If these walls could talk | San Agustin Museum and Catholicism’s beginnings in the Philippines through the Augustinians

By MARC LINO ABILA
Bulatlat

I consider Intramuros as a home away from home since I started attending college at Lyceum of the Philippines University located within the walls and lived near the campus for four years.

I would go around the walled city to take a break from academic stress, hear Mass at the nearby Manila Cathedral or San Agustin Church, or dinner with friends and orgmates who also live in dormitories inside Intramuros.

Since some of the places in Intramuros have entrance fees, such as Fort Santiago and Baluarte de San Diego (entrance fees are at P75 ($1.46), by the way), I would choose to go somewhere else that doesn’t charge entrance. Maybe this is the reason why I haven’t been to San Agustin Museum, which is right beside the San Agustin Church. Now, the museum charges P200 (around $4 for regular entrance and P160 (around $3) for students.

A friend from the Ateneo de Naga University who was coming over to Manila for a few days called me and asked if I could go with her knowing that I know Intramuros by heart. So I went with her to San Agustin Museum a week ago. It was my first time but it’s her second visit.

The building which the museum currently occupies was a former monastery of the Order of St. Augustine or Augustinians, the first Catholic religious order to set foot in the Philippines. Augustinian missionaries from Mexico were brought along by Miguel Lopez de Legazpi in his expedition to the Philippines to colonize the archipelago during the expansion of the Spanish Empire.


(Caption) A painting of St. Augustine of Hippo, patron of the Augustinians, displayed at the corridor of the museum.
I’ve listed the most interesting parts of the museum for me in no particular order.

1. Old retablos


Since it’s run by the Augustinians, you would expect a lot of religious artifacts in the museum.

Retablos from Augustinian churches around the country can be found. Most of the retablos are made of Philippine hardwood and crafted by Filipino and Chinese woodworkers.

And since I have a fascination with old churches, retablos are one of the first things I look for. By looking at these, you can tell who is the patron saint of the parish or what religious order built the church based on the saints displayed in the retablo.

2. The Inner Garden

The Inner Garden is situated at the center of the museum. Friars would often go here to contemplate or discuss matters with parishioners. Courtyards like these were common in the houses of the principalia and ilustrados and in monasteries and convents during the Spanish colonial era.

3. The stairwell

The museum has two floors and to get to the upper floor, you have to climb the stairwell lined with paintings of Augustinian saints and martyrs such as the Augustinian Martyrs of Japan and St. Magdalene of Nagasaki, an Augustinian tertiary. The paintings depicted their martyrdoms in the course of the persecution of Christians by the Tokugawa Shogunate during the Edo Period in Japan.

When the Legazpi established settlements in Cebu and Manila, they were accompanied by an Augustinian mission led by veteran navigator Fray Andres de Urdaneta to evangelize the local population and eventually created the Augustinian Province of the Most Holy Name of Jesus of the Philippines (Provincia Augustiana del Santisimo Nobre de Jesus de Filipinas) in reference to the image of Sto. Niño brought by Ferdinand Magellan’s expedition and was found by Legazpi in Cebu. The Augustinians in Manila also sent missionaries to Japan and China.

4. Statues of wood and ivory

As I mentioned above, the museum houses a number of religious items dating back from the Spanish era. These were used in churches of the Augustinian Order and collections of prominent families.

There are several rooms which contained religious pieces but the one that I liked the most is the room that diplays St. James the Greater (Santiago el Mayor), patron saint of Spain, as the legendary Santiago Matamoros (Moor-slayer).
The saint is also the patron saint of my hometown in Libon, Albay. The wooden statue came from Libmanan, Camarines Sur. The room also features several large old crucifixes previously used in churches administered by Augustinians.

There’s also a room that has ivory statues of different sizes of the Virgin Mary as the Immaculate Conception, principal patroness of the Philippines and Our Lady of Consolation, patroness of the Augustinian Order.

5. The choir loft


This is the best part of the museum tour for me.

The choir loft of the San Agustin Church is now part of the museum. Visitors can access the choir loft from the upper floor.

Here you can have a great view of the church below. You can also see the trompe-l’oeil (French for “deceive the eye”) ceiling of the church up close. Many visitors might get confused that the church ceiling was carved but the technique used to paint the ceiling was meant to create illusion to the viewer.

This part of the museum shows the pipe organ, music sheets, and choir seats in its original form as if the choir loft is still in use. (http://bulatlat.com)

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