Filipino faith and artistry at the Museo de Intramuros

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TOWARDS the end of Spanish colonial rule, architect Felix Roxas, Sr. designed the San Ignacio Church in Intramuros, Manila for the Jesuits. The structure was completed in 1899 but it, along with the other seven churches of the walled city, were devastated in the Battle of Manila at the close of World War II. When the smoke cleared, only the centuries old San Agustin Church still stood. San Ignacio was reduced to rubble.

It was in 1979 that the Intramuros Administration (IA) came with the idea of reconstructing San Ignacio Church and its attached Mission House of the Society of Jesus with the intention of turning it into a museum.

The idea remained on paper for decades until, finally, in 2011, a grant of P100 million between IA and the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) was executed. The reconstruction of the church began in 2013 followed by the restoration of the mission house in 2016.

“It was originally a program of the Intramuros Administration to construct two museums” in the walled city, Museo de Intramuros curator Dino Carlo Santos told BusinessWorld during a visit to the museum on May 2. The first museum was Casa Manila across San Agustin Church, which features a reconstructed bahay na bato filled with the furniture, knick knacks, and equipment found in a rich person’s house at the later part of the Spanish colonial era.

“The National Museum undertook the archaeological excavations and then a team of architectural consultants helped reconstruct the whole structure,” he said of the San Ignacio complex.

As part of the celebration of the Intramuros Administration’s 40th anniversary as an institution, the Museo de Intramuros officially opened to the public on May 2.

“What we want is for Intramuros to be a creative urban heritage district. More than the heritage structures, we want Intramuros to have a new relevance to the society in general,” Sheena Anjeli M. Botiwey, IA technical assistant to the administrator and sales and promotions supervisor, told BusinessWorld.

Curated by Dr. Esperanza Gatbonton, Gino Gonzales, Dr. Cecilia dela Paz, Santiago Pilar, and Martin Tinio, the museum’s exhibition “presents the story of the evangelization of the Philippines from the perspective of Filipinos,” the museum brochure says, with the aim to “highlight the resulting Filipino artistry and craftsmanship in the merging of the indigenous and the foreign…”

The three-story former mission house is the main museum and its exhibit has six components: The Immaculate Conception, The Religious Order, The Patronato Real and Establishment of Parishes on the first floor; The Establishment of a Parish and Sacred Vessels, The Indio Response, and Religious Colonial Paintings on the second floor; and an exhibition on the history and rebirth of Intramuros on the third floor.

Meanwhile, the restored church structure has been hosting changing exhibitions on contemporary art (the first was during the Manila Biennale in 2018 where it housed a work by the late Roberto Chabet called Onethingafteranother and Fr. Jason Dy’s Procesion de los Camareros). It is currently inaccessible since it is changing exhibits.

The ecclesiastical art, furniture, vestments, textiles, and other artifacts on view at the museum are part of the Intramuros Administration’s own collection which, according to Mr. Santos, were acquired by the institution from auctions and dealers of antiques.

“The significance (of the exhibit) lies in the collections themselves. The collection is actually a reflection of Filipino craftsmanship during the Spanish period. You don’t see them as expressions of colonial art, but as expressions of Filipino artistry,” IA administrator Guiller B. Asido told BusinessWorld in a phone interview.

Both Messrs. Asido and Santos noted that the current displays in the museum is made up of only 30% of the IA collection. Mr. Santos said that there are plans “to construct more galleries in order to accommodate more of the collection.” The museum will also be used for educational programs, workshops, and group tours.

In addition, the IA is working on the full ventilation of the place (the second floor is currently the only air-conditioned space) and installation of elevators for accessibility.

Admission to the museum is free for the first six months. After that, there will be a fee to raise funds for the structure’s maintenance.

As part of the efforts to promote arts and culture in the walled city, Mr. Asido looks forward to the completion of the Maestranza creative quarter — a 44 chambered, 270-meter section of the city walls on the Pasig River side. He described it as “the first creative hub within an urban heritage district.” It is targeted for completion in the first quarter of 2020.

Museo de Intramuros is located at Arzobispo St., Intramuros, Manila. It is open Tuesdays to Fridays (except holidays) from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information, visit, Anne P. Soliman