Baroque Churches of the Philippines: San Agustin Church of Manila

There are several old churches that you may want to visit and explore. If you are interested with history and heritage, it is a great idea to visit the 4 baroque churches of the Philippines designated by UNESCO as a world heritage site.

Old structures in the country are mostly influenced by the Spaniards and the Americans. The former has colonized the Philippines for 377 years at the time when Spain was the greatest power in the world. The latter, when it has become a superpower and bought the country from the Spaniards. The Spanish conquistadores have brought along Christianity and spread it in our soils. In areas that were converted to Roman Catholicism, they turn it into pueblos and in almost every pueblo, they built churches.

The country, being predominantly Roman Catholic, had a huge number of churches built during the Spanish rule. Most of the designs were patterned after the churches in Latin America. These churches were built like fortresses, facing the sea and often on elevated surfaces. They were built as such to keep watch of possible attacks and raid either by the Moro and other ethnic groups. The baroque churches often have massive buttresses that serve to protect the church from earthquakes.

Because of their structure, these churches survived natural and man-made disasters.

The four churches inscribed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site are:
1. San Agustin Church of Manila
2. Church of La Nuestra Señora de la Asuncion in Santa Maria in Ilocos Sur
3. San Agustin Church of Paoay in Ilocos Norte
4. Church of Sto. Tomas de Villanueva in Miag-ao, Iloilo

San Agustin Church of Manila

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San Agustin Church (November 2015)

It is located within the walls of Intramuros in Manila. Completed at the turn of 17th century, it is said to be the oldest church structure in the Philippines. San Agustin Church was looted by the British forces during the Seven Years’ War. It survived several major earthquakes. It was at this church that the Spanish forces surrendered Manila to the United States after the Spanish-American War. It also served as a concentration camp during the World War II Japanese occupation of the Philippines.

Today, San Agustin Church is a silent witness in Intramuros to the transition of rule from the Spaniards to the Americans and quickly by the Japanese. It has lost its adjacent monastery to the bombardment during World War II. The church is said to be of Mexican design, an almost striking similarity to the Puebla Cathedral in Mexico.

My first visit to this church was seven years ago, when I walked the cobbled streets of Intramuros for the very first time. There were succeeding visits to San Agustin, the latest was in November of 2015.

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The church in coral-peach (February 2009)

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The belfry when it was still coral-peach (February 2009)

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Intricately-carved doors

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Lovely interiors

The façade may not be impressive compared to the other baroque churches but the interior is remarkably beautiful. A pair of Fu dogs guard the ornately carved doors. It opens to reveal the church interior that is in the form of the cross. The ceiling was painted intricately by Italian painters and were made to perceive as a three-dimensional art. Tromp l’oeil technique as they say.

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The amazing effect of Tromp l’oeil

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Choir Loft

At the sides are several chapels. The pews are made of hardwood. Wood carvings adorned the San Agustin Church. It also contains the tomb of Miguel Lopez de Legazpi, Juan Salcedo and Martin de Goiti – the Spanish conquistadores.
There is a museum at the side of the church. It contains mostly images and articles related to Roman Catholic Church.

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The tomb of Miguel Lopez de Legazpi, a Spanish Conquistador

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The choir loft with its intricately carved seats

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Religious icons lined the museum hallway

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Stained-glass windows of the museum complex

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Museum hallway

The San Agustin Church and Museum is worth the a visit. The museum is open daily from 8:00am to 12:00nn and 1:00pm to 6:00pm. One baroque church ticked off. 3 more to go.

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