San Agustin Church and Museum

photo from Wikipedia
If there is one place in Manila that I will forever hail for the glorious history it holds, it will be the San Agustin Church. Located within the celebrated walls of Intramuros, this notable structure has been a huge part of the past that honed the Philippines into what it is now.

History Retold

Frankly speaking, the history of the church structure kind of reminds me about the story of the three little pigs and the big bad wolf. The present San Agustin Church is actually the third one to be erected. The first was made of nipa and bamboo in 1571. The second was made of wood. Both were destroyed by fire. So in 1586, the Augustinians decided to rebuild the church – plus the monastery - using adobe stones which came from Meycauayan, Binangonan, and San Mateo (Rizal). It’s basically thrilling to know that my hometown contributed to the construction of this historic place. Though it took quite a long time to finish, it opened its doors to the religious public on January 19, 1607 under the name St. Paul of Manila.

photo from Wikipedia
Designed by Juan Macías, the church has withstood a series of strong earthquakes which hit Manila on the late 19th century. Thanks to its elliptical foundation, San Agustin Church was the only structure that remained standing in the area that time, although the left bell tower had to be removed due to severe damages. 

Basically, San Agustin Church is more than just a religious site. It has also served as a witness to the dark days of the Philippines during the war era. During the Japanese occupation, it has ironically became a concentration camp where prisoners of war (mostly residents of Intramuros) were imprisoned and were later on killed by the Japanese forces.

Nonetheless, it has passed through the dark days as it became the only church (out of seven) in Intramuros to survive after the bombardments from Filipino and American forces during the last Battle of Manila. Only the church was damaged but the church was kept intact. The monastery was destroyed though.

After the Japanese occupation had ended, Intramuros was a complete mess. But while the other important churches couldn’t be restored anymore, efforts from different people – led by the Augustinians in the Philippines – had been exerted to bring back the glory of this beautiful church. The church roof was reinstated and on 1970’s, the monastery was replaced by a museum which was designed by Angel Nakpil.

*Thanks, Wikipedia, for these information.

Church Interior and Exterior

I guess there is nothing wrong with admitting that the façade of the San Agustin Church is not as grandiose as how it is inside. For the lack of better description, it didn’t match the stunning interior. Nonetheless, I couldn’t help but notice the ornate doors which shows St. Augustine of Hippo and (if I’m not mistaken,) St. Clare of Montefalco. If you are a Judean, it is impossible for Mo. Rita Barcelo, OSA to NOT cross your mind.

Honestly, there is nothing astounding with the exterior of the church, or perhaps I just don’t know how to appreciate Baroque styles properly? But what never fails to amuse me is the courtyard in front of the church and monastery. I just wasn’t able to take pictures of it but there are several lion statues in the area. I checked Wikipedia and it turned out that these granite statues were gifts of the Chinese people who were converted to Catholicism during the early days.

If I take the exterior plainly, I did the opposite for the interior.

I’ve been to San Agustin once before and I honestly thought that the ceiling was carved. It turns out that it was just a huge mural that used the trompe l’oeil style. Meaning, it applied painting techniques that create optical illusions using 3D approaches, making it look like real. I really wanted to hit myself in the head when Lui pointed out that it wasn’t carved. I then began to think that perhaps, that was the same technique used in Manila Cathedral’s ceilings?

Aside from the beautiful ceiling, the first thing you will notice in San Agustin is the pulpit. Graced with intricate details of opal and gold, it will surely make your jaw drop. I went near it and you see, the details weren’t mere illusions. They were really carved to perfection. I wonder if priests can still use that part of the church. It has been in existence for almost half a millennium already, after all.

Even though there’s gonna be a wedding when we went there, we were allowed to roam around the church premises for a while. As we were walking to a certain section, I told Lui about the floors and he was pretty stunned when he realized that we were not walking on ordinary tiled floors, but tombstones. Encryptions weren’t new, mind you. Some dates back to the early 19th century and were written in Spanish. I wasn’t able to find it but according to Wikipedia, buried within the church premises were the remains of Miguel Lopez de Legazpi and other Spanish conquistadors, former Governor Generals and Spanish friars.
The altar was very lovely too. Enthroned in the retablo is St. Augustine of Hippo, the holy man whom the church was named after. On the main altar is a cross. On the right wing is a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary. I wasn’t able to see who was in the other side.

