Philippine Churches: Where Spanish History Is Written

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Churches have long played an important role in the spiritual, cultural and social life of the Philippines.

Here, the Spanish colonial history of the Philippines is written. Although now a sparse collection of obscure structures, these ancient monuments of stone and wood can still be found in many cities and towns of the archipelago, their gray, massive presence a constant reminder of a half-forgotten past.

Many of these religious structures are indeed run-down and in various stages of decay; others have been indifferently renovated without regard for their original form; but some, the lucky ones, have been carefully reconstructed and restored as near as possible to their former splendor.

These early edifices stretches back more than four hundred years to the arrival of the first friars who accompanied the successful Spanish expedition to the Philippines, in 1565, under the command of Miguel Lopez de Legazpi, although the actual work of colonization and Christianization did not really begin until 1571 with the founding of Manila as the capital city of the new colony.

By the middle of the seventeenth century, the Philippines was a full blown Spanish colony. Manila was a thriving metropolis, socially, culturally, and architecturally resembling a contemporary Spanish town while retaining a strong oriental flavor in its strange blend of people, customs, traditions, languages.

Situated on a swampy delta at the mouth of the Pasig River, the city was protected by river and sea as a natural barriers against enemy attacks, its thick, massive walls were fortified with ramparts bearing mounted cannons.

Like most Spanish towns, it was laid out on a grid plan of intersecting streets, with the main square the Plaza mayor being the focus of the urban plan.

Within this enclosed compound the religious orders built their monasteries and churches, vying with one another in the magnificence of their architecture.

Today, all that remains of the architecture of Intramuros, the city within the walls, is the monasteries and churches of San Agustin and Manila Cathedral.

San Agustin miraculously spared the devastation of World War II that obliterated dozens of churches in Intramuros and scores of others.

The present structure of San Agustin was build between 1591 and 1618. The church itself is distinctive for its symmetry, quiet massing, and formal if austere appearance. …