The choirstalls (left) at the choirloft is one of the intriguing works at San Agustin. The detailed woodwork calls to mind the intricacies of the pulpit and the motifs found makes it all the more valuable. Just imagine, strapwork done in the Renaissance style combined with Oriental emblems that attests to the uniqueness of religious art in this part of the world.
The choirloft of San Agustin is another notable part of the church that should be seen and visited not only for a closer look of the trompe l’oeil and the organ but, more importantly, a peek of the original colors of the church that was fortunately preserved and the exquisite and very detailed carvings of, circa 17th century silleria or choirstalls and lectern (18th century).
The gran escalera or the main stairway is the access path connecting the ground and second floors and it is one part of the monastery complex that always awes. Maybe it is because of the impressive brick vault atop, said to have special acoustical characteristics, the solid and wide granite slabs and everything in it that gives one a feeling of being transported to some bygone era.
How the original ceiling paintings of the nave of San Agustin is not known, or I haven’t come across a document that details it, yet. Galende and Trota in their book San Agustin Art and History 1571 – 2000 however included a photo (left) of a portion of a corinthian capital in bright greens, yellows, reds and oranges that the authors wrote is reminiscent of baroque Mexico.
The cloister of San Agustin conforms to the design found in Europe as well as the Americas prevalent during the colonial period. The four corridors in the cloister have at each corner ornately carved baroque retablos with reliefs/paintings of saints believed to have been added in the 18th century. Here, processions as well as the friars used to pass and stop for prayers and rituals.
The Chapel of Legazpi was originally dedicated to St. Faustus which was sold in 1594 as the final resting place of Sargento Mayor Juan de Morones and his family. On the other hand, the remains of Legazpi and that of Juan de Salcedo were already interred here. During the British invasion of 1762, the various tombs were despoiled in search of hidden treasure. When the Augustinians returned a year later, they gathered some of the bones scattered in the various chapels and placed it in one common tombstone.
It was the practice in previous centuries that the mortal remains of, usually, prominent persons were buried inside the church. This was so since these families were patrons or benefactors who, in one way or another, contributed to its construction, donated precious jewels, saints, vestments and other church decorations or even paid for the upkeep of a chapel. In some instances, they sponsored the priests who were assigned there. In some other instances, they paid for the chapel or a slot for their final resting place.
At the far end of the church interior is the presbitery where one can find the altar mayor or main altar. It is made of carara marble and was installed in 1934 which replaced the original made of wood.
The huge retablo just behind it catches the eye. Its top is crowned by the image of the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove with Saint Augustin at the lower center dressed in white robes flanked by two angels. The grand niche contains the statue of St. Paul.
Trompe l’oeil is French for fools the eye. It first appeared in the Philippines in San Agustin church in Intramuros where the ceilings and walls are decorated with it. At first, one would think that these are carved decorations, a perfect play of light and shadows until upon close scrutiny, the three dimensional effect, are infact just painted on the ceiling.