As much as there is a lot to see in the San Agustin Church itself, if one wants to immerse in the rich history of the church and that of the Augustinian Order in the Philippines, it is highly recommended to visit the San Agustin Museum.
With so many artifacts in the museum’s collection that can be seen here, it is, for now at least, the most massive museum experience one can find within Intramuros. It provides a glimpse of how the religious life was like in Intramuros especially during the Spanish colonial period, back when Intramuros was known as the “little Vatican” of the east. (this was tackled here in a previous entry)
While the church is included in the greater San Agustin museum complex, the museum premises itself is located in what was once the church convent (the convent and church offices are located at the building perpendicular to the church). As such the sections of the 2-level museum are named after the various sections of the old convent such as the prior’s room, the convent sacristry, the library, etc.
The rich collection on display should give one an idea as to how influential and important of a Catholic religious order the Augustinian order is, st least in the Philippine setting. After all, the Augustinians were the first religious order to have set foot in the country with the group of Fr. Andres de Urdaneta accompanying Miguel Lopez de Legazpi in the colonization of the islands under the Spanish crown.
While Legazpi, nephew Juan de Salcedo et al. being busy on conquests, the Augustinians were busy as well converting souls to Christianity. They were the pioneers of Catholicism in the country and helped pave way for the faith to be accepted by the Filipinos. In fact, it was the Augustinians who helped establish the Santo Niño as an important Catholic icon in the country, especially in Cebu when it was “rediscovered” in 1565.
As such, it should not come as a surprise that many of the items on display were not just San Agustin relics but also relics from other Augustinian missions in different parts of the country like in Cebu, Pampanga, Ilocos, Iloilo, etc. The ones from San Agustin itself are sizable. But what we see today are just a fraction of what San Agustin Church used to have in its collection, all that is left after the British forces ransacked San Agustin when they occupied the church from 1762-1764, not to mention those that were lost during World War II.
Being a museum managed by a Catholic order, the San Agustin Museum is not remiss in providing some Catechism lessons on the side, highlighting the virtues of the Catholic faith and the good works the Augustinians have done. If you are not a Catholic or just someone who is uncomfortable to see these in a museum, all this may be off-putting but it’s a Catholic institution so you can perhaps give it a pass.
Most of the items you can see in the museum are religious artifacts such as centuries old icons, religious items and articles, furnitures, retablos, and some large scale artwork, many of who depict the life of St. Augustine and some Catholic saints. There are also items such as Cordillera ceramics Eastern ceramics such as dining ware and vases from China, Japan, and Vietnam, many of which were found in the San Agustin grounds in an excavation.
There are a couple of sections in the museum though that stand out to this roamer personally. One of them is the Sala de Profundis, which served before as a room where the Augustinians would pray for those who have died. In 1933, this room was converted into a crypt where some prominent individuals were eventually buried, like the Filipino maestro painter Juan Luna. In 1945, after the war, the room served as a memorial for those who were killed especially during the Battle of Manila.
The other is a room dedicated to the monumental work of Augustinian Fr. Manuel Blanco, the Flora de Filipinas. Here one can find the pages from the original (and non-colored) edition of the book. The colored edition, which became the more well-known edition of the book, was published much later after Fr. Blanco’s death. It served also to showcase the Augustinians as men of science, highlighting not just Fr. Blanco but also Fr. Gregor Mendel who is perhaps the most well known Augustinian priest-scientist who pioneered the work on genetics.
Given the vast collection of items displayed in the museum, these photos and this entry does not do justice as to how much it has to offer. Sure, the admission fee of P200 is pricey for a museum but the admission is worth it with what you can see and learn here.
P.S. If you wish to learn more about San Agustin and the collection contained in the museum, the book “San Agustin: Art and History” by Fr. Pedro Galende is a must read, though it’s been a long while since the Urban Roamer came across the book and read it.