Seven Churches Visitation
The Seven Churches Visitation also known as Visita Iglesia is a pious Roman Catholic Lenten tradition by attempting to visit seven churches or religious sites. Traditionally observed on Maundy Thursday, it is commonly practised during any day of the Holy Week.
- Seven Scripture passages of Christ's arrest and trial
- The Seven Last Words
- Seven Holy Wounds (five wounds plus the Scourge marks and His injured left shoulder)
- Seven first Christian holy sites in Israel
- Seven Deacons of the Twelve Apostles
- Seven ancient basilicas of Rome
The custom traces back to the Apostolic Age, during a time when early Christians who visited shrines which were deemed holy to the Passion of Jesus Christ, or the events after his capture in the Garden of Gethsemane.
The following seven holy sites associated with Scriptural events were:
- High Priest Annas — John 18:12-23;
- Annas to High Priest Caiphas — Mark 14:53-63
- Caiphas to Sanhedrin — Matthew 26:56-67
- Sanhedrin to Pilate — Luke 23:1-5
- Pilate to Herod — Luke 23:6-12
- Herod to Pilate — Luke 23:13-25
- Pilate to Calvary — John 19:1-6
- Archbasilica of Saint John Lateran
- Saint Peter's Basilica
- Saint Mary Major
- Saint Paul Outside the Walls
- Saint Lawrence Outside the Walls
- Shrine of Holy Cross of Jerusalem
- Saint Sebastian Outside the Walls.
In 1300, Pope Boniface VIII reinstated this pilgrimage in commemoration of his Pontifical Jubilee (Christianity), during which Rome became a focal center of all pious pilgrimages. Another association of this custom during this time were the historical Seven Deacons of Jerusalem appointed by the Twelve Apostles of Jesus Christ, who were charged with ministering to the poor, the needy and the destitute.
In the Philippines, the tradition is known as Visita Iglesia (English: Church Visit). The general practise is to visit seven churches either on Holy Thursday or Good Friday and recite the Stations of the Cross in them. The pious would double the number of churches to fourteen, while the infirm and elderly usually visit only one or a handful. Until the 1970s, people recited all fourteen stations in one church.
Originally, the custom was to visit a single church and pray before the Blessed Sacrament placed in the Altar of Repose after the Rite of Transfer on Holy Thursday. Tradition holds that the number of churches multiplied because there were seven churches in pre-War Intramuros (italics indicates church not rebuilt or transferred):
- Manila Cathedral,
- San Agustin,
- San Ignacio,
- Santo Domingo,
- San Francisco,
- Lourdes Church,
- San Nicolás de Tolentino
The practise of visiting seven churches is ultimately rooted in visiting the seven churches of Rome which was initiated by Pope Boniface VIII. There are no set of prayers given by the Church except to pray for the intentions of the Pope and recite the Our Father, Hail Mary and Gloria Patri. People have instead opted to pray the Stations of the Cross, the recitation of which is liturgically proper to Good Friday.
Some devout people carry a cross to and from different churches, while others consider the custom an opportunity for sightseeing. An offering is usually made at each church and to the poor as a form of almsgiving. To accommodate the faithful, many Catholic churches during Holy Week remain open until midnight. Similarly, Visita Iglesia Online by the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines is among several such sites that afford Overseas Filipinos and the infirm the chance to participate in the tradition as well as hear recordings of the Pasyón.
In Poland and among various Latin American countries, Hispanic Catholics also observe similar customs on Holy Thursday, often marked with solemn penitential prayers in honour of the Passion of Jesus Christ.