The San Agustin Church and Museum in Intramuros, Manila, make up one of the many well-preserved historical churches scattered across the Philippine islands. This church may be just the third most popular Filipino cathedral next to Paoay Church in Ilocos, completed in 1894, and Barasoain Church in Bulacan, built in 1630, but San Agustin Church, completed in 1607, is the oldest. The majestic church has stood for more than three centuries in the walled-city of Intramuros in Manila. It has survived two earthquakes in 1863 and 1889 and the ravages of Japanese occupation. Today, San Agustin Church is a fully functioning Roman Catholic Church under the auspices of the Order of St. Augustine, and is also the home to an important Catholic icon – the image of Our Lady of Consolation.
Filipinos are very religious people, and more than 85% of the population is Catholic. This is why San Agustin Church is never short with visitors, not really to view it as a national treasure but to come regularly for the masses. It is also a popular place for weddings. Since it is a church more than a tourist spot, admission is free.
Walking inside the church, one is mesmerized not only by the religiosity of the place but also by the elaborate designs of its architecture. The church interior is a site to behold, a truly unique work of religious art that has stood the test of time. The trompe l’oeil ceiling painting was done in 1875 by Italian artists Cesare Alberoni and Giovanni Dibella. Also, the often unnoticed seats at the choir loft are hand-carved 17th Century seats made from molave hardwood that match perfectly with the 18th Century pipe organ.
Another important reason why this church is historically significant is because it hosts the tombs of three Spanish conquistadores: Miguel Lopez de Legazpi, Juan de Salcedo and Martin de Goiti, as well as the buried remains of Filipino heroes Juan Luna, Pedro Paterno, and Trinidad de Tavera. In 1976, the church was declared a National Historical Landmark by the Philippine government. In 1993, it finally received the international citation it deserves. UNESCO declared it as a World Heritage Site, as one of the most important “Baroque Churches of the Philippines”.
Besides the San Agustin Church is the less-visited Augustinian monastery that now also serves as a museum. It showcases centuries-old religious art pieces, altarpieces, capes, vestments, chalices, furniture, statues, paintings, old photos and religious artwork.
The San Agustin Museum experience is one of awe and admiration. It offers a beautiful glimpse of the past, of how early church leaders conducted themselves, of rites and practices that are now overlooked or obsolete. Museum visitors are transported to a time when early Catholic priests were just introducing the Western faith, almost imposing it by force on the locals. The two-floor museum has long hallways leading to a number of viewing rooms, and visitors are welcomed by a huge, antique church bell at the center of the admitting room.
San Agustin Museum welcomes visitors daily from 8:00 AM to 6:00 PM. Admission is free but you will be asked to give a donation, so give as your heart dictates. Photo-taking is not allowed. You will be asked to leave your camera and any hand luggage at the reception area. A visit to the San Agustin Church and Museum is a one-of-a-kind journey to spirituality and nostalgia that every Filipino and all visiting foreigners must take.