Sunday, May 30, 2010

Historical Curiosities of San Agustin Church: The Antecoro

Photo of the Chapel at the antecoro (ante-choir) of San Agustin church in Manila. The retablo was formerly located in the Chapel of St. Augustine and contained the remains of the Spanish explorer, and founder of the city of Manila, Miguel Lopez de Legaspi. From the book 'San Agustin: Art & History 1571 - 2000', comes this excerpt about this chapel.

"... In the central niche of the retablo is a crucifix which is believed to be the same one brought by Fray Alonso de Mentrida  from the Visayas in 1602. Mentrida's crucifix originally stood over the railing of the adjoining choirloft. It is said that the image on the cross extended its hand in absolution to a friar who, in the throes of death, did not have recourse to the last rites. The British toppled the cross in 1762, remarking that it was black and ugly. During the restoration of 1970, this crucifix was recovered, cleaned of its coat of black paint, and installed in the present retablo. The rest of the champer was cleaned up in 1974 in time for the visit of the Superior General of the Order, Fr. Theodore Tack. The furniture and the rest of the statuary are from the Luis Maria Araneta collection.

The antecoro, small as it is, has its share of intriguing stories; the most scandalous of these was the murder of a high ranking member of the Community by some of the friars. One day in 1617 the prior provincial Fr. Vicente de Sepulveda was found murdered in his cell. In order to find the culprits who were suspected of still being in the monastery, the corpse was laid out in this room; its arm was propped up such that the index finger pointed at whoever entered the room from the corridor. By feeling the heartbeat of each friar who came to pay his respects, the perpetrators were unmasked; they were then tried, hanged, and buried within the walls of the compound..."

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