San Agustin Church

San Agustin 1

San Agustin Church is the only one of the original seven churches in Intramuros to have survived the American blitzkrieg of 1945. To appreciate its uniqueness we must go back in time to 1571 when Miguel Lopez de Legazpi, founder of the first permanent Spanish colony in the Philippines has laid down the plans of what for three hundred plus years was to be known as Intramuros. 

Fray Diego Herrera was only priest with Legazpi at the time. He was assigned to build a church to carry out the orders of King Philip II of Spain “for the spreading of our Catholic faith and the spiritual salvation of the pagans.” The first church erected on site that was a hastily constructed out of bamboo and nipa was ransacked and set on fire by Lim Ah Hong and his band of pirates when they attacked Manila in 1574. After nine years, another fire destroyed the second church. 

Lone Survivor of World War II 

San Agustin 2

In 1606, a permanent church was built by soldier and architect Juan Macias –it is the church we see today at the intersection of General Luna Street and Calle Real. The sturdy stone church with a Mexican-baroque design and the Chinese granite lion at the churchyard gates has withstood fire, earthquakes and war. One of the two bell towers remained intact after the 1880 earthquake that destroyed the other. 

During the 1945 Battle of Manila, the Japanese soldiers used San Agustin as headquarters and concentration camp for the residents of Intramuros. About 7,000 Intramuros residents were imprisoned in the cloisters. When the smoke cleared, only the stone walls and arches of the old structures in Intramuros jutted out from the piles rubble and debris –except for San Agustin Church that survived with having the Legazpi chapel by the main altar damaged by a direct bomb hit.

A UNESCO World Heritage Site

San Agustin Church earns the title as the oldest building in the Philippines. It is the last genuine heritage symbol of Intramuros. In 1993, the church was inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage List.

San Agustin 3

Today, a wedding at San Agustin is much desired because of its artistic interiors and historical significance. The main door is a thing of great beauty. Of carved molave, it has panels depicting symbols of the Augustinian Order together with figures of its founder and his mother –Sta. Monica.

San Agustin 4

As our eyes adjust to the momentary gloom of the interior, the central nave and its fourteen side chapels gradually come into focus. The richly baroque interior of the church is laid out on a simple Latin cross plan, with the gilded baroque pulpit carved from narra in 1672 is an amazing work merging baroque motif with tropical flora like the pineapple at its base.

San Agustin 5

The marble blocks of the floor give off a slightly luminous glow, lightening the faces of the people at prayer. Towards and inside the chapels, these blocks become inlaid gravestones of princes of the church, governors and other who have figured in Manila’s history.

By this time the finer details of the church’s massive barrel vault and dome have come to view and below them are the sixteen large, glossy and art nouveau crystal chandeliers imported from Paris at the turn of the century. They illuminate a beautiful trompe l’oeil ceiling painted in 1875 by two Italian artists Juan Dibella and Cesar Alberoni. 

Fittingly, in the chapel to the left of the main altar, lie the remains of the founder of the city of Manila, Legazpi whose reclining bronze statue of was commissioned by Spanish sculptor Juan Miguel Iriarte

San Agustin 6

Exiting the church, we entered the monastery adjoining the church where the country’s most extensive wealth of church art and artifacts are housed in the monastery-turned-San Agustin Museum.


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14 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. When i was in Manila during my high school years in Malate i was an alter boy the first time i went to San Agustin church i got chill to the bones the first time i step in the lapidas of the dead inside the church…and ever since i went to that place i love to go after school if i have time its like a time travel to the past!

  2. I just decided to do research on any gruesome history that shrouds the 2nd floor of the San Agustin Museum because for some reason since I visited that place I’ve had trouble sleeping for 3 days now. I’m not a ghost believer & I dont creep out easilly but it’s that room & the vestments room that flashes whenever I close my eyes. It’s so weird. Now I dont know what to do about it. Just sharing.

  3. I remember the first time i entered san agustin church tinanong ko kung saan nakalibing si graciano lopez jaena at na confused ang caretaker ….yun pala ang nandun si miguel lopez de legazpi.ang ganda ng museum sa san agustin.they have a great collection

  4. I am not sure which problem you are referring to khai.

    • can you please tell me info about the carvings in the door of the church. like what’s the meaning of this one and why it is carved there. thanks. it will be of big help.

  5. can you please tell me about the problems of SanAgustin church?! i need it badly..

  6. Wow, nice way to put all the information. I just have one story about my family. Well my great grandfather happens to be one of the friar in the church. He had an affair with a helper in the church, the result was my grand father, though he was adopted by a different family. My mother told me that his grave is somewhere in the yard, he wasnt cremated. My mother forgot his last name, but i know it starts with an F, somewhat close to foez, or foe… or even poe? for all i know. Just some interesting facts.

  7. I’ve learned about the story from the same book Andy. You may check on the article I posted here about “The Father Sepulveda Murder Case.”

  8. FYI, there’s a story in Fr. Galende’s book on San Agustin that the antecoro was the setting of a gruesome murder of an Augustinian provincial; they laid out the Provincial’s body inside a room, with its finger pointing toward the door in an accusing manner. Finally a couple of monks walk in, and they are very visibly shaken by the sight– they were then later hanged, and buried within the walls of the antecoro. Fascinating stuff, indeed.

  9. I’ve heard people sharing the same eerie feeling whenever they passed by the antecoro Timon. Oh well, I’ve been there several times alone and I just tried to shake it off when I feel some presence but when I feel that the walls seems to be breathing, I run for the corridor! hahahaha

  10. i have an interesting story in the antecoro, i had my picture taken there very recently and it came out blurred which i found weird for the cam was equipt with feature that avoid picture. at this point i know that i might’ve offended a spirit or i dont know what but i decided to take another shoti told my wife that i’ve already made my ‘pasintabi’ with a short prayer. it came out the same.later on erased the photos for i felt that i was not allowed to take them. the place felt eerie i agree with you, it is only now that i heard about fray sepulveda. thanks to you!

  11. It’s so true … I’ve recently visited and would be visiting again very soon! we are all history nerds!

  12. hello Gus, thanks for viewing my blog.

    yeah I agree, history can be too much at times when you have to think of dates and names of people and places. also when you don’t see something interesting.

    I usually go back to Intramuros when I’ve read or learned something new about it from various sources. That makes the place interesting again.

    yeah, I would encourage you to give Intramuros another look.

  13. Nice blog you have here….i must admit i went on a tour of Intramuros and San agustin church recently and didn’t appreciate all the history too much (you’ll know what i mean if you check out my blog), but your post really makes me think twice. Great!

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