San Agustin Church

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San Agustín Church

San Agustín Church is the oldest existing church in the Philippines. It is an essential tourist destination in Manila for those who are interested in Philippine history and culture.

The present structure is actually the third to stand on the site. It has 14 side chapels and a trompe-l'oeil ceiling. Up in the choir loft are the hand-carved 17th-century seats made of molave, a beautiful tropical hardwood.

The San Agustín Church lies inside the walled city of Intramuros located in the capital city Manila. It is the first European stone church to be built in the Philippines designed in Spanish architectural structure. It also houses the legacies of the Spanish conquistadores, Miguel López de Legazpi, Juan de Salcedo and Martín de Goiti who are buried in a tomb underneath the church.



The San Agustin Church was constructed three times: the first was made of bamboo and nipa; second, of wood; and third, of stone. It had overcome several earthquakes, burned to the ground twice, witnessed a number of wars or foreign attacks, survived looting, and still remained to be the oldest stone church in the Philippines.

In 1571, the first church structure was destroyed by fire in 1574 during the failed invasion of Manila by the Chinese pirate Limahong.

The second church was, again, it was set on fire in 1583 when a mishap occurred during the internment of Spanish Governor Ronquillo de Peñalosa. A candle ablaze the drapes of the funeral bier.

The stone edifice seen today was erected in 1687 upon the direction of the Spanish soldier-turned-architect Juan Macias. Using hewn adobe stones quarried from Meycuayan,Binangonan and San Mateo, Rizal, the church was completed in 1607 despite the lack of funds and materials, plus the relative scarcity of stone artisans.

On 19 January 1607, San Agustin Church was formally declared complete and was given the name St. Paul of Manila. A monastery, which was operational by 1604, was also built beside the church.

The church was renovated under the supervision of architect Luciano Oliver in 1854.

Last One Standing

Tested not only by time, San Agustin Church withstood the threat of wars, looting, fires, earthquakes and other calamities.

It survived four earthquakes: 1645, 1754, 1863 and 1880. In fact, in the 1645 earthquake, it was the only church that remained "untouched and undamaged" giving credit to the solid foundation it was built upon.

In 1762, the British ransacked and looted the church's jewels, vestments, paintings, bells, documents and other things. These, along with the church itself, were sold to a Chinese mestizo lawyer, Santiago de Orendain. The following year, the Augustinians returned and gradually rebuilt the church.

On 18 August 1898, it also witnessed the turnover of prepared terms, presided by Spanish Governor-General Fermin Juadenes, for the surrender of Manila to the United States of America following the Spanish-American War.

San Agustin Church also endured the brutality of Japanese occupation of Philippines during the World War II. It served as the concentration camp for prisoners and the hideout for Japanese soldiers with their hostages (Intramuros residents and clergy)during the last days of the Battle of Manila.

Among the seven churches in the walled city, it was the San Agustin Church who remained standing after the liberation of Manila in 1945. Only its roof was destroyed by the bombardment of Intramuros by American-Filipino forces.

Church Facade

Baroque styled San Agustin Church derived its design from the other churches built by the Augustinians in Mexico. Nonetheless, its makers were dismayed to see the outcome of the facade saying "it lacked variation and gracefulness." Considering the quality of the stones and the weather condition, they had to sacrificed the aesthetic requirement for the durability of the church built in a disaster prone location.

Built along neoclassic lines, the facade is dramatized by four sets of Ionic and Corinthian columns. A pediment accentuated with a simple rose window capped the second level. The bell towers provide balance and stability to the facade's hard composition. Originally, the church has two bell towers; the 1863 and 1880 earthquakes split the left tower in two prompting the administrators to take it down.

The ornately carved wooden doors depict floras and the statues of St. Agustin, Sta. Monica and the Augustinian symbols. Indicating Chinese influence, four Fu dogs stand at attention at the base of the building.

The trompe-l'oeil ceiling painted by Italian artists Cesare Alberoni and Giovanni Debella in 1875 brightens the church interior. Hand-carved 17th century church pews made of molave are placed in the quire area. The Coro is made up of sixty-eight intricately carved kamagong choir stalls overlaid with narra inlays. The interior is also vested with a heavily guilded pulpit (with native flora and pineapple as its motifs), and a very ornate altar.

Following a vintage 1932 color photo, the facade was painted and plastered in 1997. UNESCO, National Historial Institute (NHI), National Museum and Intramuros Administration approved the move.

Together with three other ancient churches in the country, it was designated as a World Heritage Site as one of the "Baroque Churches of the Philippines" in 1993.

Architectural Elevation

[1] San Agustin Watercolor.jpg



External Links

See also



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