Great news! Intramuros finally reopens three of its popular sites after being closed for almost a year due to Covid 19 pandemic. These sites include the Casa Manila Museum, the Fort Santiago, and the Baluarte de San Diego. While we are all waiting for the entire Intramuros to be fully operational again, i think the reopening of these three sites is a good start. Another historical site in Intramuros is the San Agustin church. Located at the heart of the historic walled city is the UNESCO Heritage site, the oldest stone church in the country, and the lone survivor in Intramuros after the battle of Manila (Check: The Seven Great Churches of Intramuros).
The San Agustin Church (also known as the Arcdiocesan Shrine of Nuestra Señora de Consolacion Y Correa) is located on the cobblestone st of General Luna. The first church was founded in 1571 while the stone church was completed in 1607 which makes it the oldest stone church in the Philippines. Adjacent to the church is the Convento de San Agustin which served as the provincial house and headquarters of the Augustinian Province of the Most Holy Name of Jesus of the Philippines of Spain ever since the province’s founding in 1575 until 1932. Today, the convent was rebuilt as a large museum showcasing thousands of antiques and ecclesiastical items that reflect the lives of more than 3000 Augustinians who lived, prayed, and studied in this church and convent.
Now, allow me to provide you a quick virtual tour from my recent visit to this historical museum.
The Sala Recibidor/ Antesala
Right after you enter the huge 17th century-carved molave door, the first room that will greet you is the Sala Recibidor that was once a classroom for the early Filipinos where they were taught music, art, and catechism. There’s also the Antesala that highlights huge paintings of different Augustinian friars. This large oil painting features the Saints of the Augustinian order. It’s a replica of the original painting that can be found in the Augustinian convent of Santo Niño in Cebu.
The sala currently features the arrival of the early Augustinian missionaries and the expeditions that led to the historic encounters of this archipelago with the Western World.
Now that we are celebrating the 500th year of Christianity in the country, this gallery is definitely worth a visit.
A scaled replica of a galleon. This one represents the Acapulco-Manila Galleon Route also known as the “Tornaviaje”
A chapel was erected in the porteria in honor of Our Lady of Consolation, as the patroness of the Agustinian Order in 1877. The image above shows an 18th century old image of Our Lady of Consolation.
“The Conquest of the Philippine Archipelago” – Adopted from an engraving by Nicolo Billy in 1698
Image of the Assumption of Virgin Mary
Fray Urdaneta and the Adelantado Legazpi arriving in Cebu in 1565
The replica of the venerated image of Santo Niño de Cebu
The Cloister of Processions
As you exit the antesala, you’ll find the arcaded Augustinian corridors known as the “cloister of processions”. It is a reminder that life is a journey, an earthly pilgrimage directed to our final destiny – the fullness of love
Along the corners of the cloister are retablos or altarpieces dedicated to a number of saints of the Augustinian Order, each one narrate significant Christian values. The image above features the retablo of Saint Nicholas of Tolentino. Above it features images depicting the finding and exaltation of the True cross of Christ by Saint Helena and her Son Emperor constantine.
Located at the center of the cloister is an inner garden. Behind its heavenly beauty, however, is a terrifying history. The San Agustin church and monastery was used as concentration camp in 1945. About 700 residents of Intramuros were rounded up and imprisoned within its cloisters. The prisoners drew water from the central fountain in the courtyard until it was contaminated while the trees surrounding it were cut down as firewood.
The garden as viewed from the second floor of the convent. Today, all you can see from its inner garden is the beautiful landscape adorned with luscious greenery and tall ornamental palm trees. A perfect place to unwind!
The Old Sacristy / Antesacrista
Another interesting location in San Agustin Museum is the old Sacristy. The sacristy is where the priests prepared themselves for Mass. Here, you’ll find a large collection of ecclesiastical items.
A golden monstrance , a liturgical vessel
A collection of ivory and wooden images in the Antesacrista
A sorrowful image of Mary
Señor Jesus Sentenciado
Corner altars displaying images of three prominent Augustinian saints; Nicolas de Tinis, Nicolas Parallon, and Nicolas de Tolentino
Wash Basin or Lavamanos
Retablo of San Juan Delos Santos
Also in the old sacristy is an old retablo that was executed in 1617 by the carver, Juan De Los Santos, for the church. It was transferred in the sacristy probably in the 17th or 18th century
The image of the Risen Christ in front of the retablo
Sala De Profundis
On the west wing of the cloister is the Sala de Profundis. It is where the Augustinian friar community used to gather to pray for their brethren and benefactors as well as for the souls of the dead. This was also the antechamber to the refectorio where the community gathered for their meals and snacks.
