The Basilica de San Martin de Tours or simply known as Taal Basilica is located in a most prominent area. It is easily visible in most major streets in the town of Taal. Typical of the hispanic influenced towns in the Philippines which considered the church as the center of town life. :) Standing on the top of the stairs leading to the Basilica you can get a comprehensive view of the town square and the surrounding historic residential and commercial area.
This Basilica Minor in Taal is a baroque church made out of adobe and coral was constructed in 1856 and completed in 1878. It is considered to be the largest in the Philippines and in Asia (length 96 metres or 315 ft, width 45 metres or 148 ft). It's actually the third version of church built by the Augustinians... the two previous ones were badly damaged by the strong earthquakes which rocked the town of Taal. The remains of original of church can still be seen in San Nicolas which was the original site of Taal Town.
A visit to the Basilica is a good way to spend a half an hour or more during you Taal tour.
This is a MUST SEE in the heritage town of Taal, Batangas. Not only because of its imminence in the history of Philippine Revolution but also as a proof that Filipinas were also actively involved in the fight for Philippine independence.
Blogger Traveler on Foot wrote an informative piece about the place:
Aside from the fact that I was blown away by the story of Dona Gliceria Marella de Villavicencio (aka The Godmother of Philippine Revolution), I also found it exciting to get more knowledge about how the Revolutionary forces managed to get around the Spanish and continue to fight a pitched battle.
For example, the guide showed us the secret opening to the room, actually the cistern, beneath the dining room where revolutionary leaders like Andres Bonifacio, Miguel Malvar, Vito Belarmino, and Felipe Calderon used to meet in secret to plot their battle strategies while the enemies reside right next door. :) Bonifacio was said to don the disguise of a cockfighter when he had to meet with his co-revolutionaries in Dona Eriang's house.
BTW, you have a choice of just touring around the ancestral house or taking your snacks there. The fees for this tour are as follows:
1. Tour - P70/pax
2. Tour + Snacks - P100/pax (Snacks menu: Hot chocolate, sticky rice cake, bonete)
Visiting Villa Tortuga is a treat for history buffs. Not only do they have period pieces galore but they also have a studio where you can slip into period costumes and be photographed with a backdrop just like you see in antique portraits.
Entrance to the heritage house is P50/pax. if you are going to don costumes then add P200/pax to the basic fee.
BTW, I heard they also cater to those who want to have a deeper experience on how the rich people live way back during the Spanish Era. For P 1, 500.00/pax they will provide you with "authentic" 18th century Taal Experience (dress up in 18th century costume, eat authentic Taal Cuisine using 18th century flatware and silverware, be led to a guided tour of the selected Taal heritage homes AND get a sepia souvenir foto to remember the experience by. :)
This is a place that you shoudn't miss. Basilica of St. Martin de Tours is amazingly huge! You may opt to climb the highest peak as well. There is a fee of Php 50.00. You will find the entrance going up on the right side of the church.
We made the Basilica our first stop in our trip to Taal Batangas. Being "The Biggest Catholic Church in Asia", we were intrigued by its size. The church dates back to the 1800's and is definitely big. As we were going around the church, a security guard suggested that we go up the bell tower, which was 96 steps up. We were led to a small door where the stairs was just probably 3 feet wide and dark even if there were small flourescent lamps along the way. It was eerie, but we found it really exciting. Definitely not for the claustrophobics. On top, you will get an awesome view of the town, including the shoreline. We didn't even realize we were that close to the beach already.
The "Taal Burda" is famous for its craftmanship and unique design, but I never knew they also did beadwork. I'ved tried doing beadwork in my recent gown project and I am awed at the creations I found in the Taal Market. Had I seen this place 18 years ago, I would've bought my wedding gown here. They have package deals which includes the bridal gown and accessories and the groom's barong for only P5,000.00. The price of course depends on the intricacy of the gown's and barong's design. You can have the clothes of your whole entourage made here too. They also sell souvenirs, costume jewelry and tiaras.
The Church of Our Lady of Caysasay is one of Taal’s distinct cultural structures housing some priceless relics dating back from the Spanish colonial period.
Caysasay enshrines the 400-year-old 27-centimeter image of the Virgin fished out by a resident from the Pansipit River in 1603. Legend has it that the image enthroned in Taal Church used to wander through the village, performing miracles. It has become an object of annual pilgrimage, attracting legions of Roman Catholic devotees from various parts of the country.
