In exploring the length of Aurora Boulevard, there are many significant Catholic churches which can be visited on this route during the traditional Visita Iglesia, or the Seven Churches Pilgrimage, during the Holy Week of the Lenten Season. The pilgrimage started in the formative years of the Catholic Church, when devotees would visit seven churches around Rome, as an act of penance. This tradition grew with the Via Francigena that started in England, and ended at the tombs of the saints Peter and Paul, in Rome.
The formalization of the seven as the number of churches to be visited was started by Saint Philip Romulo Neri (1515-1595) around 1553. The saint and companions would set out on a “Seven Churches Walk”, as a counter to the questionable behavior of people during the Carnival of Venice, which to him marred the solemnity of Shrove Tuesday (Martedì Grasso or Mardi Gras), the eve of Ash Wednesday, which starts the Lenten Season.
In the Philippines, the Visita Iglesia was traditionally held on either on Maundy Thursday or Good Friday, and pilgrims would recite the Stations of the Cross at each church. Some eagerly “pious” folk would visit fourteen churches, where they would recite one station of the Passion of Christ, per church.
Located close to the southeastern corner Katipunan Avenue and Aurora Boulevard, the Monasterio de Santa Clara is a favorite pilgrimage site for those who seek divine intervention for good weather for a special day, especially during a wedding. Established by Order of the Poor Clares in Manila in 1630, Monasterio de Santa Clara was transferred to Quezon City in 1950, after the original convent was destroyed by the bombings of World War II, in 1945. The present structure of the Monasterio de Santa Clara is done in the American Pueblo style of churches, creating a nostalgic ambience of colonial Philippines.
Situated near the northwestern corner of Katipunan Avenue and Aurora Boulevard, the Good Shepherd Provincialate is the home of the Sisters of the Religious of the Good Shepherd (RGS) and the order’s Philippine Province. Although the RSG sisters have been in the Philippines since 1912, the Good Shepherd Provincialate opened its Quezon City convent in 1949, and launched the nearby St. Bridget School in 1966. Although the Good Shepherd Provincialate Chapel is a very simple modernist structure, the lush greenery around the compound is more than enough to but a visitor’s mind at ease. Also within the Good Shepherd Provincialate compound is the Museum Idyll, which features photographs, artifacts, installations and paintings that chronicle the history of the Good Shepherd Sisters in the Philippines, and the Asian-Pacific Region. Opened in 2011, the Museum Idyll was curated by the noted curator and historian, Marian Pastor Roces, who is an alumna of the St. Bridget School Quezon City.
Found near the corner of Anonas Street and Aurora Boulevard, the beauty of the Saint Joseph Archdiocesan Shrine is overshadowed by the LRT Train Station. Despite this, visitors are awed by the beautiful modernist design and intricate stained glass windows that depict the story of Saint Joseph’s life. Aside from these, there are also three beautiful murals painted by the noted artist, Loreto T. Racuya (born 1940).
Traveling along the New Manila section of Aurora Boulevard, pilgrims can take a right turn down Doña Hemady Avenue towards the St. Joseph Convent of Perpetual Adoration. Administered by the Holy Spirit Adoration Sisters (SSpSAp i.e. Congregatio Servarum Spiritus Sancti de Adoratione Perpetua), or Pink Sisters, visitors can submit petitions for prayers, which will be prayed upon by the nuns. Aside from gaining divine intercessions through the sisters, visitrs can also marvel at the work of the National Artist for Architecture, Arch. José María Velez Zaragoza (1912-1994), who designed and completed the convent in 1965.
From the Convent of the Pink Sisters, visitors can drive down 12th Street and turn right at Gilmore Avenue, to visit the Convent of the Carmel of Thérèse of Lisieux. Home to the Discalced Carmelites, the convent was erected in 1926, three years after the first Carmelite nuns stepped foot in the Philippines, on the shores of Jaro, Iloilo. The present structure was completed in the 1950s, and is dedicated to the French saint, mystic and Doctor of the Church; Saint Thérèse of Lisieux (born Marie Françoise-Thérèse Martin, 1873-1897), who also known as Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face.
From the Carmelite Convent, pilgrims move on to another Carmelite edifice, the Minor Basilica of the National Shrine of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Aside from being a National Shrine and a Minor Basilica, the Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish is also an impressive collection of art and design. The original architecture was designed by Arch. Maximo Vicente, Jr. between 1954 and 1964, while his father, Máximo Vicente, Sr. (1885-1964) carved many of the religious icons throughout the church. Later additions were designed by Arch. Antonia M. Hubilla, while the new altarpieces were created by the Liturgical designer Antonio “Tony” Adriano (born 1951). However, the crowning glory of the Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish is the 1937 sculpture of Our Lady of Mount Carmel as the “Ina ng Mundo” by the renowned artists, Graciano T. Nepomuceno (1881-1974) and Anastacio Tanchauco Caedo (1907-1990).
And finally, the pilgrimage ends at the Most Holy Redeemer Parish, in Brixton Hills Subdivision, which is several hundred meters from the northwestern intersection of Araneta Avenue and Aurora Boulevard. The parish was established in 1954, and the church edifice was completed in 1962. The simple but colorful design of the church is a beautiful example of the modernist international style. Housed in the church are almost a hundred icons of different saints, which are used in the “March of the Saints” on Halloween, as the parish’s attempt to regain the sanctity of All Hallow’s Eve.
There are two other notable chapels along the Aurora Boulevard Visita Iglesia route that are not opened to the general public. The first is the Stella Maris College’s Chapel of the Lilies, which was built in 1955 for Franciscan Missionaries of Mary (FMM). The second is the Sisters of St. Paul of Chartres, Novitiate and Provincial House’s Saint Paul College Chapel, which was originally build in 1931, and redesigned in 1998.
Whether a person is a Catholic or not, one cannot deny the influence of the Catholic parishes and schools have had in unifying and organizing communities in the Philippines. In taking the Visita Iglesia, visitors do not just experience the beauty of the art and architecture of the churches, but the very history that helped for the neighborhoods around those churches.