In 1933, this space was transformed into a crypt where the remains of members of the Augustinian community, and other Filipino and foreign families are kept. Among them are ashes of notable Filipinos like Juan Luna and Teodoro Agoncillo.
The center features a monument dedicated in memory of the victims of atrocities during the Battle of Manila in 1945. This also includes 140 Spanish victims who were killed by the Japanese in the last days of the occupation of Manila, during World War II. Among them were 13 Augustinians, 10 Franciscans, 6 Augustinian Recollects and 6 Capuchins.
Next to the Sala De Profundis is the Refectory. This is where the friars used to gather to have their meals.
One of the most interesting highlights of this room is the ceiling. It features paintings that are considered to be the oldest mural paintings existing in the Philippines from the Spanish period. The murals showcased anagrams of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph painted in black, white, red, and earth tones.
The Creation of Adam. A scupture by Magno Gaza that was adapted from the work of Michael Angelo at the Sistin Chapel.
Partial recreation of the table of the Augustinian Friars in San Agustin Convent in the 18th Century
A collection of crucifixes by Luis Maria Araneta from his 1960s visit in Mexico
Scourging at the Pillar
A 16th Century wooden statue of St James the Great
Just like the old Sacristy, you’ll also find another retablo in the Refectory. It’s an 18th Century Baroque altar. It was reconstructed by Luis Maria Araneta from different parts of the country. The Tabernacle, for instance, is from Paquil Laguna while the altar front is from Pampanga. The statues of Saint Catherine and Saint Monica are from Bacolor, St Augustine from Apalit, the Calvary from Bataan, and the statues of Saints Peter and Paul from Mabitac, Laguna.
Another impressive highlight of the San Agustin Museum is the grand staircase that will surely take you back in time. This grand staircase is 30 meters high with 44 granite block steps, 3 meters long, bought from Canton (China) from 1786 to 1789.
The brick vault above is 8 meters in diameter and was done in 1863 by architect Luciano Oliver.
The Upper Cloister
The upper cloister of San Agustin Museum is equally mesmerizing. The hallway features the life and mission of the Augustinian friars in the Philippines.
The friars were the main church builders in nearly 300 towns with over 160 in their original or restored form. Some of the popular churches in the country were highlighted in this gallery.
An intricately detailed scaled replica of a galleon
The Sala San Pablo
Most of the rooms in the second floor were once used as classrooms and dormitories. One of which is the historic Sala San Pablo where many important meetings and Provincial Chapters were held. When the monastery was opened as a museum, most rooms were turned into galleries to illustrate life in the monastery and exhibition spaces for more artifacts.
The exhibition features furnitures and religious paintings from Spain, Mexico, Japan and the Philippines
A bronze relieve depicting the Nativity of Jesus.
Saint Augustine giving the rule to his community of friars
The image of La Virgen del Niño Perdido (Virgin of the Lost Son). The original image was located in the asylum of lost babies in Valencia Spain (hence the title)
The Prior’s Room
A reconstructed “estudio” or study room where the Prior studies, prays, and receives visitors during daytime. It was also the place where he kept the savings in the chest of the “Obras Pías” (Pious Foundations). It also houses a painting of Sto. Cristo de Burgos.
The Filipino Santos Gallery
This space was originally the room of the friars.Augustinian Friars brought with them carved or painted religious images from Mexico and Spain. This room features outstanding carvings in wood and ivory for the churches built by the friars and also for the export market.
A collection of wooden images from Pampanga; St Paul, The Resurrection, and St Augustine
The Room of the Archive/ Oriental Ceramics
This room once housed the Archives of the Augustinian Friars. Today, this room highlights the missionary work of the Augustinian friars among the Mountain People from the 16th to the 19th century mainly among the Abacas, Adang, Apayao, Balugas or Aetas, Ibilaos, Igorrotes, Ilongotes, Irapies, Isinais, Italones, and Tinguianes. This encounter resulted to a collection of anthropological, ethnographic, and religious value.
This gallery, somehow, reminds me of the San Diego gallery in National Museum of Anthropology (Check: National Museum of Anthropology Part 1). It features a large collection of tradeware ceramics from China, Japan, and Vietnam.
China Ceramics found after digging the San Agustin convent in 1990s
Luis Maria Araneta Gallery
This gallery features an extensive collection of Luis Maria Araneta, a pioneer heritage conservationist, collector, architect-decorator, and style savant.
