When asked why do I go back to Intramuros when I have been to this place so many times before? My answer is simple: I what to see something new from something old. One of the places I frequently visit in Intramuros is the San Agustin Museum.
The Museum Director
Padre Pedro Galende was born in Spain who became a Filipino citizen in 1975. He has authored several books on Philippine church history, art and architecture. In 1990, he was appointed director of the San Agustin Museum. Father Galende is president of the Friends of Intramuros Foundation, which aims to preserve the heritage landmarks in Walled City.
Few years back, we requested Father Galende to have our personal copies of the books Angels in Stone, Philippine Church Façades and San Agustin: Art and History 1571-2000 signed by him. The latter is the best source of information about the museum.
The Cloister Gallery
A huge iron cast bell greeted us upon entering the convent from porter’s lodge. Inscribed on the bell are the words “The Most Sweet Name of Jesus.” The bell was cast in 1829 by Benito delos Reyes. It was taken down from the belfry damaged by the earthquake. The hall at the other end was the Sala Recibidor. Today, the former classroom and receiving area, houses the ivory collection of art patron Luis Ma. Araneta.
The cloister gallery contains several large paintings depicting the, in episodic form, the life and times of St. Augustine, together with portraits of notable Augustinians. At each corner of the cloister is a retablo dedicated to a major saint. One of which is for San Nicholas de Tolentino.
The opposite wing of the ground floor cloister is lined with antique carrozas. The carrozas are used to bear an image of a saint during a religious procession done either inside or outside the church.
The spacious halls of the monastery stood witness to several historical events. The Antesacristia or old Vestry has become to be known as the Sala de la Capitulacion because it was in that room where the drafting of the terms of surrender of Manila to the Americans by Governor-General Fermin Juadenes took place.
I normally refused to enter the Antesacristia alone because of stories about the women who were raped and murdered by the Japanese enemy inside the hall. It was said that the spiral staircase (caracol) leading to the upper floors of the monastery was stained with blood of rape victims.
Adjoining the Antesacristia is the Antigua Sacristia which was noted to be the most beautiful hall in monastery. Faded traced Aztec-inspired frescoes are still visible on the walls.
Finding Juan Luna
The Sala Refectorio, the former dining room or adjoined by the crypt called the Sala de Profundis which was an anterefectory (members of the order used to converge here to says grace before and after meals). This room was converted into a crypt for the Augustinians and later for Filipino families.
Entombed in the crypt are the remains of the scions of the Ayalas, Paternos, Pardo de Taveras, the Luna Brothers (Juna Luna’s remains were entombed in niche number 87) and even nationalist historian Teodoro Agoncillo.
I visited the Sala de Profundis during the 150th birthday of Juan Luna which was celebrated October 24 instead of the date of birth inscribed on his tombstone (October 23). Historian Ambeth Ocampo, identifies the source of the confusion on actual date of birth of Juan Luna in his essay Questions about Luna.
There is more to Juan Luna than when he was alive. Another interesting story about this artist is when his cremated ashes from Hong Kong made an odyssey to Manila, from a pail on which his son Andres Luna de San Pedro kept under his bed to the ashes of a house destroy in 1945 then to its final resting place at niche number 87.
The grand staircase or gran escalera has forty-four pieces of Piedra China cut stones leads up to the second floor cloister and the coro or choir loft.
Upon ascending the stairs, we were welcomed by a mellow atmosphere brought by the natural lighting filtered by the stained glass windows that open to the inner patio. In these second story corridors have walked the earliest religious orders of the Walled City.
Entering the coro we found the silent opulence of the 68 ornately carved molave thrones and the 1730 magnificent lectern that supports cantorals dating back to the 1500s.
One of the galleries in the convent that gives me the ultimate creep is the Antecoro. For some reason I get the feeling of an unknown presence when I pass by this room to get to the Coro or choir loft. I’ve heard several dark stories in Intramuros but nothing can be spine-tingling than the Fr. Sepulveda Murder Case .