San Agustin Church Manila: A Place That Stands Witness to Philippine History

San Agustin Church Manila: A Place That Stands Witness to Philippine History
facade of the historical san agustin church manila
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Beyond being a place of worship, San Agustin Church Manila is a masterpiece that every traveler looks forward to visiting in the city. 

Built in 1595, San Agustin Manila, officially known as Church of the Immaculate Conception of San Agustin, is the oldest church in the Philippines. It exhibits remarkable features such as retablos (altars) of high Baroque style and wall buttresses separating cripto collateral chapels. What makes it unique is its ceiling paintings in the tromp l’oeil style.

The centuries-old church bore witness to the 400 years of Spanish rule in the country. It has survived many bombings and earthquakes, and through its countless renovations, incorporated other influences including Filipino and Chinese designs. Clearly, the church stands witness to the rises and falls of the Philippines.

This famous landmark is a guaranteed must-see for anyone who wishes to learn about the rich history of the Catholic Church in the Philippines.

San Agustin Church Manila being one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites

interior of san agustin church in manila

San Agustin Church Manila is an inscribed UNESCO World Heritage Site (WHS) in 1993 under the serial declaration of the Baroque Churches of the Philippines, together with three churches in Paoay, Ilocos Norte; Sta Maria, Ilocos Sur; and Miagao, Iloilo. 

The Baroques Churches of the Philippines was inscribed in the WHS list because these churches established a style of building and design that was adapted to the physical conditions in the Philippines which had an important influence on later church architecture in the region. The Baroque Churches of the Philippines also represent the fusion of European church design and construction using local materials and decorative motifs to form a new church-building tradition. 

Two of the important points of the church are its bamboo organ and a hidden mausoleum, which houses the remains of Miguel Lopez de Legazpi. 

San Agustin Church Manila History

antiques and other artifacts inside san agustin church manila

The building of the church started in 1571 under the auspices of the Agustinian Order. Like many structures during that time, the St Augustine Church Manila was built with nipa and bamboo. 

In 1574, the Chinese pirate, Limahong, invaded Manila. The invasion led to the burning of the city, among those burned was the San Agustin Church. This led to the first reconstruction of the church a year later. To rebuild the church, they used wooden materials which are more prone to fire. True enough, another fire caused the church’s destruction in 1583.

To avoid the same mistakes before, the Augustinian friars decided to rebuild the church using adobe stones. In 1586, they appointed Juan Macias to lead the design and construction of the church and was only completed in 1607. The new structure endured even the strongest earthquake that hit Manila from the 16th to 17th century. The only major damage was the collapse of one of the church’s bell towers, which was then permanently removed after.

Because of the church’s age of more than 400 years, it has become a witness to many significant events in Philippine history during the Spanish period. In 1762, during the Seven Years War, British forces looted the church. In 1898, San Agustin Church Manila became a venue for American and Spaniards to discuss and sign the surrender of Manila to the Americans.

During World War II, the Japanese forces turned St Augustine Church Manila into a concentration camp for prisoners. As the Battle of Manila in 1945 drew to a close, the Japanese held hostage priests and hundreds of residents inside the church. To drive out the remaining Japanese, American and Filipino forces conducted an air raid inside Intramuros. Because of that, structures in the walled city were reduced to rubbles but the San Agustin Church Intramuros Manila remained standing; one of the few that were left intact in Intramuros after the war. 

Places you can visit near San Agustin Church

1. The San Agustin Museum

antiques and other artifacts inside san agustin church manila

The San Agustin Museum Manila is home to a collection of Spanish era artifacts, furniture, paintings, statues and other church ornaments.

2. Fort Santiago

a horse carriage in front of fort santiago

Fort Santiago is the oldest Hispanic stone fortress in the Philippines. There are kalesas or carriages, old dungeons, an old theater, gardens, and more to keep your eyes and ears busy as you take in all the history.

Visitors can explore the dungeons that were used as storage vaults and powder magazines of the Baluarte de Santa Barbara, a stone structure constructed in 1592. During World War II, the dungeons were used by Japanese troops to imprison resistance fighters and political prisoners.

3. Baluarte de San Diego

aerial view of the baluarte de san diego

The Baluarte de San Diego is a bastion in Intramuros, part of the Spanish colonial fortification in Intramuros. It is a fabulous park containing beautiful gardens and historic fort remains in Manila.

4. National Museum of the Philippines

facade of the national museum of the philippines

If you’re into history and culture, the National Museum of the Philippines is the perfect place to be. It is home to Juan Luna’s famous Spoliarium— a gigantic painting more than four meters high and seven-and-a-half meters wide, making it the Philippines’ largest painting. What’s even more exciting is that admission is totally free!

How to get to San Agustin Church Manila

Manila is the capital of the Philippines so it’s easy to go and get around. From the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA), tourists can go around Manila through many options: buses, FXs, jeepneys, taxis, tricycles, and pedicab. 

The city can also be easily accessed through the Light Rail Transit System (LRT) and the Metro Rail Transit (MRT).

Make sure to book your accommodation through ZEN Rooms that offers the best budget hotels in Manila with great amenities at a very affordable price.

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