Most of which includes a huge collection of ivory religious images
The gallery was inaugurated in 2017 that features various ivory icons, 20th-century religious craftsmanship of prisoners, old missals and crucifixes.
Crucifixion in the Bottles
The Antecoro / Post Coro
The antecoro was originally a passage to the choir and to the bell tower. It later became aprivate chapel of the Augustinian community until the upper floor of the convent was open to public visit. Here, you’ll find choir books that were used by the friars in the convents or by the canons in the cathedrals between the 12th and 19th century.
Before reaching the choir loft, you’ll find a small chamber that sits directly under the bell tower. It features a retablo from the old side chapel in the main church. It is said that the image on the cross extended its hand in absolution to a friar who, in the throes of death who did not receive the last rites. Interestingly, this place shares a dark history. A murder of a priest was committed in this chamber.
As you passed by the choir loft, you’ll find another room, the Post coro. This is where the choir books and musical instruments used during liturgical ceremonies were kept.
The Choir Loft
The best part of this tour is when you finally reached the choir loft. It features 68 intricately carved choir stalls or “silleria” were commissioned between 1608-1610 by Fr. Miguel García Serrano, Prior of San Agustin in that period.
The center of the choir loft features a so-called lectern or facistol. This is where the “cantorals” or choir books were placed.
If Las Piñas has Bamboo Organ, San Agustin also has an antique pipe organ. The present organ was built between 1810-1813 using woods like molave, narra, baticuling and tindalo.
The choir loft is also the place to get the best view of the San Agustin church. Here’s a view of its nave and altars.
Capilla De Santiago Apostol de Paombong
One of the newest additions in San Agustin Museum is a chapel. The Capilla De Santiago Apostol was inaugurated last 2019. It features a stunning altar along with different images donated by Mario Aniceto Sumera. It also features several paintings from Bulakeno artists.
One of the paintings in the chapel depicting the image of Our lady of Sorrow and the procession of Sto Entierro
The retablo was assembled from several parts of the original retablo of the St James The Apostle Parish Church in Paombong, Bulacan, originally a visita of Malolos build by Augustinians in 1580 that gained full parochial status in 1639.
The intricately detailed altar of the chapel
The Sala of Flora Filipina
In the Augustinian Order, some friars dedicated their time to different sciences: cosmology, astrology, biology, and botany. This includes Fr Gregor Mendel who was considered as the Father of Modern Genetics. This exhibition features various items related to medicines and more.
Fr Manuel Blanco’s Flora De Filipinas book that described and classified about 1,200 herbal species, giving their botanical properties, applications, and medical qualities
From the 16th Century, the Convent of San Agustin had a famous “botica.”. Enclosed in glass are jars containing different medicines.
The Library (Biblioteca)
The Library of the San Agustin Convent became one of the best in the Philippines but was utterly damaged in numerous events. Because the library houses some of the old books, the room itself is not accessible to public but is protected with glass so visitors can still view it.
The original library contained rare manuscripts and books brought to the country by the early Augustinians. Old photos show the books were kept in narra bookcases that are crowned by carvings that framed the names of Augustinian scholars.
Some of the old books on display
This might be a virtual tour but nothing can be more rewarding than personally witnessing these amazing collection of antiques, ecclesiastical items, and anything that allows us to embrace the wonderful life of the Augustinian friars who lived here in San Agustin Convent many years ago.
Interestingly, we do not have to wait that long because San Agustin Museum will reopen to the public this coming 24th of Febuary after being closed for almost a year.
Things You should know before visiting the museum
►The museum is located in General Luna St of Intramuros. It is adjacent to the San Agustin Church and a few walks away from Casa Manila
►The entrance fee for San Agustin Museum is Php200 for Adults / Php100 for College Students / Php90 for High School Students
►Regina Caeli, an Exhibit of Canonically Crowned Marian Images in the Philippines
►A Day in National Museum of Anthropology Part 1
►A Day in National Museum of Anthropology Part 2
►A Day in National Museum of the Philippines (National Museum of Fine Arts)
►Mount Samat National Shrine War Museum
►Casa Santa Museum
►25 Most Interesting Art in Pinto Art Museum
►Biyaheng Antipolo: Exploring Pinto Art Museum
►Casa Consulado Museum and Library in Quiapo
►The Santa Cruz Convent Museum
►Museo De Baler
Churches Dedicated to San Agustin
►San Agustin Church of Bay, Laguna
►Saint Augustine Church of Paoay, Ilocos
►Saint Augustine Cathedral of Iba, Zambales
►Diocesan Shrine of Saint Augustine in Tanza, Cavite