Heritage Conservation Society

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San Agustin Church (Intramuros, Manila)

Posted by admin on July 29, 2006

Concealed behind the walled city of Intramuros, built by the Spaniards in 1570, is the church of San Agustin. This church is a significant monument to the Spanish colonization of the Philippines, being the first religious structure built in the island of Luzon, after the Spanish relocated from Cebu in the south.

Built within the administrative center of the Spanish government, San Agustin church enjoyed privileges not commonly dispensed to most colonial churches. It was built by the Spaniard Juan Macias in 1586 and was completed in 1606. Luciano Oliver later renovated it in 1854. The book Great Churches of the Philippines points out that the church was designed “according to the plans approved by the Royal Audencia of Mexico and by a Royal Cedula.”

Jesus Encinas, who wrote San Agustin Manila, states that the design of the church was derived from other churches that were built by the Augustinians in Mexico. Pedro Galende, OSA, in his book San Agustin Noble Stone Shrine, adds that the Augustinians “who came from Spain and those born in Mexico had a great opportunity to observe and study the South American monastic architecture which they later used in the Philippines. They took into consideration the quality of the local stone and the weather conditions which required them to sacrifice aesthetic requirement for durability.”

This practical and banal approach to aesthetics is evident on the church’s facade. It may have been the most sought and copied facade in the colonial period, but its static appearance and dark adobe stone lack grace and charm. Even the Augustinians themselves were not too kind with the church’s displeasing appearance. In another book, Angels in Stone, Galende recalls the Augustinian historian, Agustin Ma. de Castro’s critical comment of the church’s facade: “It was of triangular form, very ugly and of a blackish color; flanked by two towers, one of which has no bells and does not serve for anything. Due to the frequent earthquakes in Manila, they (towers) have only one body, ugly and irregular, without elevation or gracefulness.”

Sedate and direct to the point, the facade follows the style of High Renaissance. The symmetrical composition is prefixed by pairs of Tuscan columns that flank the main door of the two-tiered facade. The vertical movement of the paired columns is adapted at the second level by equally paired Corinthian columns. At the second level, mass and void alternate in a simple rhythm of solid walls and windows. The two levels, emphasized by horizontal cornices, are then capped by a pediment that is accentuated with a simple rose window. The facade’s hard composition is held together by two towers; unfortunately, the missing left belfry further exaggerates the lackluster facade. It was taken down after a destructive earthquake hit the church in 1863 and 1880, splitting the tower in two.

The facade has a touch of Baroque by the ornately carved wooden doors that depict floras and religious images. Baroque is also evident in the carved niches that quietly reside between the paired lower columns. The church is bequeathed with Chinese elements in the form of fu dogs that emphatically guard the courtyard entrances.

Alicia Coseteng, in Spanish Churches of the Philippines, describes the church as having “an inverted vaulting foundation, which reacts to seismic effects in much the same manner as the hull of a ship resists the waves.” Although this is difficult to prove, this may be one of the reasons why, amidst the destructive natural calamities that are prevalent in the country, the church is still standing today. Winand Klassen, in his book Architecture in the Philippines, also notes that the church has an inverted vault-like foundation, and was the first earthquake-proof building in stone. This makes San Agustin as the only surviving 16th century edifice, and the oldest church in the Philippines. Another interesting structural component of the church is the lateral bays that act as interior buttressing. This is completely different from all the colonial churches where the wall buttresses flare out at the exterior side of the church walls. Within each compartmentalized bay is a side chapel that Coseteng refers to as cryptocollateral chapel. Seven side chapels line the entire length of each side of the nave.

San Agustin church is also the only colonial church that has retained its original vaulting, despite the destructive forces that shelled the church during WW II. It was a fortuitous turn because San Agustin church flaunts one of the most artistically decorated interiors among all of the colonial churches in the country.

The splendid trompe l’oeil barrel vault and dome magnify the skills of two Italian decorative painters, Alberoni and Dibella, who were commissioned to paint the church’s interior in 1875. With a barren, plain surface, they managed to sculpt and gave life to the ceiling with their paint brushes. Alberoni and Dibella animated every space with wonderful floral motifs, geometric patterns, classic architectural themes, coffers, and religious images. Significantly, the artists developed a language in the trompe l’oeil vaulting that synthesizes with the spatial geometry of the church. The super-imposed columns which divide each side chapel are echoed above by coffered bands that traverse across the barrel vault. Even the faux coffers are organized along the length of the ceiling to suggest depth, movement, balance, and proportion to the nave below. At the crossing, the concentric trompe l’oeil of the shallow dome is curiously crisscrossed by fluted ribs that rise from each pier and merge at the apex.

