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Paulo Travels: San Agustin Church, Intramuros

Paulo Travels: San Agustin Church, Intramuros

The San Agustin Church is one of the more interesting must-see sites found within the historic walled city of Intramuros. Built between 1587 and 1606, it is the oldest church in the Philippines. The church has survived a number of natural disasters, fires as well as looting during wartime in its centuries-old existence. The San Agustin Church was the only building left intact after the destruction of Intramuros in WWII. The present structure is actually the third to stand on the site and has weathered seven major earthquakes, as well as the Battle of Manila.

I was able to explore the dimly lit interior quite thoroughly with my trusty Canon 17-40mm f/4 USM L lens, (without flash of course to respect Church worshipers who come and go). Because of this, a high ISO setting was required as well as a large enough aperture to maintain a shutter speed that would prevent camera shake and to capture the rich details illuminated only by pockets of natural light streaming through towering windows.

The atmosphere is medieval since with its towering colonnades and high arches. The massive yet simple grey facade contrasts with its richly ornate and symettric interiors full of intricate trompe l’oeil (French for ‘fools the eye’) frescoes on the vaulted ceiling. The moldings, rosettes and sunken panels which appear as three-dimensional carvings, were painted by two Italians, Alberoni and Dibella, scenographers who painted backdrops for operas during that era.


Do not miss the set of 16 huge and beautiful chandeliers from Paris, the baroque pulpit near the main altar with the native pineapple as a motif. And on the choir loft, the grand pipe organ, the antechoir with a 16th-century crucifix, the choir seats carved in molave with ivory inlays of the 17th century.

Today, San Agustin is a very popular venue for weddings and other ceremonies that are complemented by its rich and lavish history. The Church is one of only four Philippine churches constructed during the Spanish colonial period to be designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

To see a more detailed interior of the church, tickets are available at the adjacent San Agustin Museum which houses a formidable collection of precious antiques, religious art as well as objects of great historical and cultural merit that is sure to give you quite a good glimpse of the fabled riches of Old Manila.



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