San Agustin Museum

MEMORY THEATER. The San Agustin Church Museum is a memory theater containing a treasure trove of what remains of the vast Philippine artifacts and religious art amassed by generations of Augustinian scientists, botanists, architects, artists, scholars, and teachers in their 400 years of missionary work in the Philippines.

Although the collection has suffered immeasurable lost from British looters in 1762, the American souvenir hunters in 1898, and the Battle for Liberation following the Japanese occupation in 1945, priceless antiques and the best specimens of locally-made hardwood furniture, ivory and wooden sculptures, religious paintings, ecclesiastical silverware and gold embroidered vestments are on permanent display in its ancients chambers. There is a wealth of knowledge locked inside each profane and sacred object in this cloistered monastery museum.

SALA DE RECIBIDOR. As it was in the olden days, enter the San Agustin monastery through the porteria. There use to be a desk here for the porter, who attended to visitors and took note of what goes in and out of the monastery. A chapel was erected in the porteria in honor of Our Lady of Consolation, as the patroness of the Agustinian Order in 1877. The massive door at the end of the porteria opened to the ante-chamber of the Sala de Recibidor. This wide door is only opened when processional carrozas leave the cloister to be led around the streets of Intramuros. A smaller door or postigo is cut within the hardwood framework of the larger door for persons on foot. In the middle of postigo is a flaming heart pierced by two arrows and the letters IHS which stands for the first three letters of Jesus in Greek. Over the heart is a hat with six tassels on the sides, symbolic of the a bishop, alluding to Saint Augustine, Bishop of Hippo.

The Sala de Recibidor served, in different occasions as an aula or classroom to teach catechism and sacred music, the procurator’s office, and holding room to receive lady guests. the Augustinian authorities restricted women from entering monasteries. It was a rule at that time that a lady could be met at the beginning of the stairway of a monastery but not beyond the middle. A lady attending for a sick call must be accompanied by two elderly gentlemen but not by more women.

AUGUSTINIAN CORRIDORS. A door in the antesala leads to the corridors of the cloister. At each of the four corners of the corridor is a retablo or an elaborately carved backdrop for the altar table. In the olden day, religious processions are held in the cloister and prayers or rituals were performed in each of the corner retablos. Each corner retablo is dedicated to a major saint. One of which is for San Nicholas de Tolentino, shows the Augustinian supersaint framed in solomonica columns and the celestial light as a star on his chest in act of saving the poor souls in purgatory.

Along the corridor are propped up paintings depicting important episodes in the lives of Augustinian saints. The earliest canvas were painted by Rafael Enriquez, Sr. who became the first dean of the University of the Philippines School of Fine Arts in 1909 and Augusto Fuster, who was a Spanish artist and photographer in the 1930s.

FROM COURTYARD TO CONCENTRATION CAMP.  The courtyard resembles certain Augustinian monasteries in Mexico, particularly the one on Yuriria, which dates from the 1550s. Through years of experimentation, the friar-architects from the other side of the Ring of Fire have applied the technology to buildings that can withstand natural calamities. Buttresses, a characteristic of Earthquake Baroque were applied in colonial churches to protect structures against earthquakes. This gives the cloister a fortress feel.

The San Agustin church and monastery was used as concentration camp in 1945. About 700 residents of Intramuros were rounded up and imprisoned within its cloisters. The prisoners drew water from the central fountain in the courtyard until it was contaminated. The slender ornamental palm tress were replacements of the ones cut down by the prisoners as firewood.

ANTIGUA SACRISTIA. The spacious hall called the Antigua Sacristia was once described as the most beautiful in the entire monastery.  It is dominated by a large retablo composed of several tiers of niches. It is said to be the first retablo of the church, carved by local craftman from San Pablo de los Montes in Laguna named Juan de los Santos. This Baroque retablo was installed in 1617, but deemed it too small for the church and relocated it in the old sacristy. The original fine ivory and wood santos did not survive the British looting and World War II. The santos presently displayed in the niches are from the Augustinian monastery in Cebu.

It was in this chamber where participants of religious processions were offered refreshments. Here too were prayed over the shrouded cadavers of members of the friar order before being interred in the church. When the church walls and ceiling were being painted by the Italian painter Albert Albergoni in 1875, the old sacristy served as temporary venue for masses. During the onset of the Liberation of Manila on February 1945, the fiesta of the Our Lady of Lourdes of the Capuchinos was celebrated in this hall.

FURNITURE IN THE OLD SACRISTY. The Antigua Sacristia was the original sacristy of the church. Here the priests prepared for the mass by washing his hands in the lavamanos or the elaborate marble washbasin with three faucets before vesting for the liturgical celebration. Vestments were kept in long chest of drawers called cajonerias. Each drawer was reserved for a different liturgical color; green for ordinary time, purple for Advent and Lent, white for Christmas and Easter, red for important feasts, and black, which was traditionally worn during mass of the dead or feast of the souls. The massive furniture in this room, including the intricately carved mirror frames were commissioned by the Agustinian Prior Fray Dionisio Suarez in years 1653 and 1674.

