The Church of San Agustín has been described as "a permanent miracle in stone."
San Agustín Church (See photo below) at Intramuros in Manila is the oldest Christian sanctuary in the Far East. It is also the oldest stone building in the Philippines, and the only one there surviving from the sixteenth century. It marked the start of using permanent materials in contrast to the local architectural tradition of using lightweight construction materials.
The city of Intramuros (Latin for "within the walls") began in 1570 as the centre of government of the Philippines. Intramuros is a four-kilometre pentagonal piece of land beside the Pasig River. It was fortified, and contained administrative buildings, a governor's palace, shops and about 150 houses. Eventually it contained eight churches and religious order chapels; San Agustin was one of the first two built, and is now the only one that has survived the ravages of warfare and of time. The Augustinians immediately in that year built a church. They dedicated it in honour of Saint Paul, but it has always been known as the Church of San Agustín (Saint Augustine). This first church on the site was a simple structure of bamboo and thatch.
The completed church was officially accepted in the Augustinian Chapter meeting of 3 May 1572 by Martin de Rada O.S.A. one of the Augustinian pioneers in the Philippines and the first Provincial of the Augustinian Province of the Philippines. The first Prior (Augustinian superior) of the adjacent San Agustín monastery was Fr Juan de Alva O.S.A.. Land for the building had been donated by Miguel Lopez de Legaspi, the founder of Manila who had led the expedition to the Philippines from Mexico in 1565.
When two years later this church was burned down in 1574 by the pirate Limahon, a replacement church and monastery were built with the same flammable materials. This church was damaged by a typhoon in 1582 and razed by a fire on 28 February 1583 during the funeral of Governor General Gonzalo Ronquillo de Penalosa. For the third time, the church was replaced. This time it had stone walls and wooden posts. Even with less wood in it, it nevertheless burnt down on Palm Sunday, 30th March 1586.
In 1586 the Augustinians approved designs for a church to be made this time of brick and of stone. The techniques of cutting stone and of mixing lime with sand allowed a different design for the fourth church on the site - a church that still stands 400 years later. It was to be the first stone church in the Philippines to be built according to the blending of the architecture of Mexico and Spain. The church was oriented from the southeast to the northeast, following closely the building process in Mexico, in which structures usually lean against the southeast of the church, with the passage into it through the sacristy and the lower cloister.
The church was designed according to the plans approved by the Royal Audencia of Mexico, for the Spanish settlement of the Philippines was initially in the control of the Spanish authorities (audienca) in Mexico. Because of limited space, the weight of the church roof is supported not by buttresses but by the stout pillars separating the side chapels from the nave in the same manner as the “wall pillars” of German Baroque. The church has a barrel vault, shallow dome and arched vestibule, all of stone, features not found in other Philippine churches.
Photos (at right): Picture 1: The facade of the Church of San Agustín. Picture 2: Near the front door a statue of St Augustine and a symbolic Chinese lion or fu dog. Picture 3: Near the front door a statue of St Augustine and a symbolic Chinese lion.
Building construction commenced on 25th June 1586. Blacksmiths, masons and carpenters from Pampanga, Bulacan, Batangas, Ilocos and Visayas (i.e., Provinces where the Augustinians were present in large numbers) worked on the project, along with Chinese stonecutters from the Parian. Cartloads of wood were transported from Pampagna, and hewn stone from quarries at Guadalupe, Meycauayan and San Mateo.
For the necessary finance, various sources of income were tapped. The Provincial, Martin de Rada O.S.A., issued an appeal for funds. Not only was money accepted, but also chickens, rice, bamboo poles and rattan. The income of bequests to the Order were used, and income derived from the estates owned by Augustinian monasteries in Pasay, Bulacan, Tondo, Malinta and Mandaluyong. Two Augustinians, Frs Diego de Cerrabe O.S.A. and Pedro de Acre (who later became the Bishop of Cebu) were particularly successful in obtaining funds from other Augustinian monasteries throughout the Philippines.
