The Church of the Immaculate Conception of San Agustin or more popularly known as the San Agustin Church in Intramuros, Manila is considered as the oldest church in the Philippines. It was built by the Augustinian friars from 1586 to 1606. This is also one of the four Baroque Churches in the country which are inscribed to the UNESCO World Heritage Site list.
These four churches are unique interpretations of the prevalent architectural movement in Europe at that time. These were built by the natives and local artisans using whatever construction materials that is available in a tropical country like the Philippines. The resulting style is a curious mix of Western sensibilities with unmistakable Asian undertones. Where else would you see a church that have both Corinthian columns on its facade and Chinese Fu dogs beside its main entrance?
The present San Agustin church in Manila’s old walled city however, is not the original 16th century structure. It is actually the fourth, after its predecessors have succumbed to numerous fire and one pirate attack. It is also the only structure in Intramuros that survived World War II. It was spared from the air raids as the church served as a war hospital during that time.
I just knew about this surprising historical tidbit when two of my friends and I attended a Carlos Celdran tour last month. It was also my first time to get inside the church because during the few times that I’ve been to the place, there is always a wedding that is being held. I finally saw its beautiful trompe l’oeil paintings on its ceilings. The flat surfaces as a result, convey surprising depth and dimension.
If not for the ongoing mass, we would have walked further towards one side chapel near the altar where the remains of Miguel Lopez de Legazpi and Juan Luna are interred. That would be reserved perhaps for another walking tour someday.
But in the meantime, I am just glad that I could finally feature the San Agustin Church in this small blog. With its history that spans more than four centuries, it rightfully earns the title of being ‘the mother of all Philippine churches.’ And in more ways than one, it will continue to be a part of the history of both the present and future Filipino generations.
The other UNESCO-inscribed Philippine Baroque Churches are as follows:
Church of San Agustín in Paoay, Ilocos Norte
Church of Nuestra Señora de la Asuncion in Sta Maria, Ilocos Sur
Church of Santo Tomas de Villanueva in Miagao, Iloilo