox, nay unheard of, perhaps till now.

Negrenses have faithfully observed Holy Week traditions wherever life has taken them. All over the world we continue to hear of their practices, some tweaked by local circumstances, like taking subways at night and walking long distances, or the fact that their local places of worship are not open all throughout the evening. But the desire to offer prayers of thanksgiving or supplicate for dire needs, “mga panata” or religious vows planted in their hearts when they were growing up in Negros, throb and thrive.

Doña Corazon Locsin Montelibano Chapel

This month, Negros Season of Culture once again reaches out to all Negrenses and all Filipinos the world over by celebrating a virtual “Visita Iglesia”. This will be streamed live on Facebook, on Holy Thursday, 10p.m. Philippine Time, that’s 3p.m. in London, 10a.m. in New York, and 7a.m. in Los Angeles.

Adding great interest to the observance are video documentaries on seven Charming Chapels of Negros. Some are not so old, some are not so new, but for sure none has been given as much creative leeway as these video presentations permit. For sure, a popular chapel in Manapla and another in Victorias, regular stops in well-established tour itineraries, will evoke a longing for home.

St. Joseph the Worker Parish

There is chapel, this time in Bacolod, which many suppose they already know like the back of their hands. But not often is it referred to as the work of a national artist. Still another, also in Bacolod, is dedicated to the Virgen sang Barangay, a truly Filipino image of the Mother of Christ, whose creation and devotion will be the subject of an accompanying article.

A chapel in Talisay has turned out to be a perfect place to pray at the time of the pandemic lockdowns. Here, devotees enjoy a robust sea wind as they lilt to the monotone of gentle waves coming to shore. But if the sea is not your cup of tea, then we send you up to the mountains of Silay and Don Salvador Benedicto, as if to touch the clouds of heaven, for what easily could be the newest entries in the list of Charming Chapels of Negros.


Text by: Alan S. Gensoli
Photos By: John Kimwell Laluma

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