Lubao is one of Pampanga’s most ancient towns; located at the left bank of the Lubao (or Pasac) River, it was accepted as a visita of Tondo by the Augustinians on 3 May 1572. Three years later, Fr. Provincial Alfonso Alvarado was delegated to take care of the convento of San Agustin. Fr. Juan Gallegos was assigned as a resident priest. He must have constructed a church of light materials in sitio Sapang Pari, the landing place of Augustinian missionaries who sailed to Pampanga via Manila Bay.
Another source points to Fr. Francisco Coronel as the founder of the town in its present site, but he worked in the area for just a year and never returned to Lubao after being assigned to Bacolor. Subsequent construction were undertaken by Fr. Jeronimo de Venaque (1335) and Fr. Francisco Figueroa (1638). Damaged by an earthquake in 1645, the church continued its operations rent-free. The Augustinian Chapter of 1729 appropriated 500 pesos for the erection of a convent, with Fr. Vicente Ibarra as the prior. The convent was used by transfer students of arts and theology from the Estudio de Manila due to the British Invasion of 1762.
Lubao was to become a strategic missionary center. At one point, Betis and Sasmuan were annexed as visitas of the town. With the establishment of a grammar school and a printing press there, the town culture likewise flourished.
Early descriptions of the San Agustin Church, made of fine bricks and with large proportions, showed it to be “one of the most sumptuous in the islands”. An 1829 document reveals that the church “is constructed with masonry stone and bricks, very massive and big in size”. Some repair work were done under Fr. Antonio Bravo in 1893 and the interior murals depicting the life of San Agustin were most likely commissioned by Fr. Antonio Moradillo in 1893. The nave was originally painted by Italian artists, Dibella and Alberoni. Filipino revolutionaries occupied the buildings in 1898, which suffered more damages at the height of World War 2.
San Agustin Church is a remarkable example of 17th century Philippine architecture, characterized by classic lines and a solid stance. A triangular pediment and Ionic columns dominate the façade of the church. Inside, the retablo mayor, carved with florid baroque design, is flanked by doubled pilasters on the 1st level and single columns on the 2nd level. Carved ornamentation is kept at a minimum, creating a sense of quiet and simplicity, typical of Neo-classic renderings. The main niche features a wooden likeness of San Agustin, with a staff and a small church in hand, symbolic of his being a doctor of the Church. The only thing that mars the beauty of the altar is the modern blue neon lighting that has been installed to frame the central niche, an anachronistic feature for the centuries-old building. Nevertheless, the San Agustin Church is a rare monument to God around which the deep devotion of many generations of Kapampangans continue to revolve.
(22 March 2003)