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San Agustin Church: Baroque Architecture

Angelo is an active church volunteer and is fascinated by church architecture, especially old architectural churches in the Philippines.

Façade of San Agustin Church (Photo by the author)

Façade of San Agustin Church (Photo by the author)

San Agustin Church is the oldest stone church in the Philippines, it was completed in 1607.

Located within the Walled City of Intramuros, it is actually built close to the Manila Cathedral. And it is under the auspices of the Order of St. Augustine, or the Augustinian Friars, who manage it to this day.

It is known as the Archdiocesan Shrine of Nuestra Señora de Consolacion y Correa, or the Immaculate Conception Parish.


History

The First Structure of the Church was erected in 1571 using nipa branches and bamboo, material which were found locally on the island. Unfortunately 3 years later in 1574, it was destroyed when forces led by a Chinese pirate named Limahong attempted to invade Manila after being expelled from the Chinese imperial fleet and seeking base on the Philippine islands.

The Second Structure was built on the exact same site as its ill-fated predecessor, this time using wood. Then again, in February 1583, it was destroyed by a fire which started when a candle accidentally ignited drapery that was on the funeral bier during services held for Spanish Governor-General Gonzalo Ronquillo de Peñalosa.

The Third Structure was built using hewn adobe stones, and construction started in 1586, and it was based on the design by Juan Macias. It was completed in 19 January 1607 and was named Church of St. Paul of Manila.

The Third Structure is the present structure of the church.

San Agustin Church before the destructive 1880 Luzon earthquake (Photo credit: goldwinlovesvina.wordpress.com)

San Agustin Church before the destructive 1880 Luzon earthquake (Photo credit: goldwinlovesvina.wordpress.com)

From 18 to 20 July of 1880, a series of destructive earthquakes ravaged Luzon and destroyed a majority of structures, especially those in Intramuros, including the Manila Cathedral.

Fortunately, only a large crack on the east bell tower became the damage on the structure, the rest of the structure was intact.

San Agustin Church after the destructive 1880 Luzon earthquake, note the large crack on the east bell tower (Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

San Agustin Church after the destructive 1880 Luzon earthquake, note the large crack on the east bell tower (Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

The crack was eventually repaired but a long time later, the east bell tower was permanently removed, leaving the church without a left tower up to this day.

Not only did it withstand the 1880 earthquake, but it also withstood many more major earthquakes that struck the city of Manila. These earthquakes happened in 1645, 1699, 1754, 1796, 1825, 1852, 1863 and 1880.

The church also served as a hospital for several of those injured during the earthquake in 1863.

In 1854, it was again renovated under the leadership of Architect Luciano Oliver, probably for maintenance.

During World War 2, the invading Japanese forces turned the church into a concentration camp for Filipino and American POVs.

San Agustin Church damaged during the Battle of Manila in 1942 (Photo credit: Flickr: John Tewell)

San Agustin Church damaged during the Battle of Manila in 1942 (Photo credit: Flickr: John Tewell)

During the Battle of Manila in 1945, it was the only church within Intramuros to have survived destruction by the combined American and Filipino ground forces as they courageously fight the invading Japanese forces to drive them away from the country.

Its roof was damaged and the monastery was completely destroyed by the bombings and mortars, but the church structure itself stayed intact.

In the 1970s, the monastery was turned into a museum which is now known as San Agustin Museum, and visitors can learn more about the history of the Spanish era in the Philippines as well as its influence to Filipinos during that time.


Baroque Architecture

San Agustin Church is styled in Baroque Architecture.

Baroque style of architecture is actually the most common architectural style in the Philippines, with a majority of Spanish-era churches styled in this way.

Baroque Architecture is an architectural style that originated in the late 16th-century Italy, that period is known as the Baroque Era.

Baroque architecture is characterized by new explorations of form, light, and shadow plus dramatic intensity to express the victory of the Catholic Church.

It was inspired by the Roman-inspired features of the Renaissance Architecture.

Architectural features found in a Baroque church (Illustration by the author)

Architectural features found in a Baroque church (Illustration by the author)

Some features include broader naves, an interior that serve as a shell for painting which is known as frescos, and fragmentary or deliberately incomplete architectural elements. But we'll learn more about those in a while.

Baroque churches prominently feature broader naves. For the ordinary people, it means that the church seemed massive in size, and wide in space as it is part of their perception. That is generally the purpose of this design feature.

Nave of San Agustin Church (Photo by the author)

Nave of San Agustin Church (Photo by the author)

The interiors serve as shell for painting, sculpture, and stucco (especially in the Late Baroque Era).

A stucco is a construction material that is composed of aggregates, a binder, and water. It is used as a decorative coating for walls and ceilings, external building siding, and as a sculptural and artistic material in architecture.

Interior paintings are more prominently found on the ceilings, which is known as frescos.