An appeal to the King of Spain through the Royal Audienca led to a pledge via a Royal Order from the Spanish King in 1584 (i.e., after the burning of the second church). Although 10,000 ducats was pledged, only 2,000 pesos ever reached the Augustinian Prior in Intramuros. Although funds were scare, construction was in full swing by 1591. By 1593, when there were twenty-eight Augustinians living in the adjacent monastery, the project was well advanced. Further general appeals were made in 1597 and 1602. The church stands on very solid ground, and measures 67 metres in length and 25 metres in width. The height inside the church to the cornice is 12 metres, and the top of the dome is 28 metres above ground level. The walls are made of hewn stone.
Designed after the Latin cross pattern of classical European churches, it copied the design of churches built by the Augustinians in earthquake-prone Mexico. The Augustinians who came to the Philippines from Spain and also 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 local stone and weather conditions which required them to sacrifice aesthetic requirements for durability.
Photos (at right): Picture 1: The facade today. Note that the left tower is missing. Picture 2: Intricate carving on the church's wooden main door. Picture 3: Interior of Church of San Agustín, Intramuros.
The exterior of San Agustín Church is only modestly Baroque and is not very beautiful, according to the Augustinians who thought its hard, static appearance and dark adobe stone lacked grace, elevation, and charm. But its structural resilience in the face of earthquakes has made up for any limitation in its exterior appearance. The church was designed in the "severe baroque" architectural style with Spanish and Italian influences imported from the "Virreinato" of Mexico.
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 of his books, Angels in Stone, Fr 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 (which some people mistake for lions) that emphatically guard the courtyard entrances.
Photos (at right): Picture 1: The facade today, before repainting. Note that the left tower is missing. Picture 2: Interior of the Church of San Agustín, Intramuros. Picture 3: The facade today.
Philippine church architecture historian Alicia Coseteng, in the book “Spanish Churches of the Philippines”, describes San Agustin 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.
A second structural component of the San Agustín Church that may help explain its resilience to earthquakes is its 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. Seven side chapels line the entire length of each side of the nave, making a total of fourteen, of which twelve remain. The buttresses are thereby inside the church, with the side chapels between them.
Items of great interest include a gilded Baroque pulpit decorated with a pineapple finial, a 17th-century carved and inlaid choir stalls, twenty-five huge paintings by Fuster and Enriquez, a 17th century facistol or lectern carved in Macao and ivory images of the Virgin, San Miguel, a crucifix carved by Juan de los Santos in the 18th century. The sculpted Chinese lions (or fu dogs - see images above), that stand guard at the entrance of the front courtyard, are a reminder of the centuries of cultural and commercial exchange between Filipino and Chinese merchants.
At present there are only twelve side chapels, as one on each side was filled in after the earthquake of 1880. The Church of San Agustín was built by Juan Macias, a soldier and architect from Spain. It was begun in 1586, and completed in 1606. Out of appreciation for his work, the Augustinians granted Marcias and his heirs the right of perpetual burial in the church. When Marcias died in 1611, he was buried there in the Chapel of Santa Lucia. Although Marcias was the architect, a succession of Augustinians were what today would be called the project supervisor, the cleck of works, the manager of supplies, and the site manager.
In this project that took twenty-one years, the first such Augustinian was Francisco Bustos O.S.A., and then successively Idelfonso Perez O.S.A. (beginning in 1590), Diego de Avila O.S.A. (beginning in 1593), and finally Alfonso de Perea O.S.A. until the task was completed in 1607.
When Manila to the British forces in 1762, the sailors invaded the church and the adjacent monastery (convento) of Saint Augustine. Books, manuscripts, gold and precious stones, ivory images, vestments, silver marcos and two portable organs were lost.
Photos (at left): Pictures 1 - 3: The "realejo" pipe organ, assembled on site in the Church of San Agustín in 1810.
