Much of Manila, including Intramuros, was flattened during the American forces’ bid to liberate the city from the Japanese in early 1945. The Manila known before as the “Pearl of the Orient Seas” was totally devastated leaving thousands of innocent Filipinos dead and most of the city’s infrastructure ruined. And from the sea of rubbles and ashes, one building emerged and still stands to this very day—the San Agustin Church.
Today, the San Agustin Church in Intramuros, Manila, prides itself as the “wedding capital of the Philippines.” But aside from being a popular wedding venue for Catholic couples, this imposing structure in the heart of the Walled City gave witness to numerous historic events that helped shape the Philippines we know and enjoy today.
The church is under the care of the Order of St. Augustine, which is considered as the first missionaries in the Philippines. The baroque-style stone church that people see today was completed in 1606 although major restoration and renovation works were done recently. A church made of nipa and bamboo constructed in 1571 used to stand at the same spot but was destroyed due to manmade and natural calamities.
An imposing door carved with Augustinian iconographies leads to the church recognized as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. But as one gazes up to admire the church’s facade, one would notice the church’s lone belfry. Some say that the left belfry was removed after it suffered damages from a series of strong earthquakes in the 1800s.
The interiors of the church is truly a manmade marvel. The trompe l’oeil mural on its ceilings and walls creates an illusion that the church is adorned with intricate bas-reliefs. But the church’s nave lined today with pews bore witness to the struggles of innocent Filipinos. Hundreds of Intramuros residents were locked up and held hostage by Japanese forces in the church during the Battle for Manila.
While the church is simply known today as San Agustin, it is originally dedicated to St. Paul. High on the main altar of the church is a life-size statue of St. Paul, who is known for his epistles.
The church serves not only as a place of worship and venue for fairytale weddings but also as a final resting place for prominent people. On the left side of the main altar is a chapel dedicated to Spanish conquistador Miguel Lopez de Legazpi, who established the Spanish settlement in Manila and served as the first Governor-General of the Philippines. Filipino painter Juan Luna is also interred at the church’s crypt. Rows of tombstones are also found on the church’s walls, columns and even the ground.
Another point of interest within the church is its choir loft (accessible through the museum) where the First Philippine Plenary was held in 1953. Carefully-carved narra chairs were set aside for the delegates. An 18th century pipe organ can also be found in the oratorio along with hymnals still using the Gregorian chant notation.
The Augustinian monastery used to stand adjacent to the church but the original structure did not survive the war. It was then rebuilt in the 1970s to house the San Agustin Museum. Today, the museum features the church’s huge collection of religious art and other artifacts with some even dating back to 16th century. It also gives tourists how the Augustinian friars carried out their missionary work in Manila as well as in the hundreds of towns that they have helped establish across the country.
Today, local and foreign tourists flock to the church to relive the Walled City’s glorious past. The San Agustin Church stands today as one of the few remaining reminders of a place that was known before as the “distinguished and every loyal city of Manila.”
San Agustin Church and Museum
General Luna Street, Intramuros, Manila, Philippines [Google Map]
Operating Hours: 08:00 am to 12:00 pm / 12:00 pm to 06:00 pm
Museum Entrance Fee: P50 (student) to ~P100 (adults)
Contact Number: (+63 2) 527-2746 / (+63 2) 527-4052
Best Time To Visit: Weekdays after lunch