Paintings on the ceilings of San Agustin Church (Photo by the author)

Paintings on the ceilings of San Agustin Church (Photo by the author)

Not only that, the purpose of the designs in Baroque-styled buildings is to surprise the viewer and have them be amazed by how awe-inspiring the details that are inscribed on the structure, whether it be the façade, the posts, the walls, or even the ceilings.

In addition to that, Baroque churches feature fragmentary or deliberately incomplete architectural elements. The purpose of this is to disorient the eye and to provide unique beauty in the design.

Baroque Architecture focuses more on the decorative and theatrical style of the design, especially grandeur, drama, and twisting elements.

Arches supported by thick pillars inside San Agustin Church (Photo by the author)

Arches supported by thick pillars inside San Agustin Church (Photo by the author)

Arches are mostly decorative and prominent in Baroque churches, as they are highly noticeable. These arches are supported by thick pillars to strengthen it and to protect the entire structure from crumbling, and to serve as decoration as well.


What's Special About San Agustin Church

As mentioned earlier, it is in fact, the oldest Church in the Philippines. Perhaps the oldest one that's still standing up to this day.

In addition, this church houses the mortal remains of Miguel Lopez de Legazpi, the Spanish conquistador who led the Spanish Colonization of the Philippines in 1565. His body is encased in a sarcophagus and interred at the left side of the main altar of the church.

Final resting Place of Miguel Lopez de Legazpi, the founder of Manila (Photo by the author)

Final resting Place of Miguel Lopez de Legazpi, the founder of Manila (Photo by the author)

His tomb is a popular visiting site for tourists and pilgrims alike.

Also, if you look closely at the ceiling, the mouldings, rosettes, and sunken panels, the paintings appear to be 3-dimensional. A rosette is a disk or foliage or a flower design which is usually in relief form, which is used as a decorative motif.

Yes, these are flat paintings but its style give the illusion that they are 3-dimensional carvings.

Look closely at the paintings on the ceiling, they seem like 3-dimensonal carvings (Photo by the author)

Look closely at the paintings on the ceiling, they seem like 3-dimensonal carvings (Photo by the author)

Miguel Lopez de Legazpi is not the only person who is interred in this church, there are a lot more people buried in there. Some were buried on the floor and some by the side chapels.

When you step inside the church as a visitor or as a pilgrim, chances are you might get to step on the lapidas on the floor as you walk. A lapida is a gravestone in which has the name and dates of birth and death of the deceased person.

Gravestones or "lapidas" on the floor inside San Agustin Church (Photo by the author)

Gravestones or "lapidas" on the floor inside San Agustin Church (Photo by the author)

Some of the many niches inside one of the side chapels (Photo by the author)

Some of the many niches inside one of the side chapels (Photo by the author)

So keep this in mind when visiting the church, because you might be stepping on these gravestones without you even knowing it. Also, please do give respect to the souls of those people who are buried here, with silence and prayers.

What to Expect When Visiting There

When you go there as a pilgrim or as someone attending an occasion like a Wedding or a Baptism, you can enter directly through the front doors and look in awe as you initially step inside the church.

Of course, you walk with respect and reverence as this is also the House of God, a place of worship.

When inside, you feel an eerie vibe as this is a centuries-old church and there may be spirits lurking around the corner. It could be either the spirits of the deceased who are buried here, or it could be the Spirit of God since this is a church.

Altar section of San Agustin Church (Photo by the author)

Altar section of San Agustin Church (Photo by the author)

Feel free to take a walk and check on the side chapels, and the tomb of Miguel Lopez de Legazpi. As long as you take the tour in complete silence as not to disturb others who are praying and the spirits who may be there as well.

The same goes when you are visiting the San Agustin Museum, as visiting the church itself is part of the tour. The only difference is that you also get to see religious historical artifacts around the museum as well as the crypt where Juan Luna, a famous Filipino painter, was buried. You enter the church from the museum through the doors at the right side of the altar.

The thing is that you have to pay a fee in order to enter, but it is all right as this would be your help in conservation efforts of the museum.

Lastly, while checking at the different artifacts and all the details and the information that lies within, you may be able to learn more of the rich history of Christianity during the Spanish Era in the Philippines.

You will also appreciate the historical and religious influence of San Agustin Church as it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site under "Baroque Churches in the Philippines" in 1993, under its official name "Immaculate Conception Parish - San Agustin Church". And in 1976, it was proclaimed a National Historical Landmark by the Philippine Government.

It is currently under the administration of the Augustinian friars from the Augustinian Vicariate of the Orient.




For more information, contact them:

(02) 8527 2746 - San Agustin Church

or

(02) 714 6889 - San Agustin Museum

San Agustin Church is located at: General Luna St, Manila, 1002 Metro Manila.

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