Flanking the great doorway at the far end of the hall are two huge cabinets which kept vestments and utensils. The doors are embellished with various floral carvings and double-headed eagle keyhole. For fear of being raped by the Japanese empowered two your girls to scale the cabinets and hide there. On the arch above the doorway is a distinct mural in red and black. They are interpretations of local artisan copied from interlacing strap work patterns that decorated prayer books and missals from Mexico and Europe.

ECCLESIASTICAL MUSEUM. The Antigua Sacristia has a display of church vessels, furniture and other mementos connected with San Agustin Church through centuries.

In the collection is a pair of 18th century vinajeras or cruets for holy water and wine in a platillo, a silver portapaz that was ceremoniously kissed during the Peace be with you part of the mass, a 17th century silver cofre or box used to possibly hold a reliquary and a custodia or monstrance, where the Blessed Sacrament is enshrined during high veneration.

ANTESACRISTIA IVORY COLLECTION. Beyond the arch doorway of the Antigua Sacristia is the Antesacristia. In much earlier times, it functioned as a trastera or a store room for the various church utensils and paraphernalia. This hall also witnessed the drafting of the terms of surrender of Manila to the Americans by Governor-General Fermin Juadenes. The antesacristia  also has become to be known as the Sala de la Capitulacion. During the Liberation of Manila in February 1945, the Japanese enemy raped and murdered their captives. It was said that the steps of the spiral staircase, caracol leading to the upper floors of the monastery was stained with blood of the victims.

The Antesacristia holds the ivory collection of the museum. The craft of carving of ivory, known as among Tagalogs as garing has been totally banned today because the illegal of ivory trade endangered wildlife. The slight curve posture of ivory statuettes such as in the corpus of the the crucifix on display was due to the natural curve of elephant’s tusks. During the Spanish times, elephant tusks were obtained from Africa and India through trades with China. Native craftsmen honed carving skills by working closely with Chinese artisans.

SALA DE PROFUNDIS. On the west wing of the cloister is the anterefectory called the Sala de Profundis or the Pantheon. Pantion, has become the the Filipino word for graveyard. This room was converted into a crypt for the Augustinians and later for Filipino families where members of the order converged  to says grace before and after meals.

The monument in the center was erected in memory of the victims of atrocities during the Battle of Manila in 1945. On 18 February 1945, 140 Spanish civilian males were marched off from the concentration camp in San Agustin, amidst the pleading and cries of the women and children. Among the 140 were 15 Augustinians, 10 Franciscans, 6 Augustinian Recollects, and 6 Capuchins. They were crowded in the ruins of the Palacio del Gobernador and grenades were thrown into the dens. Only an Augustinian and two Franciscans survived to narrate their horrifying ordeal.

MANILA PANTHEON. Just like the Pantheon in Rome, entombed in the crypt are the remains of the scions of Manila families such as the Ayalas, Paternos, Pardo de Taveras, Zobels, the nationalist historian Teodoro Agoncillo and his wife and the Luna Brothers.

Before interred in niche number 73, Juna Luna’s remains underwent an extraordinary odyssey. Following his death in HongKong in 1899, his cremated ashes were brought to Manila from a pail on which his son, the famous architect, Andres Luna de San Pedro kept under his bed. Luna’s ashes were later transferred to its final resting place in the Sala de Profundis.

REFECTORIO. After prayers in the Sala de Profundis, members of the community proceeded for meals at the Refectorio. By the entrance to left are the remains of the a stone washbasin and across it are the stone steps called the castigo de la piedra, where errant friar knelt, facing the wall while they their meal.

Similar to the murals in the Antigua Sacristia were the painted design in red and black on the barrel vaulted ceiling that form monograms of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. Dating to the 17th century, the murals were copied by a local artisan from the swags, festoons, ribbons, and cartouches which framed early maps and cover of books. At the very back of the room is a massive retablo that form an assemblage of 18th century wood carvings and church antique wood from the collection of Don Luis Ma. Araneta.

LUIS MA. ARANETA CABINET OF CURIOSITIES. The old refectory houses the Don Luis Ma. Araneta collection of Philippine religious artifacts. The architect and Filipinologist started collecting in earnest after the war and some of his earliest finds were finely-carved santos and old paintings. In many instances, the town parishioners would offer their church and heirloom santos to Don Luis in exchange for roofing for their church or cement for their walls. The collection includes intricately carved wood relleves from Pakil, Mabitac and Morong, carved santos in wood and in ivory and paintings signed by Liberto Gatchalian in 1850 and Pampangan master craftsman Simon Flores.

Also an amazing part of the Don Luis cabinet of curiosities is the Calvary scene painstakingly formed in glass bottles. Tradition has it that this folk art began in 20th century by Bilibid prisoners as part of their rehabilitation while serving jail sentence.