Anyway, just because it has been in existence for almost 500 years already, it doesn’t mean there’s no way it could infuse the wonder of modernity on its interior. Well, there really is nothing much except the fact that I kinda enjoyed looking at the connected chairs to be used for the wedding ceremony. I wish the Parish of St. Francis of Assisi would have something like that too.

San Agustin Museum

After taking some pictures, Lui and I decided to go to the museum which is just adjacent to the church. As I’ve mentioned earlier in this post, the monastery was turned into a museum in 1970’s and it was really one of the most informative places in Manila.

But I have to say it gives me the creep.

Just a little background - the first time I went there, I was in first year in college. I had to go around the museum for my Humanities project; and thanks to the laziness of my groupmates, I had to tour the place alone. The vibe was definitely unforgettable because I felt like someone was watching me. Imagine, going to a section that displays the apparels of the friars – worn by headless mannequins. Let’s see if you won’t feel afraid.

That is why I was determined to bring someone with me once I explore the place again. So thank God for Lui and for the fact that we share the same level of interest in history, I managed to go back to this interesting attraction in Intramuros.

We had to pay 100php for the entrance tickets because this museum is private. Discounts were given to students (and senior citizens, I guess). Too bad Lui’s old school ID has a school year sticker so we didn’t dare present it to the concierge. I brought mine but decided not to use it to be fair with him. :p

We were welcomed by a huge bell which I think was from the left bell tower that was destroyed by the earthquake. In front of it is an exhibit that features ivory statues of the Immaculate Concepcion, saints and crucified Christ. Too bad we weren’t allowed to take pictures inside the exhibits (ALTHOUGH WE SAW A LOT OF FOREIGNERS WHO DIDN’T FOLLOW THE LAW).

We passed by a corridor which features large oil paintings of various scenes and portraits of the former OSA (Order of St. Augustine) heads. I didn’t really pay much attention because I didn’t know who they were. I was mumbling words as I pass by the portraits though, telling the priests about my not-so-good experiences in St. Jude Academy (now La Consolacion College Valenzuela), one of their schools. I was doing that while Canon in D and River Flows in You was playing in the background. Thanks to the wedding rites that was happening then.

I wanted to show Lui the beautiful courtyard but it was under construction. But he found another courtyard, including a pathway and a Japanese-inspired entrance to the monastery. It was beautiful, I tell you; and it was called the Paseo del Vicariato.
Then, we went upstairs and we entered the different exhibits – including the one I feared the most. Lui, himself, felt awkward there; so what I felt before wasn’t weird of me.

Other areas we visited were the choir area which has the huge pipe organ, and equally huge music books. We really fell in love with the seats that flaunts really intricate carving. I tried sitting on the stairs but it creaked so I decided to just stand as Lui took my blurred picture.

The area provides a good view of the altar and the deceiving ceiling. 

My favorite place in the museum would probably be the area which showed the sketches of the different churches in the Philippines. It also showed old photos of Filipinas who were actually wearing Filipiniana to work. Goodness. I wonder how they got to stand the heat back then. -.-“

In the same section, there were beautiful verandas that provide great view of Paseo del Vicariato.

But as I was reading some accounts, Lui had to drag me out of the exhibit because he grew excited upon seeing a pensieve. Well, it’s not really a pensieve. I forgot what it was really called but it was used for baptisms during the olden times. You know, it looks like a plain marble and circular sink to others; but for the Harry Potter geeks that we are, it was the pensieve.

Lui became more excited when he spotted some ship replicas in the hallway. I didn’t know he has a fascination with ships. Loofy?

When we realized that we were already hungry and it was already 3PM, we decided to leave. But as we were going down the stairs, our Harry Potter addiction kicked in again and we just had to take pictures at the magnificent stone staircase. There were huge paintings in the walls to match the theme we had in our minds. I was even waiting for the staircases to move. LMAO.

While we were at the cinema, I was looking at the pictures on the digicam. It was tiring, yet I felt fulfilled. It honestly feels great to explore something that immensely contributed to my nation’s history and faith. Seeing the pictures also made me feel like I have finally given back to the saint whose life I have studied for ten long years (from grade school to high school). What an interesting thing.

St. Augustine – Doctor of the Church, pray for us.


The altar of San Agustin Church

At Paseo del Vicariato | cute stolen shot from Lui XD

The Mirror of Erised

Imagine if all books are this big.

THE INTRICATE CARVINGS. It was very amazing. I wonder how long it took for this to be finished.

These are the pipe organ's control. I want to know how it works.


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