San Agustin Church and Museum

The church of San Agustin, with a handsome stone roof, has been the scene of many dramatic episodes in the history of Manila. Used as barracks by the British in 1762-64, it contains the graves of the conquistadors Legazpi and Salcedo, and also of many civilians who took refuge here and were massacred by the Japanese during the fighting in 1945

A few hundred metres south of the Cathedral by way of General Luna Street (named after a general who played a prominent part in the 1898 war). The site was granted by Legazpi to the Augustinians, who played a major part in the evangelization of the Philippines, and on it, Father Diego Herrera built a wooden church which was burned down by Limahong’s pirates in 1574. The present church, built between 1599 and 1607 by Juan de Macias and Antonio Herrera, is the oldest religious building in the Philippines, which has been relatively little damaged by earthquakes and wars but was pillaged by British troops looking for the monks treasure in 1762. A bomb burst through the dome in 1945 but caused no damage.

In spite of its name the church is dedicated to St Paul. It is a rather heavy building in Spanish colonial style, showing Mexican influence. The facade, preceded by four Chinese lions, perhaps presented by missionaries or by Chinese converts, has two tiers of eight columns each (the lower columns Done, the upper ones Corinthian); between the columns of the lower tier are statues of St Peter and St Paul. The triangular pediment is surmounted by a cross. Only the right hand tower (rebuilt 1861) remains; the left-hand one collapsed as the result of an earthquake. The door of molave wood is decorated with carved panels.

The church is entered by way of the museum, from one of the galleries of the cloister. The interior was decorated in trompe l’oeil at the end of the 19th century by two Italian artists, Alberoni and Divela, and recently restored by the Filipino artist Niceforo Rojo. It has a Latin-cross plan and is 62 m long, 27 m wide and 18 m high. The Baroque pulpit is decorated with Augustinian themes (a book, a heart pierced by arrows). In the right-hand arm of the transept is a wrought-iron arch (1866) leading into the cloister. Stalls of molave wood; six candlesticks imported from France in the 19th century.
To the left of the high altar is a chapel containing a recumbent effigy of Legazpi by the Spanish sculptor Joaquin Rubio Camin. Legazpi was buried here in 1572.

The Museum occupies a number of rooms opening off the galleries of the cloister. The walls of the galleries are decorated with paintings of episodes in the lives of St. Augustine and other saints. Among the figures represented is Father Manuel Blanco, 18th century monk who wrote a monumental Flora de Filipinas in six volumes. At each corner of the cloister is an altar.

The various rooms of the Museum (sacristy, library, refectory, chapterhouse) contain a rich collection of Spanish colonial art, vestments, statues, paintings on wood, books, etc., although many of the convent’s former treasures disappeared during the Seven Years War and the later wars of 1898 and 1942-1945. The De Profundis Room, a kind of pantheon in which members of illustrious families were buried, now also contains the remains of the victims of Japanese massacres at the end of the occupation. In the Capitulation Room the act of surrender was signed by Spanish representatives in presence of the Americans on 13 August 1898. Another room contains interesting photographs of 19th century Manila.

Another range of 17th century buildings was destroyed during the battle for Manila in 1945.

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