The Church in Red

Magdalena, Laguna, the Philippines

November 12, 2011

The Sta. Maria Magdalena Church is a shrine to a saint and a hero – St. Mary Magdalene and General Emilio Jacinto. Separated by centuries and geography, they are two vastly disparate figures in history. Yet their legacies are inextricably bound together in this church in the town of Magdalena, Laguna.

Bloodstained Shrine Dedicated to Emilio Jacinto in Magdalena Church

Established in 1820, the church used to be visita of Majayjay Church in the neighboring town, and was made of bamboo and thatched nipa. A decade later, the construction of a stone church was undertaken using taxes collected from townspeople.

Sta. Maria Magdalena Church in Magdalena, Laguna
Magdalena: Little Hollywood of Laguna! (The town plaza was a favorite location site of FPJ’s films in the 70s)

Today, red is the color scheme of the church. From the outside, the church facade and belfry are of typical baroque masonry: stone, brick, and sandstone. The dark grey and earthen brown of the stonework are accented by the deep scarlet of the railings of newly-erected concrete balustrades enclosing the church facade, and a pair of stone tablets representing the Ten Commandments by the front steps.

Inside the church, a rubicund motif dominates the nave and the altar. The robes on the religious images, the wooden pews, the Greco-Roman retablo pillars, the flooring tiles, the wooden pulpit stairs, the ceiling latticework, and the window sills and bars are rendered in different shades of red. Darker tints of red are on the varnished wood of the confessional and doors. At the time of our visit, bouquets of blood-red poinsettias crowned the flower stands in the baptistery.

Magdalena Church’s Red-Painted Pews Embellished with Iconography about Christ’s Sacrifice
Red Corinthian Columns of the Altar in Magdalena Church

In stark contrast to the red, acanthus embellishments in gold signifying eternal life adorn the red pews, the Corinthian capitals of the retablo pillars and its periphery. Gilt crosses decorate the windows instead of stained glass.

In the baptistery, the floral ceiling painting forms a ring around the inscription Tures Davidica, Latin words associated with the life-giving womb of the other Mary, the mother of Jesus, who comes from the line of David.

Red is the traditional color of the town’s patron saint, St. Mary Magdalene, usually depicted in visual art swathed in red robes, or as a redhead. Presumed to have been a prostitute, Magdalene is described in the Bible as the sinful woman Jesus cleansed and healed. As such, red stands for both sin and redemption.

Blood-Red Poinsettias in the Magdalena Church Baptistery
“Tures Davidica,” inscribed on the ceiling of the baptistery

Magdalena Church is a historical shrine, and the red also stands for bravery and sacrifice. In February 1898, Gen. Emilio Jacinto, considered the brains of the Katipunan, was wounded during a battle with the Spaniards at nearby Maimpis River, and he sought refuge in the church convent. The brick tiles by the convent stairs stained with Jacinto’s blood are now preserved, encased in glass, along with his bolo and hat. A modest historical marker stands on the spot today, as a reminder for future generations of Filipinos to honor the heroes of our national independence.

Veteranos de la Revolucion Marker of the Emilio Jacinto Shrine in Magdalena Church
Nave of Magdalena Church

Red is unusual color of the house of God, but it is one that embodies the message of Sta. Maria Magdalena Church. It speaks of sin and redemption, and of sacrifice and freedom. It is a message of a saint and a hero, of hope and salvation.

With the Parish Priest of Magdalena Church


This article previously appeared in BluPrint Magazine, Volume 1, 2012.

BluPrint, Vol. 1, 2012

45 thoughts on “The Church in Red

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  1. Age, as you have rightly mentioned, red is an unlikely colour for a church. In India, only police stations and post boxes are red in colour. I wonder how I would feel sitting inside a church which bursts forth the colour of passion. But on second thoughts, one would feel the passion that was in Christ as he shed forth his blood!

    Happy month of July to you.

    Joy always,

    1. Amen to that, Mrs. Sus! Christianity is based on the passion of the Christ and His resurrection. Christians are covered by the blood of Jesus, so red should be not be an uncommon or unusual color in a church.

      This particular church is not just a religious site, but also a historical shrine. It is stained by the blood of a hero of our national independence. It makes the church doubly bloody, representing both freedom from carnal and colonial bondage.

      Love always,

  2. OMG that is a nice church and my favorite color is red! I should get married here.. hehe. And so rich in history, sadly this is the first time I heard of the place.. ;(

    1. Same here. Had I not been sent by the magazine for field work there, I wouldn’t have known about it. I’m glad I could introduce the church to others, even in my own small way, i.e. in my little obscure blog.

    1. Good point. Taoist temples and shinto shrines use red liberally. The torii gate in shinto shrines are usually painted bright vermilion. Perhaps it was one of the reasons I found this church a bit of a curio. It may have conjured up images of temples and torii gates.

    1. Glad to know my post has inspired someone to visit the church. Magdalena Church is somehow off people’s radar. But it’s so charming; it’s a shame not many know about it (me included, before I got there!).

  3. Amazing! I wonder if they went through some sort of debate for the choice of color. Although, it may be the traditional color with respect to St. Mary Magdalene, it still doesn\’t feel right because in religion red is usually associated with evil.

