A Tour Around San Agustin Church and Museum in Intramuros, Manila, Philippines

By Anne Elizabeth Apolona Gumiran - 11:30 PM

Culture and history are two of the other things that keep me so giddy about other than the ocean. I always find these two extremely fascinating especially if I could go to the places that I could only read from history books - if I could walk on the streets where the heroes used to pass by; if I could feel the walls which used to shelter the most important personalities in the history; if I could see the grave where these people rest peacefully in all eternity. I have always wondered how the people's everyday lives are centuries ago in those places considering the long, rumbling history of the Philippines. To satisfy my hunger for knowledge and fascination, I revisited Intramuros. I was supposed to spend a day exploring the whole of it but it's almost impossible as I spent most of the time inside San Agustin Museum and Church.

About San Agustin Church

San Agustin Church is seated at General Luna St. in the dubbed as "Walled city of Manila", Intramuros. It has been considered as a UNESCO World Heritage in 1993. As furthered in its Historical Marker,

It is considered as the oldest stone church in the Philippines which has withstood earthquakes from 1645 to 1762, the Spanish-American war in 1898 and the Japanese Invasion in 1941. It was planned to be built in 1586 by architect Juan Macias. The construction started in 1587 and was completed in 1607 under the supervision successively of Augustinian Fathers Francisco de Bustos, Ildefonso Perez, Diego de Avila and Brother Alfonso de Perea. 
The Church choir has 68 carved Molave seats with Narra inlaids, an artistic lectern and parchment cantorals of the 17th and 18th centuries. The church and its graves were profaned during the British occupation of Manila in 1762. The ashes of early Spanish Conquistadores Legazpi, Salcedo, Lavezares and blessed Pedro de Zuniga and others now rest in the easternmost chapel of the transept. Terms for the American occupation of Manila were prepared in the vestry of the church in 1898. The first Philippine Plenary Council was held here in 1953. [non-verbatim]

Its ceiling's baroque details is but an astonishing trompe l'oeil painting and not actual stone nor wood carvings. The tomb of the Spanish Conquistador, Miguel Lopez de Legazpi, is also found in an alcove near the altar.

the tomb of the Spanish Conquistador, Miguel Lopez de Legazpi

San Agustin Museum 

Beside San Agustin Church is its museum which visually presents the Augustinians' love for knowledge, architecture, religion, arts, music, science, medicine and more. The different halls and chambers of what used to be a convent for Augustinian friars were turned into a museum showcasing what their lives are all about and what they have done.

Tour Around the San Agustin Museum

Augustinian Friars as the Pioneers of Love

The tour at the Museum starts with an entrance to a door carved from Molave wood called the 'Door of Love'. Anyone who enters the door is invited to leave behind any hatred and open his or her heart to love. The Augustinian Friars were the pioneers of the Christian message of love in the Philippine Islands which this door symbolizes. Thousands of Augustinian missionaries were part of the Legazpi's, Urdaneta's and Villalobos's expeditions. These expeditions also served as an avenue for them to preach that 'God is love' and that the main commandment of Jesus is, "Love one another as I have loved you". San Agustin's rule number one, "Love God and then your neighbor" is written above the door of love.

The first room beyond the Door of Love shows photographs and miniatures of ships and what the missionaries brought with them during the expeditions.

Past this are long and wide hallways with enormous paintings depicting the significant events during the expeditions and images of saints. The other side of the hallway are windows made of Capiz overlooking the quiet and peaceful prayer garden where Augustinian friars usually meditate. At every end and turns of the hallways are different retablo, with saints carved from wood.

The hallways are more than just those Instagram-worthy spots you can think of! Its walls and the images hanging on it tell a lot of stories of the Augustinian expeditions
retablo by Juan de Los Santos

Details of the retablo by Juan de Los Santos

The Garden

The first few chambers we got into have religious items, liturgical books and images of saints and religious practices on display. One of the many things in there that has caught my attention is the retablo of Juan De Los Santos, a Filipino sculptor. The retablo shows the symmetry of renaissance architecture. These chambers showed how Augustinians value Christianity.

The liturgical books on display
One of the chambers at the east houses a columbarium. We initially thought that it is exclusive to Augustinian friars but when we looked at the names, there are women's, too. What got us truly surprised and amazed was when we saw Juan Luna's name in there, too. We knew it was the Juan Luna because he got a 'Pintor Patriota' remark on it.

Find Juan Luna's!


Some paintings on display at the staircases and hallways also show the plights of the Augustinian friars during the different expeditions. Some of them and their preaching were not accepted, worst, killed.


There are also chambers on the second floor and one of which exhibits the Augustinians' love for medicine. It resembles a pharmacy where pots of medicinal plants, original lithographs of "Flora de Filipinas" and photographs of famous Augustinian friars which have had breakthroughs in the field of Science and Medicine are on display.


The most stunning of all the rooms for me is the library which shows the friars' love for knowledge. Unlike the other rooms, the library is not open to public. It can only be admired through the tall and wide glass walls.


The Facistol

The chamber labeled with 'Antecoro' shows the friar's love for songs and music. This showcases the different choir books where songs for the different holy sacrament and ceremonies. This room also leads to the choir of San Agustin Church with the classic lectern or Facistol which holds the cantorales or choir book and the restored 18th century pipe organ.

The Augustinian Friars brought to the Philippines the first choir books in 1570 and 1571. A few years, in 1586, they sent a petition to King Philip II for "seis cantorales de lujo" meaning six luxury choir books. In the 17th century the Augustinian themselves, of San Agustin Manila, started to create choir books needed for the Divine Office. Some of them wrote the text in Gothic letters, the Gregorian music and painted the miniatures and decorations of the parchment; thus, making them painters of cantorales.

The restored 18th century pipe organ in San Agustin Church

After we have gone through each and every chamber of the museum, we ended up in a hallway where photos of all the Augustinian churches in the country are on display.

San Agustin Museum Entrance Fee

General admission (adults) is at Php 200.00. Local Senior Citizens, students and children with Identification Cards shall pay an amount of Php 160.00. The church and the museum are open to tourists from 8:00 AM to 6:00 PM.

Going Around Intramuros and to San Agustin Church

San Agustin Church is among the many points of interest inside the walled city. One of the best way to explore Intramuros is through the Bambike. It can be parked outside during the walking tour inside the church and the museum. The following are their rates:

The Bambike Eco-tours let everyone experience Intramuros. It is available everyday from 10:00 AM to 3:00 PM.

Things to Remember when Visiting San Agustin Church and Museum

1. Wear comfortable foot wear. The tour will involve a lot of walking.
2. Wear decent and comfortable clothes. You will still be entering and visiting a church.
3. There are no tour guides that would show you around the museum. You can go on your own, visit and walk from one chamber to another. Information are basically everywhere. You just have to be read it.
4. Tourists are not allowed to walk and wander around during an on-going mass.

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  1. Great article. It makes me want to visit this place soon. Although I'd like to make a correction, the Spanish-American War is not part of World War II. World War II in the Philippines was during the Japanese invasion that started in 1941 (not 1942).


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