The playful effect of chiaroscuro-light and shadows-and perspective, restrained only by the limited palette of a few earthly colors, is a visual spectacle. Perhaps, the grandiosity of the painting is a bit too presumptuous to some critics, but one can assume that the vitality of the interior must have roused the imaginations of Simon Flores, a local artist who later became responsible in decorating the interiors of several other churches, including the sumptuous interior of Betis church in Pampanga.

As a final stroke to the exhilarating visual experience, the church is vested with a heavily guilded pulpit, with the native flora and pineapple as decorative motifs, as well as a very ornate altar.

The church is more than just an architectural icon. A side chapel next to the main altar is dedicated to the Spanish Miguel Lopez de Legaspi, the founder of Manila. His remains were re-buried here by the Augustinians, unidentified and mixed along with others, after they were ruthlessly unearthed by the British who were searching for golden treasures in 1762.

At best, today, one can only quietly contemplate the charged bygone days at the foot of Legaspi’s final resting place.

Adjacent to the church, the monastery was converted in 1973 to become a repository for religious artifacts and art treasures dating back as early as the 16th century. Here, one can spend an entire day to cherish and absorb the remains of a resplendent era in the country’s religious history.

San Agustin church is, indeed, the mother of all Philippine colonial churches.


57 Responses to “San Agustin Church (Intramuros, Manila)”

  1. admin said

    San Agustin Church, built between 1587 and 1606, is the oldest church in the Philippines and the only building left intact after the destruction of Intramuros during the Battle of Manila. The present structure is actually the third to stand on the site and has survived seven major earthquakes, as well as the wars in Manila. The church remains under the care of the Augustinians who founded it.

    The San Agustin Church lies inside the walled city of Intramuros located in the capital city Manila, Philippines. It is the first European stone church to be built in the Philippines designed in Spanish architectural structure. The church also houses the legacies of the Spanish conquistadors, Miguel López de Legazpi, Juan de Salcedo and Martín de Goiti who are buried and laid to rest in a tomb, underneath the church.

    The church has 14 side chapels and a trompe-l’oeil ceiling. Up in the choir loft, note the hand-carved 17th-century seats of molave, a beautiful tropical hardwood. Adjacent to the church is a small museum run by the Augustinian order, featuring antique vestments, colonial furniture, and religious paintings and icons.

    Together with three other ancient churches in the country, it was designated a World Heritage Site in 1993.


  2. admin said

    San Agustin Church

    The San Agustin Church, again in Intramuros, is a favorite wedding place for Manila’s notables. Built between 1587 and 1606, is the oldest church in the Philippines and the only building left intact after the destruction of Intramuros during the Battle of Manila. The present structure is actually the third to stand on the site having survived seven major earthquakes. Found in the church are the legacies of the Spanish conquistadors, Miguel López de Legazpi, Juan de Salcedo and Martín de Goiti who are buried and laid to rest in a tomb, underneath the church.

    The church has 14 side chapels and a trompe-l’oeil ceiling. Up in the choir loft, one can find the hand-carved 17th-century choir seats made of molave, a beautiful tropical hardwood. Adjacent to the church is a small museum run by the Augustinian order, featuring antique vestments, colonial furniture, and religious paintings and icons.

    Together with three other ancient churches in the country, it was designated a UN World Heritage Site in 1993.


  3. Questions to ask (include, but are not limited to):
    What is their availability on May 23?
    Is it possible to book 2 time slots? (Kuya Con said for time to take pics afterward, etc)
    Do they have air conditioning?
    How much will it cost to book the church? Any additional offertory?
    How much will the down payment be, and what is the payment schedule?
    What is their policy re: other officiants (as we’re hoping to have Amvi’s priest uncle & you-know-who co-celebrate)
    Do they have certain guidelines re: wedding party? i.e. certain age requirements for flower girls, etc?
    What is their policy re: photogs/videogs? e.g. I read online that Shrine of Jesus (where Ate Mel’s brother was married) restricts them to only the right side of the altar.
    Do they have a policy re: flowers? i.e. will the flower girls be able to lay down flower petals? or will they only allow them to carry a basket? (I ask because it is a restriction in some churches here in the US)
    What will they require from Amvi & me? e.g. birth certs, pre-cana/pre-marital marriage counseling class, etc?

