The Sta. Monica Church in Sarrat, a 15-minute ride east of Laoag City in Ilocos Norte, was a destination we almost took out from our list. We were trying to make changes on our itinerary and thought Sarrat did not offer us anything of value. We were mistaken, and we were glad to have gone out of our way to make a short stop there.
It is a magnificent church made of red bricks, and stands out as the largest church in the Ilocos region. When we visited, there was almost no one else there: no tourists, no caretakers, just a couple of kids riding their bikes and a couple of dogs walking around the church complex.
Around the Church
There are three distinct structures that make up the church complex: the church, the convent, and the belltower, all characterized by their red brick compositions and mossy surfaces. All of these were built from 1669 to 1679, was damaged by fire in 1817 and 1882 (reconstructed both times), and was again damaged – this time by an earthquake – in 1983, two months after it was reconstructed by Irene Marcos for her wedding to Gregorio Araneta.
These are huge structures. To size it up, just check out the belltower’s height relative to the lady walking near it on the photo above.
One of the things special to the Sta. Monica church is its mossy pasadizo, an approximately two storey-high bridge connecting the right side of the church to the convent (and museum). Arches under the bridge serve as entry points to the church complex: a convent and a courtyard with the Ten Commandments, a fountain, and an image of Mary (the former two following the church’s brick red, rusty colors) at its atrium. Further along behind the church are local residences.
The rectangular church glows brown on the inside with the brick walls, wooden seats and ceilings, red tiled floor, and even the candle holders all following a central, monochromatic feel. In a normal Mass, the only colors that would decorate this place would be the churchgoers coming in different-colored shirts. However, on this particular lazy Sunday when no one at all was around to pray, the elements seemed very proud of their belonging to the said one theme: brown. Makes one wonder: has this church been this way since it was constructed?
The only sources of light were the opened traditional wooden windows fitted into huge opening on the wall, resulting in a very dark ceiling and the ground amply bathed in sunlight. An eerie feeling crept across my flesh as we walked along the aisle (the longest one in any church in the Philippines, it was said) to explore the church, and as we walked, I remembered the torture chambers somewhere in the complex. The next second, I realized that it wasn’t fear I was feeling; rather, it was the idea that this church would make a great setting for a movie scene! Wouldn’t you agree?
What We Missed
There’s a handful of things we missed during our visit, though. We were unable to check out the torture chamber, where Filipinos who were charged for treason were hanged, and the museum, which was closed as there was no one around that Sunday afternoon. I’m still unsure if these things will be worth revisiting Sta. Monica Church for (we are planning to return to Ilocos anyway), though. I’m considering it because we also missed checking out the birthplace of former President Ferdinand E. Marcos, who has a small museum also in Sarrat.
Again, I’ll have to reiterate that we almost crossed out Sta. Monica Church on our list, and it would have been a tragic mistake. This church is truly something special, and I personally think that after Paoay Church and Calle Crisologo, this was the best thing we have seen on our entire trip.
It is a magnificent church made of red bricks, and stands out as the largest church in the Ilocos region.
To go there, you can take a tricycle from Laoag (around Php 150) or the public utility jeeps taking passengers from Laoag to Sarrat (Php 15 per person; just ask a tricycle to take you to the jeepney terminal to Sarrat and pay Php 11 per person). Same thing when traveling from Sarrat back to Laoag.
Sta. Monica Church
Sarrat, Ilocos Norte, Philippines