The original of the church structure was later added to in 1854 by the Municipal Architect of Manila, Don Luciano Oliver. He attempted to improve the church’s squat façade by adding two bell towers, constructed in 1861. The towers ignwas ored the original earthquake precautions that had favoured the original squat design. The left tower cracked badly during the 1863 earthquake, and further damaged by a subsequent earthquake.
Soon after 1880 it was torn down and never rebuilt. The bell from the remaining tower weighs 3,400 kilograms. It was lowered to the ground in 1927, and now stands at the entrance of the San Agustín Museum. The present structure has survived the fires of 1574 and 1583, the earthquakes of 1645, 1754, 1852, 1863, 1880, 1968, and 1970. As well, the church survived the bombardment during fighting in Manila in February 1945, when the cathedral (duomo) a few streets away was completely destroyed. Sixteen glass chandeliers were imported from Paris in 1873, and are still a feature of the church.
In 1875 two decorative scenographic painters who had recently come to Manila from Italy, Giovanni Dibella and Cesare Alberoni, were engaged at Intramuros by the Augustinian Prior, Jose Ibeas O.S.A.. These artists worked on the ceiling of the Church for fifteen months. The amount allocated for the task was 6,000 pesos, but this was later increased to 8,000 persos in order to expedite the completion of the project. Their work resulted in a superb trompe l'oeil vault with floral patterns, geometric outlines, classic themes and religious images.
The splendid barrel vault and dome of the church helped to magnify the skills of two Italian decorative painters. On to that untextured and plain surface, they managed to sculpt and give life to the ceiling with their paint brushes by giving an illusion of three dimensions. Masters of a "shadow" effect, they filled every space with wonderful floral motifs, geometric patterns, classic architectural themes, coffers, and religious images. They successfully achieved this on the trompe l'oeil ceiling in a way that highlighted the spatial geometry of the church.
Without a doubt, the Church of San Agustín has one of the most artistically decorated interiors among all of the old colonial churches in the Philippines. The painting scheme of Dibella and Alberoni covered an earlier painting scheme in crimson, blue, yellow, and gilt, more akin to Mexican colonial styles. Remnants of this earlier painting was discovered when the pipe organ of San Agustín was dissembled for restoration. A portion of this older colour scheme can now be seen through a glass window cut in the restored organ’s pipe box.
Photos (at right): Picture 1: The trompe l'oeil cieling, painted in 1875. Picture 2: A section of the painted cieling, showing the three-dimensiol effect. Picture 3: A cloister corridor in the monastery (now part of the San Agustín Museum).
In 1941 the Japanese bombed Intramuros. In the following year the Japanese forces began their three-year occupation of Manila. They made San Agustín a strategic post and a concentration camp for prisoners. The Church again became a shelter for hundreds of families and religious priests of various communities.It was the only building still standing when Intramuros was almost totally destroyed during the liberation of Manila from the forces of Japan in 1945. During the final days of Japanese occuption, when the Manila Massicre occurred, Intramuros became the centre of the last stand of 10,000 Japanese and supporting Korean troops. Conservative estimates state that the Manila Massacre, which took place in February 1945, claimed the lives of over 111,000 civilians, an estimate of 35,000 more than the number who died at either Nagasaki or Hiroshima six months later. At that time, a majority of the Spanish priests and brothers in Intramuros – about eighty of them - were separated from the Filipino population and led by the military police to two shelters in front of the Cathedral.
When they were penned in the shelters, the Japanese soldiers threw hand grenades among them. They then covered the entrances to the shelters with gasoline drums and earth, literally burying the prisoners alive. Out of thirteen Augustinians, only two were still alive when the American forces arrived. Afterwards the Americans seized the church. Many of the church's items were stolen and lost.
An inventory made at San Agustin church and convento in Intramuros during 1951 stated that 270 paintings were lost during World War II, and also altarpieces, marble tables, a map collection, wall clocks, a baby grand piano and a dinner service for 100 persons. Fortunately, vestments, many statues, and the jewels adorning statues were saved because there had been hidden elsewhere in the city. In the warfare of 1945, the second floor of the adjacent Monastery of San Agustín was totally destroyed, and its walls and the roof were heavily damaged. In 1945, with the nearby Manila Cathedral totally destroyed, the Church of San Agustin was made into a parish. In 1960 an annex building was reconstructed to house the offices of the parish and as quarters for candidates of the Order of Saint Augustine.
