SAN AGUSTIN CHURCH: A UNIQUE ARCHITECTURAL STYLE AS EARTHQUAKE BAROQUE
Last Sunday, which is a Palm Sunday moved me to visit the San Agustin Church located at Gen. Luna St. in Intramuros, Manila, at the back side of the Manila Cathedral Minor Basilica which is close for renovation due to earthquakes.
There were four churches declared by UNESCO as World Heritage Sites in 1993 as the outstanding Baroque Churches in the Philippines and the San Agustin Church is one of them. Their unique architectural design is a blend and adoption of European/Spanish baroque by Filipino craftsmen including fusion with Chinese motifs. These Baroque churches established a style of edifice and style to adapt the environmental condition of the country and rendered important influences on later church architecture which form a new church building tradition in the country.
History of San Agustin Church
After the Spanish conquest of Manila in 1571, the Augustinian Order – the first to evangelize the country, built the first church in the country inside the wall district of Intramuros. The first edifice was made out of bamboo and nipa (palm fronds) which was constructed by Spaniards and was destroyed by fire. It was rebuilt at the same site out of wood and again burned when a candle ablaze during the interment of a Spanish governor general in 1583.
It was replaced to a stone church and an adjacent monastery was added by the Augustinian priors which begun in 1586. The building had been built out of hewn adobe stones quarried from districts outside Manila. The construction proceeded slowly due to lack of funds and scarcity of stone materials. Under the design of Juan Macias, the church was declared completed in 1607. The Augustinians officially acknowledge Macias as the builder of the church, who died before its completion. It is celebrating a 440 years as of today in Intramuros.
The church was richly decorated with beautiful wall paintings, a fine retablo, pulpit and lectern with detailed carvings. In the British occupation of Manila in 1762, they looted the San Agustin Church. The edifice withstood major earthquakes that struck the city in 1645, 1754, 1852, 1863 and 1880. The major renovation of the church was supervised by architect Luciano Oliver, in 1854 and on August, 1898, the Spanish surrendered to the United States of America following the Spanish-American War at the San Agustin Church.
During World War II, the church became a concentration camp for prisoners by the Japanese soldiers. They held hundreds of residents including clergy hostage during the final days of the Battle of Manila. Many of the hostages died during the three-week long battle and a memorabilia stands at the Plazuela de Santa Isabel also inside Intramuros. The church endured bombardment by both American and Filipino soldiers with only the roof destroyed but the adjacent monastery suffered total destruction. Architect Angel Nakpil designed the reconstruction of the monastery as a museum in 1970.
Features of San Agustin Church
The church measures around 68 meters long and 25 meters wide. The oviform foundation has enabled the construction to withstand legion of earthquakes that destroyed other churches in Manila. The original design is almost a perfect copy of the Puebla Cathedral (Augustinian Church) in Mexico. Granite sculptures of lions decorated the courtyards. They are gifts from Chinese converts to Catholics. The austere façade has detailed touches of baroque, especially the flowery carving on its wooden doors.
The interior of the church takes the form of a Latin cross which has fourteen side chapels with different saints and art decors. Italian artist Cesar Alberoni and Giovanni Dibella painted the ceiling in 1875.
The hand-carved 17th century molave wood – a tropical hardwood is an eye-catching which furnishes the choir attic.
The church houses tombs of Spanish conquistadors like Miguel Lopez de Legaspi, Juan de Salcedo and many other Spanish governor generals and archbishops in a communal vault near the main altar. The famous painter and hero Juan Luna and other statesmen like Pedro Paterno are among the hundreds of laypersons whose remains have been buried in the church.
The Church of San Agustin hosts the image of Our Lady of Consolation which was canonically crowned by the former Manila Archbishop Cardinal Sin.