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Friday, September 30, 2011

400 Years of Philippine History in Just 60 Minutes

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This is the unabridged version of my article that got published in the May 2011 issue of Cruising Magazine.

400 Years of Philippine History in Just 60 Minutes
By Andrew G. Gahol

San Agustin Museum
The spectacle you will see in the San Agustin complex in Intramuros Manila was simply so immaculate that it will make you lose your sense of time.  From the old stone brick pavements to the Baroque-style San Agustin Church to the overall Old World feel of the vicinity, you will forget that you’re in the 21st century…or that you’re there to write an article about it.

The time was 4 PM and I was thirty minutes into my photo session when I realized that I wasn’t here just for pleasure but also for business. I was tasked to write a travelogue on the San Agustin Museum and I’ve already spent 30 minutes taking pictures, and I haven’t even gotten inside the museum yet.

I decided to finally begin my San Agustin Museum tour and take in as much information and spectacle for my article. A feature article isn’t big a challenge for me to do but upon knowing that the museum closes at 5 PM and I basically have just one hour to take on a huge place that hosts half a millennium’s worth of history, it’s safe to say that this would not be an easy undertaking.

Time capsule (4:00 PM)
3,400 kg bell
Standing next to the San Agustin Church, construction of the San Agustin Museum started in 1587 and was completed in1607.  From then, it has hosted various relics, artworks and memorabilia collected throughout history.  It has withstood earthquakes and invasions since 1607 and it remains to be a time capsule of significant historical objects today.

Pen, notebook and camera in hand, I entered the museum and found myself in the old porter’s lodge where a 3,400 kilogram bell can be found. It was taken down from the San Agustin Church’s belfry and  damaged by an earthquake in 1927. The entrance fee to the museum is 100 pesos, 50 pesos for college/high school students and 45 for elementary school students. Taking pictures and recording videos inside the exhibit halls is strictly prohibited (But that hasn’t stopped this rebellious writer before. (Wink, wink.)

I was open-mouthed upon discovering that the museum was far bigger than how I imagined it when I looked at its fa├žade. And with only less than an hour left to go through all of it, I knew I was reeling in a big one.

Religious history (4:05 PM)
Reflected in the numerous tapestries and large paintings inside the museum, it is  noticeable that Roman Catholicism and its history in the Philippines is an unmistakable theme as you experience going through San Agustin Museum.

An old painting depicting Spanish influence on religion

The first exhibit, Sala Recibidor, houses the San Agustin Ivory Collection of the late Luis Ma. Araneta and a magnificent wooden retablo (a carved, upright, wooden screen behind the altar of a church) of the Intramuros Administration.

Walking through time (4:15 PM)
            The museum comprises of two floors and has a rectangular structure. Both floors have hallways and as you walk through them, you can enter the different exhibit halls.

I began my walk through the ground floor corridors and passed by huge oil paintings depicting historical and religious milestones in the Philippines hanging on the stone walls. Portraits of priest, saints and Holy Masses during the 17th century hang on the corridors.

Turning left, the first exhibit hall along the ground floor corridors is the entrance hall to the San Agustin Church where the tomb of Miguel Lopez de Legaspi, founder of Manila, can be found.

Walking further along the corridors, you can find the Sala de la Capitulacion (the old vestry) where priests in the earlier times dress up for liturgical services and the old Sacristy marked by a large wooden door and frescoed walls of Aztec inspired influence which showcases a host of China chestdrawers, candles and statues and paintings.

At the garden (4:30 PM)
Fr. Blanco’s Garden is a garden housing a breathtaking display of various flora. It used to be where Father Manuel Blanco, the Prince of Botany, carried out his botanical experiments.

I see dead people (4:40 PM)
My last stop before going up the second floor was the Crypt that served as the burial places of historical luminaries. Chills went down my spine as I stood to watch were the bodies of Pedro Paterno and Juan Luna among many others. The place proved to be extra eerie since I was alone when I ventured inside.

The second floor (4:45 PM)
Entering the garden
Walking through the second floor hallways, you can find the San Pablo Hall where chapter meetings were held in the earlier days, the San Agustin Hall where an exhibit of Filipino grammar books and dictionaries written by Augustinians can be found, the Former Biblioteca, the Choirloft overlooking the San Agustin Church interior where you can find a crucifix and a pipe organ dating back to the 17th century and 68 choir seats carved in molave. Also, the second floor is where you could find the Church Vestments were they store vestments and capes from China and Spain. Note: I’ve managed to go walk, er, run through all of these exhibits in just 12 minutes.

Running in a room full of porcelain (4:57 PM)
I looked at my wristwatch and was mortified to see that it was just three minutes before the museum closes. I ran to the last exhibit hall which was the Porcelain Room which hosts heirloom jars and porcelain crafts from Southeast Asia and China excavated at the San Agustin complex. I did not have time to read the labels on the various jars that laid there so I took out my camera yet again to take pictures of them so that I could read them later even though  taking pictures was not allowed (After all, I was just taking pictures of the jars, not breaking them.)

Seeing that a few guards were already telling people that the museum was closing, I hurriedly ran from one heirloom jar to another in an attempt to maximize my learning experience in the museum. In fact, I half-expected a guard springing out of a jar every time I took a photo of them.

Success (5:01 PM)
I was victorious in covering the San Agustin Museum and no exhibit hall was left unexplored. I went out of the museum just in time and though I resorted to ways which the management might kick me out of their establishment for doing, I must say that the rush and the adrenaline exhaustion was pretty much worth it.

Our rich religious history
Everybody should visit he San Agustin Museum

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