In 1976 the much of the monastery was repaired and converted into the San Agustín Museum. At about the same time, the Church of San Agustín was declared as national landmark. In 1993 UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation) listed San Agustin as one of the three most significant "baroque Churches of the Philippines." In 1995 the cement-adobe layer applied to the exterior surface of the church was removed and replaced with a new lime-cement layer, which would allow the stone to "breathe." Afterwards the walls were painted in a light terra-cotta colour, in keeping with the church's tradition of painted walls. This colour was approved by UNESCO and the NCCA (national conservation authority).
In 2000 Jaime Cardinal Sin, the former Archbishop of Manila, canonically crowned the image of Our Lady of Consolation, which is kept in the Church of San Agustín. The Church of San Agustín is filled with many smaller chapels which house richly decorated altars. Over the centuries, these chapels served as burial sites for prominent residents of Manila. A side chapel next to the main altar is dedicated to the Spanish Miguel López de Legaspi (or Legazpsa), the founder of Manila. His tomb there was violated by the invading British forces in 1762, when they were searching for gold and treasures.
There is in the church an 18th century realejo pipe organ (now fully restored), made of parts imported from Spain via Mexico. It plays on Sunday mornings and special liturgies. San Agustin Museum organises annual festivals featuring the organ. A charming feature of this organ is the rueda, which is a paddle wheel to which are attached tiny bells. Wind from the organ bellows are directed to the wheel to produce the tinkling sounds of bells. It was assembled on the site in 1810, from the metal mixing of zinc and lead and carpentry work in the Philippine timbers of narra and hardwood molave mahogany. It featured 1749 pipes and a mechanical pedal keyboard.
After twenty-five years of disuse, it was returned to working order on 24th June 1981 by a Recollect Augustinian, Fr Julio Espinosa O.A.R., who was born at Burgos, Spain in 1944. In seven years of work during vacation hours, he returned the organ to working condition. His work changed its mechanical operation to electric operation, and added a complete pedal keyboard, but left the original air pressure, location and arrangement of the organ pipes. A complete restoration then took place in 1998, at a cost of P4.5 million. Use was made of the competent organ restorers, the Diego de Cera Organ Builders, of Las Pi¤as and Torquemada Organeros of Palencia (Spain). Together with Federico Acitores, an expert in Spanish baroque organs, they carried out the restoration. This major project was aided by the Spanish Embassy through the efforts of the Ambassador Delfin Colomé, and by Instituto Cervantes, the Agencia Espanola de Cooperacion and the many private benefactors of the Church of San Agustin.Photo GalleryFor the Augnet gallery on some of the ministries of the Vicariate of the Orient, click here.
San Agustin Church. Intramuros. http://superpasyal.blogspot.com.au/2007/09/san-agustin-church-intramuros.html
Great Churches of Intramuros: San Agustin Church. The Augustinians' San Agustin Church is hailed as "The Mother of All Philippine Colonial Churches" primarily because of its centuries-old splendor and also being one of the few remaining churches in the Philippines that survived natural calamities, wars, and even Filipino negligence. Considered as the Philippines' first earthquake-proof building, it has endured several catastrophic earthquakes that rocked the city, proof of the church's strength and vigor to stand the test of time. It has been dubbed as a permanent miracle in stone. Oh, and did I mention that it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993, under the title "Four Baroque Churches of the Philippines". Historical photographs. http://nostalgiafilipinas.blogspot.com.au/2012/05/8-great-churches-of-intramuros-san.htmlArchitecture of San Agustin Church. A blog. http://arquitecturamanila.blogspot.com.au/2013/05/san-agustin-church-museum-and-monastery.html