Art and the Church

It’s the oldest church in the Philippines. That much I knew of San Agustin Church in Intramuros, Manila. I can count with the fingers on one hand the few times I’ve been there, but my latest visit was not like the others. I took some time with the hubby to explore the adjoining monastery, which now serves as a museum privately owned and maintained by Augustinian priests.

The casual visit turned out to be a huge ‘wow’ experience, an enlightening peek into a long-gone period that blurred the lines separating religion, art and history. There was so much to take in, and two hours was ruefully not enough. It’s been decades since my Humanities 101, thus my understanding of Baroque, chiaroscuro, or trompe l’oeil have all but turned hazy. Nice-to-know concepts while doing the tour, but not absolute musts to fully appreciate the grandeur and the glory of the only surviving 16th century structure in the country.

Sometimes visual messages help us get the picture more than a sermon can. Viewing this colonial church inside and out did that, at least for me. The good side of that period in our history when foreigners ruled for more than 300 years; what came out of the clergy’s involvement with the people; and how it contributed to the material and social progress of this country — they are all there for everyone to see.

Sometimes if we look closely, we can truly say, ‟God is in the details.”

The terra cotta façade has been panned for its lackluster appearance, but durability has made up for its absence of charm and gracefulness. The edifice has withstood several earthquakes that had damaged other churches built in the area.

Detail of the main door. Essentially Baroque.

The domed ceiling offers plenty of reasons to look up

The main altar

Side altars

Representations of the Blessed Virgin Mary with ivory heads and hands

The ornately carved and gilded pulpit

A confessional box made of solid narra

Some of the 17th and 18th century capes and vestments from Spain and China worn by officiating priests

The 18th century pipe organ made by Filipino carpenters, artisans and masons using local materials. It was restored through cooperative efforts of the Diego Cera organ builders, various Filipino philanthropists and patrons, and Spanish government agencies. The restored organ was inaugurated in November 1998.

One of the 68 seats in the choir loft. The seats, made of narra with molave inlays, were installed in the 1600s.

This lectern holding a cantoral (song book) is an exquisite piece of sculpture that dates back to 1731

The inscription on this marble font says “Romblon Año de 1893”

Non-religious items include this collection of gusis or jars and a richly inlaid wooden chest

Click here for more information about San Agustin Church.

San Agustin Church and the Museum are located on Gen. Luna corner Real St., in Intramuros, Manila.

The Museum is open daily from 9:00 am – 12:00 nn, 1:00 pm – 5:00 pm

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