On top of a hill, amidst of the hustle and bustle of the town, is an 18th century historical treasure: Daraga Church, also known as The Church of Nuestra Señora de la Porteria (Our Lady of the Gate). The architectural masterpiece was built by Franciscan missionaries back in 1773, when Daraga–now one of the progressive towns in Albay–was still a barrio of the town of Cagsawa.
The church is not only a fine example of Baroque architecture, but also a prime tourist destination in Albay. Its location offers the best view of Mayon Volcano.
At first look at the church, you will be captivated by the intricate design of its facade, an altar of sort richly decorated with baroque art and images carved in volcanic stones. There are four spiral columns (called salomonica), each of them bearing a medallion at the center, where images of four evangelists–Matthew, John, Luke, and Mark–are carved out. Engraved on the façade and the adjacent belfry are statues of saints, mostly Franciscans, and rare religious seals such as the coats of arms of the Franciscan order, the Pope’s tiara with the keys, and the five wounds or stigmata of St. Francis. The eight-sided belfry also has images of the twelve apostles on its walls. The tower has four levels, each tapered upwards and topped with a dome and cross.
In 2007, the church was declared a National Cultural Treasure by the National Museum. A historical marker was unveiled late 2007 and the church underwent restoration work in 2009-2010 to preserve its deteriorating facade. A lime coating was applied, rendering the white look all over the structure, which in time is expected to return to its original look.
HOW TO GET THERE
Daraga is about 6 kilometers away from Legazpi City. Take a Daraga-Legazpi jeepney and ask to be dropped off near Daraga Municipal Hall. The stairs beside the municipal hall lead up to the church. From Cagsawa, you can take the jeepney to Legazpi and get off at NOVO Jeans near Jollibee Daraga. The load leading to Sta. Maria Hill is a block away from there.