GRAN ESCALERA. The cinematic grand staircase brought to mind the Three Musketeers and Hogwarts School of Wizardry. The gran escalera has forty-four pieces of piedra china cut stones leads up to the second floor of the monastery. Contrary to popular belief that the piedra china were used as counterweight on Chinese trade boats, these slabs were imported from Canton. In the years 1786 to 178, 2000 slabs were ordered. 44 were laid in the grand staircase, others were used to pave the sacristy and rest were brought to the different churches in the country.

Upon ascending the stairs, one is welcomed by a mellow atmosphere brought by the natural lighting filtered by the stained glass and capiz windows that open to the inner patio. In these second story corridors have walked the earliest religious orders of the Walled City.

LIFE IN THE MONASTERY. The rooms in the second floor functioned as classrooms and dormitories as early as 1590. It underwent massive reconstruction since it was severely damaged during the Liberation in 1945. When the monastery was opened as a museum, they were made into galleries to illustrate life in the monastery and exhibition spaces for more artifacts.

The hall to the right upon reaching the topmost floor from the gran escalera is a reconstruction of the Sala de San Pablo. This was the chapter hall where important meeting were held. The window in one corner of this hall opened to a pasadizo, a covered, overhead bridge with large windows that connects the monastery to the Casa Procuracion across the street. Next room is the Sala de San Agustin. This lengthy hall was divided into smaller spaces to serve as dormitories. In one corner is the celda prioral or the office of the Provincial Prior. The Prior was the head of the Augustinian community. A massive chest, engraved with the words Caxa de Obras Pias y Convento contained precious silver coins used for funding charitable projects.

BIBLIOTECA. In another corner of the second floor gallery is a reconstruction of the Biblioteca. The original library contained rare manuscripts and books brought to the country by the early Augustinians. Old photos show the books were kept in narra bookcases that are crowned by carvings that framed the names of Augustinian scholars. The gallery is enclosed in glass and has a display of representative title pages of works by Augustinians, including the classic Flora de Filipinas by the botanist Fray Manuel Blanco.

The first edition of this classic appeared in 1835 but was criticized for lack of illustrations. On a later editions, artists and illustrators were commissioned. Two versions of Flora de Filipinas were published at the same time, a colored set was printed in Barcelona while a black and white version was printed in Manila. This six huge volumes of text that came with lithographs detailed the plant life of the entire archipelago.

MURDER OF FRAY SEPULVEDA. This chamber is a passage to the choirloft and sits directly under the bell tower. It served as a private chapel for the community. The grand Baroque retablo contained a stoup for holy water. The retablo was originally from the old side chapel in the main church. It was removed when the latter was dedicated to Miguel Lopez de Legazpi. In the central niche of the retablo is a crucifix which was brought by Fray Alonso de Mentrida in 1602. This crucifix was originally placed over the railings of the adjoining choirloft. It is said that the image on the cross extended its hand in absolution to a friar who, in the throes of death who did not receive the last rites.

August 1, 1617. Rector Provincial Fray Vicente Sepulveda was found murdered in the celda prioral. In an effort to catch the culprits who were suspected to be a member of the community, the corpse of the murdered Augustinian leader was laid out with its index finger pointed at whoever entered the antecoro from the corridor. The dead body was arranged in such manner to identify the perpetrator by feeling the heart of each friar who came in to kiss the dead provincial’s hand.  The guilty were identified, one escaped. Those captured were sentenced to death by hanging and were buried within the walls of the monastery.

CORO Y SILLERIA. Pass the gloomy antecoro into the dramatic splendor of the choirloft with its 68 ornately carved molave thrones or silleria and the magnificent lectern that supports cantorals. The seat in each individual silleria can be raised so that the occupant can stand without moving away when it is upturn. The Prior’s throne in the center is covered with a wooden canopy.

At the center of the floor is the facistol, an opulent lectern that holds the cantorals. It was commissioned by Fray Felix Trillo in 1734. It must have been carved by the Chinese artisans from the old Parian. The lower part of the facistol has carvings of Classical and Oriental allegorical figures. The shaft is borne by cherubs posing as caryatids. The pyramidal upper part of the facistol can be rotated to facilitate the changing chant books that were made of durable cowhide. The facistol is capped by a niche which used to have an image of the Immaculate Conception in ivory.

SAN AGUSTIN PIPE ORGAN. The first church pipe organ were made of wood and deteriorated in time. According to historic documents, wood used in the San Agustin organ were molave, narra, baticuling and tindalo. Tuba or coconut wine was used as glue.  Ivory was laid on the keyboard. The master builder of the pipe organ is unknown but is attributed to the Fray Diego Cera of the famous Las Piñas Bamboo Organ.

In the monastery have lived composers of church music. Most renowned Filipino composer was Marcelo Adonay from Pakil who spent his younger years in the San Agustin. He founded an orchestra that was to be the finest of its time.

EPILOGUE:  SAN AGUSTIN CHURCH. The choirloft is central to the monastic life and offers the best view in the entire church and monastery. From here, the richly Baroque interior of San Agustin Church and the splendid trompe l’oeil painted on the massive barrel vault ceiling glows forever in this theater of memory.

Published in: on March 2, 2020 at 7:29 pm  Leave a Comment  

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