Manila, with its dense population of 17 million, constant traffic congestion and brightly painted jeepneys (imagine the offspring of a school bus and a pick-up truck), can be an overwhelming city when taken as a whole. When dividing Manila into bite-sized pieces, however, the idiosyncrasies of the city become more manageable as you uncover Manila’s hidden gems. One of these is Intramuros, the home of San Agustin Church, a the walled neighborhood that despite being heavily bombed during WWII, still displays brightly-colored Spanish architecture complete with cobblestone streets. Situated just north of Rizal Park, it’s an easy place to enjoy walking around both inside of and on top of the surrounding stone wall.
A highlight of Intramuros is San Agustin Church, listed in 1993 as a UNESCO World Heritage site and rightly deserving of that status. Completed in 1589 by Miguel Lopez de Legazpi. San Agustin Church serves as both a Catholic church and an archival museum. The church itself is the oldest stone church in the Philippines and features chandeliers hanging above the pews from high ceilings, which have been painted in 3-D, giving it intricate depth.
In the very back is the second floor balcony reserved for the chorus members and organist. This area is decked out with dark wooden seats with carved seat backs and a simplistically beautiful organ. To experience the acoustics of the hall be sure to attend a mass (see times below).
Several intimate wooden confessionals are sprinkled throughout the hall as well as the twelve Stations of the Cross. As you walk around the cathedral clockwise (starting at the back) various paintings or sculptures depict each station ending with Jesus dying on the cross. The opportunity to light a candle for someone appropriately presents itself at station five, when Simon helps Jesus carry the cross.
The museum side of San Agustin Church includes two floors of halls with various religious artifacts. The first room, much to our horror, features ivory statues of Jesus on the cross and the Virgin Mary dating back to the 1700’s.
Additional rooms display antique robes, pottery, paintings and sculptures. In addition, as you walk from room to room, sculptures and paintings line the stone walls.
A partially covered courtyard lies just outside the church walls. We found a quiet bench on which to relax and eat some snacks when the wind picked up, sending big palm leaves from one side of the courtyard to the other and causing a mango to lose its grip and fall to the ground. Heavy rain, lightning and thunder ensued, giving us the perfect excuse to stay put and listen to the sound of the rain hitting the tin roof. Not a bad way to spend an afternoon.
Planning a Visit?
- The entrance price is 100 Pisos ($2.50).
- The exact location is on General Luna Street between Real Street and Potencia Street.
- Mass times are at 6:30am and 5:30pm Monday through Friday, 7am on Saturdays and 10am and 6pm on Sundays.
- San Agustin Church website is: www.sanagustinchurch.org