It was in 1619, after a woman witnessed and reported a Marian apparition on the rocky hillside of the village of Caysasay, that the image was said to have started to perform miracles.
Located in Sitio Labac, the church has been renovated, but many interesting details of period art can still be appreciated. Other artifacts include the Augustinian emblems engraved in the communion rails, the ornately carved holy water receptacle, and the few remaining Baroque motifs which remain on the external frieze. The original church-sanctuary also connects to an orphanage.
This national landmark is the birthplace of Marcela Agoncillo, known as the seamstress of the first Filipino flag.
Located in a street aptly named in her honor, the museum prominently displays the different flags used during the Philippine revolution against Spanish colonialization. A mounument in her honor stands at the right side of the historic house.
The wife of Felipe Agoncillo, one of the foremost architects of the Philippine revolution, Marcela was a dedicated aficionada of the revolution, and is said to have sold her precious gems to support the mission of her husband in other countries for the purpose of gaining Philippine independence.
She is credited foremost for having sewn the first Philippine flag which Heneral Emilio Aguinaldo proudly raised on the Declaration of Philippine Independence in Kawit on June 12, 1898. The flag was sewn during her time of exile in Hong Kong with husband Felipe.
One of the basic considerations in declaring Taal a UNESCO Heritage Site is the existence of well preserved ancestral homes. We didn't get to see all the ancestral homes, but we managed to see some on the way to Caysasay.
It is amazing how such ancestral homes can give us a good time-warp feeling of Taal's glorious past, not to mention a deeper appreciation of the architectural details of the house of the rich and famous.
Since you are on a pilgrimage anyway, consider it a sacrifice to use the "Hagdan-hagdan" route to Our Lady of Caysasay Shrine. It is some 125 steps down from the road, and that would be x2 including your going up. There are level areas between flights where the faint of heart can pause for rest.
I suggest that pilgrims pray the rosary or mentally chant religious songs while traversing the steps so it will be a meaningful sacrifice.
While in Taal, visit the Shrine of Our Lady of Caysasay, and lift up your personal prayer intentions to her.
Our Lady of Caysasay has an interesting story that even the young or old Taaleno would be happy to relate to pilgrims. Local folks still remember how in 1603, a fisherman named Juan Maningcad found a small image, about 6 inches tall (which was later identified by the parish priest as the Immaculate Conception) in the Pansipit River in Barrio Caysasay, Taal, Batangas. In no time, news about it spread, and the villagers, awed by its heavenly glow, brought the image of Our Lady to Taal,and entrusted it to the widow of the town judge for safekeeping. An urn was specially made for it, but many times, it mysteriously disappeared then reappeared. The widow reported it to the parish priest, who immediately assigned people to keep vigil and observe. They were dumbfounded to see the urn open by itself, more so when they saw the image of Our Lady leave the urn, then return later. Upon hearing about it,the parish priest advised the people to light candles and follow the image. Soon, they discovered that it went to the site (Caysasay) where it was originally found. The parish priest decided to transfer the image from the widow's house to the town (Taal) church...but the same thing happened, until one day, it just disappeared.
In 1611, it was rediscovered on top of a tall sampaguita bush by two women who were surprised to see its image on the water of the Pansipit River. When the parish priest heard about it, he and the people agreed that it was Our Lady's wish to stay in Caysasay. Soon, they built a chapel on the same site where the image was found. The first miracle of Our Lady occurred on that spot, when an almost blind girl, Juana Tangui, saw her in a vision and her eyes were cured. This miracle was recorded in the Church "Ordinario", and is considered the first recorded apparition in the Philippines and Asia. An arch was built on the site of apparition, and the place was called "Ang Banal na Pook".
The first chapel was said to be torn down in 1639, then replaced by a coral stone structure. Some Chinese stonemasons constructing the shrine were included in the execution and massacre during the Sangley Revolution. One of the masons, Hay Bing a.k.a Juan Imbing was seen by people being executed, then thrown to the lake. That same night, he was reportedly "led" by Our Lady to the well beside the unfinished shrine and told to continue building her church. He lived to tell the story, and with other stonemasons finished the shrine in 1640.
During the most violent eruption of Taal Volcano that lasted for eight months, lava almost closed the Pansipit River, causing floods to the towns of Taal, Tanauan, Lipa, Bauan and Sala. The locals and parish priest sought refuge at the Shrine of Our Lady of Caysasay.
