San Agustin Church. Church in Philippines, Asia

San Agustin Church

Church in Philippines, Asia

San Agustin Church, Intramuros, Manila Photo © Shubert Ciencia

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San Agustin Church

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San Agustin Church, Manila, Philippines-September 2011 01 - San Agustin Church
San Agustin Church, Manila, Philippines-September 2011 01 - San Agustin Church. Photo by Luis Mazier
The San Agustin Church of Manila is the oldest stone church in the Philippines, located in the historic walled city of Intramuros. The Order of Saint Augustine (Wikipedia Article) were the first missionaries to arrive in the country and are responsible for the oldest churches in the Philippines, one of which is the San Agustin Church.

History of San Agustin Church

The Spanish explorers and conquistadors were determined to spread the Christian faith in the world, in addition to the search for wealth. The first missionaries in the Philippines were Augustinian friars. They established Augustinian house in Cebu and eventually expanded their mission to Manila. In 1639, the Immaculate Conception Parish Church of San Agustin became the center of the Augustinian mission of evangelization in the Philippines.

San Agustin Church is one of the churches built during the Spanish colonial period. The church is actually the third church built on the site, the first two were destroyed by fire. The stone church was designed by Juan Macias and took twenty years to build, alongside a monastery.

The church was central to many historical events in Manila. In 1898, the sacristy of San Agustin was the meeting place where Spaniards and Americans signed the terms of surrender of the city to the Americans. Japanese soldiers held hundreds hostage in the church in 1945. It was the only church that remained standing after the Battle of Manila (Wikipedia Article). After the war, it was the site of the first Philippine Plenary Council.

The seat of the Immaculate Conception Parish was transferred to San Agustin Church in 1945 from the Manila Cathedral at the request of the Archbishop of Manila.

The Filipino government declared San Agustin Church as a National Historical Landmark in 1976. In 1993, the San Agustin Church was recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, along with three other churches in the Philippines.

San Agustin Church Museum, 2nd level
	hallway - San Agustin Church
San Agustin Church Museum, 2nd level hallway. Photo by Ralph Emerson Ray Agonoy

Earthquake-proof church

San Agustin Church is the oldest stone church in the Philippines. Its design is more functional than aesthetic, with a rather unremarkable façade without the usual ornate details of baroque European churches built in the same period.

On June 3, 1863, a strong earthquake hit Manila. San Agustin Church was the only public structure left undamaged amidst the extensive destruction in the city. Earthquakes struck Manila again in July 1880, leaving the left bell tower of the church cracked. The left bell tower was eventually removed permanently. Other major earthquakes hit Manila in 1645, 1699, 1754, 1796, 1825 and 1852. San Agustin Church survived them all with only little damage.

Visiting the church

 - San Agustin Church
San Agustin Church. Photo by john_Onate
The beautifully carved main doors of San Agustin Church is an imposing thing, with the images of St. Augustine and his mother, St. Monica on the lower half of the doors. Behind the church’s main doors, San Agustin Church reveals itself to be a grand old lady. Its high arched ceilings are painted with beautiful trompe l’oeil murals by Italian artists Cesare Alberoni and Giovanni Debella in 1875. Its arches and pillars are decorated with motif reliefs of pineapples and local flora. The heavy pulpits also carry the motif reliefs. Huge chandeliers light the church, illuminating the six chapels and the nave. The main altar looms over the pulpits and draws your eyes to admire it respectfully. An image of St. Paul stands in the middle of the main altar. An ornate pulpit is on the right side of the altar.

East of the main altar in the chapel is the tomb of Spaniard Miguel Lopez de Legazpi (Wikipedia Article), who founded Manila as the capital of the country in 1571. Spanish conquistadors Juan de Salcedo and Martin de Goiti are also buried in the church, along with several Spanish Governor-Generals and archbishops. Members of prominent families are also buried in the church, along with national artist Juan Luna, and statesmen Pedro A. Paterno and Trinidad Pardo de Tavera.

The choir loft above the main doors is accessible through the old monastery beside the church. The monastery has long been converted into a museum housing furniture and paintings from the Spanish colonial period.

The choir loft gives a great view of the nave below and the details of the ceiling above. Heavy, hand-carved chairs from the 17th century and made from molave wood line the walls. A pipe organ sits quietly to the edge of the loft.

Interior of the San Agustin Church - San
	Agustin Church
Interior of the San Agustin Church. Photo by Jorge Láscar

Weddings at the church

San Agustin Church is a popular venue for couples who wish to get married. Reservations for weddings in San Agustin are booked at least a year in advance. On weekends, it is rare for the church to not host a wedding. Weddings occur almost every hour at San Agustin Church, one on top of the other with the church personnel so used to the hectic schedule that everything runs like clockwork. The humidity of the country doesn’t make for a comfortable ceremony in the church that has always eschewed air-conditioning but the grand old church always is a beautiful backdrop for exchanging vows.

20071204-DSC_6999.jpg - San Agustin Church
20071204-DSC_6999.jpg - San Agustin Church. Photo by john_Onate

Getting to church on time

Commuting to San Agustin Church is best done in the mornings when it isn’t that humid yet. Most public transportation of Manila, like jeepneys and buses, are not air-conditioned. Take the jeepney with the route Baclaran/Mabini and get off at Intramuros, the walled city. You can’t miss the walled city, surrounded by a golf course. The church is about a 10-minute walk from the walls following the signs or with the guards of Intramuros giving you directions. Mind the beggars that rest along the fence of the golf course, generally harmless but will harass you for coins till you reach the gate of Intramuros.

Taking a taxi is much more comfortable and you’ll get dropped off at the church’s doorstep. However, do mind your valuables and belongings while taking public transportation in Manila. Better if you know a local friend who can accompany you there.

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Author: patricia16. Last updated: May 23, 2015


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