Of Intrramuros’ original churches, perhaps none captured the imagination of those nostalgic for old Manila than the Jesuits’ San Ignacio Church and Convent complex. Originally designed by renowned architect of the period Felix Roxas Sr., the church itself, which was completed in 1889, had been described as a grandiose structure in itself.
Stories and photos abound of the fine woodwork and marble used in the neo-classical church, as well as the intricate artistry employed by Filipino artisans such as the famed Isabelo Tampingco Jr. Soon enough, it was a popular landmark in the Walled City despite its relative youth compared to other older structures in the area. More importantly, the San Ignacio Church was the center of religious life for many who studied nearby in the Jesuit-run Ateneo Municipal de Manila.
Ateneo de Manila would eventually move out of Intramuros by 1932 after a huge fire caused significant damage to the Intramuros campus. San Ignacio Church, however, was spared and continued in its function as a Catholic church. But then, World War II happened almost a decade later and the church was eventually burned down by Japanese forces in the wake of the Battle of Manila in 1945, which left it as a hollow shell of a structure.
There had been attempts to resurrect the structure since the war ended. In the 1950s for instance, it was utilized as an office and warehouse space, but it was abandoned shortly afterwards. Eventually, the government managed to purchase the property as it had plans to bring the hollowed-out structure back to life, in some way.
It would take a long time for the government, through the Intramuros Administration, to do something about the property. A breakthrough happened in the 2000s when the Intramuros Administration bared its plans to restore the San Ignacio complex and convert it into an ecclesiastical museum which would house the various Catholic artifacts that have unearthed in Intramuros over centuries.
Work actually began in 2008 but its completion has been delayed due to what I suppose is funding. Even now, the restoration is still incomplete, which is something we’ll be getting to a bit later. Nevertheless, the work was mostly done 10 years later when the convent part of the complex had a soft opening to house some artworks as part of the Manila Biennale 2018.
The work would then progress for the transformation of the complex into a full-fledged ecclesiastical museum. And on May 2 this year, the ecclesiastical museum, now known as Museo de Intramuros was finally opened to the public, for free admission for the first six months.
Standing at 3 levels in height, the Museo de Intramuros houses various religious artifacts from paintings to sculptures to altarpieces and carrozas dating back mostly to the Spanish colonial period. In essence, the museum gives the visitor an idea of Intramuros’ legacy as the bulwark of Catholicism not only in Manila but in the country as well.
The third level of the museum showcases the history of Intramuros and how it has evolved and will continue to evolve over the years, highlighting especially the contributions of Intramuros Administration in the continuing efforts to revive the Walled City.
If there’s one thing that is lacking at the moment, it’s the fact that as of this time of writing, there are no elevators installed yet. And for a 3-level structure, an elevator is a must especially taking into consideration the welfare of the elderly and person with disability who might want to visit the museum. It also does not help that the stairs are quite steep themselves.
There’s also the feeling of incompleteness in the museum, mostly borne out from the fact that church site itself of the complex has yet to be finished. Not sure what the plans are for that part of the museum (assuming it will be part of the museum), but here’s hoping it will be for an interesting concept that does not run in contrast to the museum.
Despite what is lacking, the Museo de Intramuros is a nice addition to the list of landmarks to visit in Intramuros. Especially that admission to the museum is free for the first six months, it is something to take advantage of. Here’s hoping that it will be the start of better things ahead for Intramuros, especially with the plans in mind for the Walled City which is exciting to learn about.