In 1952, Bishop Rufino J. Santos decreed that the image be permanently enshrined in Sanctuary of Caysasay. Our Lady of Caysasay was canonically crowned at Taal Basilica by Cardinal Quiroga who represented Pope Pius XII on Dec.8,1954
My most unforgetable experience in Taal was when we went to the original site of the first miracle of Our Lady of Caysasay. To this day, the remains of the arch still stands, and below it are 2 wells from which pilgrims may get miraculous, healing water. Local folks say that one well is for healing body ailments, and the other is specially for ailments in the head area. How they were able to distinguish this is unclear to me, though. So if you want some of it, be sure to bring empty bottles of mineral water. Some enterprising locals sell empty bottles :)
The young boy from whom I bought candles volunteered to guide us in going to Our Lady of Caysasay Shrine, "Milagrosong Balon" and "Ang Banal na Pook". What he considered a shortcut and walking distance to the place turned out to be a few blocks away and some 125 steps (I didn't really count, but that's what the security guard told me) locally known as "hagdan-hagdan" down the road. We had to stop by a house at the corner of the last steps to pay our respects to the caretaker of the miraculous wells. She was busy talking with someone that time, so we proceeded to the church to pray. After our prayers and photo shoot inside the church, we went back to the caretaker's house, but she was having lunch so someone just handed an envelop to us for donation (for maintenance of the place). We then proceeded to the wells. I was surprised that we had to go "ober da bakod" (go over the fence), then we passed the backyard of houses, went down following a trodden path, then walked up to an elevated rocky mound to light our candles and pray at the grotto. On the left side of the grotto is "Ang Banal na Pook" marked by the Arch of Apparition. Our guide summoned the "magsasalok" (a Taaleno authorized to get water from the well) to assist us.
I was offered some water to splash on my head and whatever parts of the body I might want to be healed. Our Lady alleviated my body aches and migraine after I wet my head, nape, arms and legs. Coincidence? I believe in miracles!
Your Taal visit wouldn't be complete without passing by the the Basilica of St. Martin de Tours. For a more solemn prayer, I suggest you set your pilgrimage on a weekday where there are less tourists and churchgoers.
Aside from being a symbol of spirituality in Batangas, what is so special about the Basilica? It is an architectural masterpiece, made more interesting by its rich history.
Taal Basilica traces its history to the first church built by Fr. Diego Espina in San Nicholas in 1575. Ravaged by the eruption of Taal volcano in 1754, a new church was rebuilt at the present site in 1755, but it again suffered damages during an earthquake in 1849. The construction of the present structure commenced in 1856. It was inaugurated in 1865 and became famous for being the biggest Catholic church in Southeast Asia. The Basilica's architectural design is a medley of religious, artistic and patriotic influences, often described as "theatrical exuberance". Its baroque-inspired facade is said to be made of a single mass of stone, shaped and carved with delicate, ornate designs, akin to the facade of St. Peter's Basilica in Rome.
Taal Basilica was named after the town's patron Saint, St. Martin de Tours. Local folks say it is also home to the pilgrimage image of Our Lady of Caysasay, so pilgrims pray there before going to the Shrine of Our Lady of Caysasay.
:) Go down to Talisay and rent a boat which seats seven (P800/boat, FY 2008 price) . A 15-min boat ride will be followed by a 30-45 minute hike/walk to the volcano crater.
They have no restaurant on the island nor do they have lodging that caters to visitors. There is a Department of Tourism Office but with the state of the trail and the general unkempt appearance of the place, I wonder if they even have a Tourism Officer there.
This volcano is popularly viewed from Tagaytay, with the postcard perfect, cone-shaped mountain being the main attraction. This postcard favourite however is just a pinch of the Taal Volcano. The whole island is Taal Volcano.
We rented a banka (small boat) for P1000 to go to and from the island. The hike to the crater does not require a guide nor a horse ride. There's a visitor's fee however for P50/person. The trail is very well used, easy to follow and packed with pebbles and ashes, so choose between dirty-ing your socks and shoes or your sandals and feet. Vendors at the visitor's center line-up to sell hats, face mask, umbrella, bottled water, and pens (pens?).
This hike took us 35mins from the beach to the crater, where some buko and other cold drinks await.