    1. Silly me, I forgot to ask the parish priest about that. The varnish was still fresh; I figured it was newly-painted then. I should’ve asked if the present color scheme was faithful to the original or a recent add-on. Or if it was intentional or purely coincidental (although the use of red is too pervasive to be ascribed to chance). Perhaps you can ask these questions for me when you go for a visit (sorry for assigning it to you, hehe).

      One commenter said that red reminded her of the passion of the Christ, but you thought it was associated with something sinister. That makes this church’s color scheme exciting and a good point for discussion!

  4. I’m not a religious person but whenever I enter a sacred place, parang iba ang aura. Napaka solemn, most especially kapag na retain ung original architecture and interior design. Ganda! Sobra!

    1. A Madonna (of all people) song comes to mind: “I’m not religious, but I feel so moved. Makes me wanna pray….” 🙂

  5. congrats manager! ang galing nung church its soo old yet the ceiling is like so modern pero it still blends with the structure

    1. Idol, I could only imagine the high-quality shots you would’ve taken if you had been there. Gora na there and make tuhog na the Laguna churches. Liliw, Nagcarlan, and Ma-jay-jay can all be done in a day.

  6. Gee, parang I see so much blood in this church coz the paint is really bloody red.. But if it symbolizes a saint and a hero and so that others may repent upon seeing the sacrifices made, then this is one of the most beatiful church I have ever seen 🙂

    1. It really is one bloody church! Aside from the paint, it has Emilio Jacinto’s actual blood stains on the floor. I hope more Pinoys see this, if only to realize how our national independence was won with our heroes’ blood, not just ink.

  7. I miss you AJ 😦 Why haven’t you been stalking me for the past few months like always? 😦

    We need a kwoffy, nay, I say we need a drink! 😀

    Oh and thank you ever so much for posting this beautiful Church, I’m not one to believe in Marriage but I’d seiously consider doing a wedding if my venue is that pretty ❤

    1. How sure are you that I’ve not been stalking you? 😉 Lurving lurking lately. 😀 But hey, it’s you who always breaks my heart. You’ve traded me for a diva!!! Yeah, this calls for more than just kwoffy. Tanqueray perhaps?

      So looking forward to the potato-diva nuptials. That would be epic!!!

  8. the church when we visited Caramoan was in red, or i think it was the bricks that made it red. but kakaiba nga ang red pews! naks, ikaw na ang featured sa mga magazines!

    presyohan mo na ang mga writing gigs mo. saan ba sila makahanap ng Nosebleed Writer? 🙂

  9. This is my hometown. And this church, I should say, is more magnificent in person. For a first time visitor, it will take your breath away. Yung facade palang, it speaks so much of how long this church has been here, and you could sense how much it has gone through. And then when you enter the church, mixed senses of tradition, history and solemnity. In a way para kang magttime travel once you enter the church. This is Magdalena’s little secret. Very little is known about this church, except for the fact na medyo madalas na mafeature ito sa mga movies and teleseryes nowadays. Nagiging favorite location na sha.

    1. Glad to get feedback from a local. Your town does have a magnificent church. Do take an active role in ensuring its preservation and integrity. I know it’s not as famous as others in the area, but that adds to its charm and mystique. I was overwhelmed by the “mixed senses of tradition, history and solemnity” when I visited the church.

      Thanks again, Emily!

    1. This is one of my favorites in Laguna. The church is unique, I think, for truly reflecting the spirits of both the saint it’s named after and the hero that figured in its history.

  10. hi there!
    I happened to be here on your blog for I am researching about St. Mary Magdalene Church. Though I already have collected important information about this church, I was just confused about its year – the year it was founded or built etc. – because the internet is giving me a lot of different years and I don’t know exactly which is real.

    Though I have another reference that says that it was founded in 1820, I just wanted to make sure that it was right and I just wanted to ask you where did you get the information you have written here in your blog so I can also have another reference for my research?

    a reply from you would be a very big help to me.

    Thank you and have a Good day sir! 🙂

    1. Good day, Aysel!

      I guess your confusion lies in the words “founded” and “built” (I used “established” and “constructed,” respectively), which are not synonymous. Many of our old stone churches began as bamboo and nipa structures. Later as funds and number of parishioners increased, they were rebuilt with more durable materials, such as masonry. These stone structures were vulnerable to earthquakes though so some churches were rebuilt many times over the centuries.

      In the case of Magdalena Church, it was founded in 1820 as a bamboo and nipa visita, replaced by the stone structure we see today in the 1830s. I got this information from old written records of Magdalena Church. I asked the parish priest for photocopies of their records when I visited in 2011.

      Hope that helps. God bless!

  11. hi AJ. only came across your blog post about our bloody church yesterday. i enjoyed your article as it was intelligently written and well researched. if you happen to pass by magdalena again, we’ll gladly take you in at Bahay ni Luz, a school converted to an inn that’s on the right side of the main road. The intersection there leads to the river. Maybe you’d like to try the rafting tour there next time. hope to see you there.

    1. Wow, after many years, this article still gets new readers. That’s the great thing about blogging. An online article can achieve timelessness. #mayforever 🙂

      Yeah, I’d love to visit Magdalena again and stay at Bahay ni Luz. I’ve never heard of rafting there but it sounds like fun. Hope to see you soon, Pinindot!

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