  4. […] https://heritageconservation.wordpress.com/2006/07/29/san-agustin-church-intramuros-manila/ […]

  5. midel said

    is any one know where is the place of the preserve dead body of nuns and priest?

  6. midel said

    past century priest and nuns rather.

  7. cyrus said

    what is the name of your parish priest? The parish secretary here in our place asked because of in need for a certain document to be submitted there before our wedding.

  8. I’ve been searching for this exact info on this topic for a long time.

  9. Diane said

    why did san agustin church has no burial mass?

  10. Edna Encarnacion said

    Dear Sirs,

    I would like to know dow much it will cost to get married in San Agustin Church and registration requirements. Would you be able to confirm if April 29, 2011 (Friday) is still open for reservations?

    Can you give me some details or persons/references to know more about the costs, date reservation, requirements to submit to proceed with reservation, etc.
    Thank you very much

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  12. ferns said

    very nice church i wonder ican go there

  13. cj tan said

    Hi. I would like to ask who are the priests involved in the san agustin church and also the ministries and organizations involved. It is for my project for school. thank you 🙂

  14. Edgardo said

    Hi.i have a question for all of you,how to upgrade in aqworlds please tell me just txt 09182248597 thanks.for helping bye

  15. miles mondia said

    i have question,hw much the rent for the wedding?

  16. miles mondia said

    i would like to knw how much the cost to get marriage in san agustin church?also the requirements..pls send me some details…thank you and Godbless….

  17. Maggs said

    I would like to ask how much does it cost to have a wedding in San Agustin Church and if you are still available for July 1, 2011.
    Also if it is air conditioned?

    Thank you!

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  19. raqi said

    i wonder if the augustinians have plans of replacing the left belfry to complete the architectural design once again? was there ever such a plan?

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  23. Stevenson Bajet said

    I hope that someone will take photos of the antique jars that is in exhibit inside the church they show the maritime trade of porcelain coming from China and other parts of Southeast Asia.


  24. […] Dahon Boardwalk. Then we headed off to the oldest church still standing in the Philippines, the San Agustin (St. Augustine). Construction of the church was COMPLETED in 1607 — imagine […]

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  28. mary grace gaerlan said

    gud evening! father, mag ttanong lng po kng how much po s nyo mag pa book for wedding ceremony? and how much the all cost? at ano po ung mga bawal for wedding? pwede po s nyo if ever n mappili ko songs for wedding aile? please! i want to know as soon as possible, thank you! and god bless,

  29. michael roy said

    wow grabe buti naman may natira pang churh during na war dati.. sana wag ito magiba hanggang sa katapusan……….

  30. ron said

    Hi good day! I’d like to know if April 28, 2013 is still available for wedding ceremony.
    How much would be the fee and what are the includions? (flowers etc.)
    What are the requiremenrs from the couple?
    Thank u very mch.

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  32. ivy said

    I just want to know how much is the wedding ceremony reservation?? and requirements too.., please do send me in my email. thank you so much

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  35. kristel lyris torrenuva said

    who are the lay ministries in SAN AGUSTIN CHURCH?

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  44. noemi said

    I would like my daughter to be baptize at San Agustin church when we get a holiday in the Philippines..Can i book my desire date or register thru online?

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  49. Loren Margaret Palad said

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  51. Jesse Alvarez said

    Admin, do you have a list of Augustinian friars who served in central Philippines from 1750 to 1850? if yes, can I ask for specific names?

  52. […] With its history that spans more than four centuries, it rightfully earns the title of being ‘the mother of all Philippine churches.’ And in more ways than one, it will continue to be a part of the history of both the present […]

  53. Kealsea said

    Hello, I would just like to ask how the church of San Agustin affected the lives of the people living in the community. It’s for my academic activity. Thank you!

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  55. […] With its history that spans more than four centuries, it rightfully earns the title of being ‘the mother of all Philippine churches.’ And in more ways than one, it will continue to be a part of the history of both the present […]

  56. Nemi Makalintal said

    Good morning, i just wanted to know if you have a story about the church door, the curve design on it especially its emblem, thank you!

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