San Agustin Church which was built between 1586 and 1607 (when construction was completed); it is the oldest stone church in the Philippines.
In 1993 the Church was named as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
San Agustin Church is a Roman Catholic church under the administration of The Order of Saint Augustine, located inside the historic walled city of Intramuros in Manila.
The current church is actually the third Augustinian church erected on the site. The first San Agustin Church was the first religious structure constructed by the Spaniards on the island of Luzon. It was made of bamboo and nipa and was completed in 1571.
The very first chapel built in Manila was accepted by the Friars Martin de Rada and Juan de Alva on May 31st, 1572. These are two of the Friars we have followed on their travels and works of evangelization from Cebu to Capiz to The Ermita in Dumangas and finally to Oton. They had accompanied Miguel Lopez de Legaspi the founder of the City of Manila from the south. Legaspi is buried in easternmost chapel of the transept of today’s Church.
This original church was subsequently destroyed by fire in December 1574 during the invasion of Manila by the forces of Limahong.
A second church built of wood was constructed on the site. This one was destroyed in a February 1583 fire that started when a candle set ablaze the drapes of the funeral bier during the interment of the Spanish Governor General Gonzalo Ronquillo de Peñalosa.
Miguel Lopez de Legaspi the navigator and explorer, with whom Urdaneta served, is buried in San Agustin Church in Intramuros, Manila.
His tomb is shown below.
In addition, other Spanish conquistadors including Juan de Salcedo and Martin de Goiti are also buried in the Church.
De Goiti, along with other soldiers were granted with haciendas (estates) for the lands they had conquered, by Phili[ II of Spain.
In 1574, De Goiti fought in the war during the invasion of about 3,000 Chinese sea pirates who had sailed from the South China sea. Their leader, Limahong, besieged on the Spanish settlements in Manila. De Goiti was killed by those pirates, on November 30th, 1574. They massacred most of the Spaniards in the villages. Most of the Spanish reinforcements came from Vigan and Cebu.
Goiti’s second in command, Juan de Salcedo left Ilocos Sur, after hearing the news and traveled to Manila where he discovered their settlements had been ceded to the pirates. Salcedo’s forces attacked and drove the pirates out of Manila. Limahong and his fleets retreated to Pangasinan where they re-organize their forces.
In 1575, Salcedo’s army marched north to Pangasinan, in pursuit of the pirates, and besieged them for three months. There the Spaniards captured Limahong and his fleets in the river of Pangasinan and executed them..
“Don Gonzalo Ronquillo founded a Spanish town in the island of Panay, in Oton, which he named Arevalo. During his term, the trade with the Chinese increased, and he built a market-place and Parian for them within the city, where the Chinese could bring and sell their merchandise” From: Research Center for Iloilo
As noted earlier, a fire in February of 1583 caused by a burning candle during his wake in Manila, caused a massive fire that destroyed the Church of San Agustin and much of the city itself.
The Augustinians decided to rebuild the church using stone and to construct an adjacent monastery.
Construction began in 1586, based on a design by Juan Macías. The structure was built using hewn adobe stones quarried from Meycauayan, Binangonan and San Mateo, Rizal. The work proceeded slowly due to the lack of funds and materials, as well as the relative scarcity of stone artisans.
The monastery was operational by 1604, and the church was formally declared complete and consecrated on January 19, 1607, it was originally named St. Paul of Manila.
The Church we see today is in fact the one that was consecrated in 1607. It has withstood all manner of calamities from typhoons, earthquakes, revolution, invasion, occupation by foreign forces and bombardments…
San Agustin Church was looted by British forces which occupied Manila in 1762 during the Seven Year War. It was renovated in 1854 under the supervision of architect Luciano Oliver
Nine years later, on June 3, 1863, the strongest earthquake of the time, hit Manila leaving widespread destruction to the city with San Agustin Church, the only public building left undamaged in the city.
A series of strong earthquakes struck Manila again on 18–20 July 1880. This time, the tremors left a huge crack on the left bell tower of the church. The crack was eventually repaired, but the left tower was permanently removed as it appears today. The church withstood the major earthquakes that struck Manila in the years 1645, 1699, 1754, 1796, 1825 and 1852.
On August 18, 1898, the church was the site where Spanish Governor-General Fermin Jaudenes prepared the terms for the surrender of Manila to the United States of America following the Spanish American War.
During the Japanese occupation of the Philippines in World War II, San Agustin Church and it whole complex was used by the Japanese as a concentration camp. In the final days of the Battle of Manila hundreds of Intramuros residents and clergy were held hostage in the church; many of them would be killed during the three-week long battle. The church itself survived the razing of Intramuros by American forces in May 1945 with only its roof damaged, although buildings in the complex were seriously damaged or destroyed. The Church was the only one of the seven churches within the walled city to remain standing.
The adjacent monastery known as Pavillion II (more or less a residence for the Friars), was actually renovated/added to by adding a third floor between 1861 and 1864 at a cost of 72,000 pesos was partially destroyed in a 1932 fire, was rebuilt only to be mostly destroyed in 1945. At the beginning of construction it was discovered that the foundation of the ground floor of this area causing the construction materials to be changed from the original stone work to the use of bricks which were sourced in Bulacan. Stone was solely used for the arches, doorways and windows.
As mentioned earlier, this entire building was destroyed during the liberation of Manila during a bombardment by the Americans attempting to dislodge the Japanese who had used the complex as a “concentration camp”. It is the massive stone and brick wall seen in Friar Manuel Blanco’s Garden which is discussed a little later in this presentation.
What follows is a selection of photos taken at the Church…It should be noted that as in most churches in the Manila area, ‘tourists’ are not often allowed to photograph the churches’ interiors or associated buildings. Our photographer on this specific expedition, Architect Rommel Legaspi (a graduate of San Augustin University Faculty of Architecture in Iloilo – was in Manila for his oath taking), was able to speak to the Augustinian Friar in charge on the day of his visit, who happened to be an Ilonggo, and who allowed Rommel very, very limited access and for that we are quite grateful!
The photos that follow in this section of the presentation are primarily of the San Augustin Museum which forms part of the extensive San Augustin Church complex.
The photos in this section of the presentation are of the Church itself, although there are not many, we hope that we have sufficient to show the magnificence of this Church, which was originally founded in 1571. The present Church which in fact is the third church built on the site was consecrated on January 19th, 1607. The Church Complex is over 400 years old…it is an impressive and breathtaking example of the Baroque style of architecture which was prevalent in the Philippines of Spanish Colonial Times.
Common Characteristics of Baroque Architecture
Features of Baroque architecture include:
Twisted columns, sometimes simply decorative instead of supportive
More curves instead of straight lines
Highly decorative details and ornaments
Appearance of movement
Towers or domes
An abundance of windows
Optical illusions (Trompe l’oeil)
Blending of paintings and architecture
Most of these characteristics are amply demonstrated in San Agustin Church.
In the courtyard between the Church and the Museum is what is called Friar Blanco’s Garden. Friar Blanco was a renowned Botanist who studied plants and in particular searched for and cultivated medicinal plants. He wrote the book describing his work: “Flora de Filipinas”, which was published in 1883.
The stone and brick wall which stands out in the background of the photo on the left is what remains of the old monastery which was originally built in the early 1600s and was destroyed by in the American bombing in 1945 that virtually destroyed the entire city of Manila.
The bell from the bell tower of the Church that was destroyed in the American bombing of Manila in 1945. The rest of the Church was virtually untouched. That’s a tank driving through the ruins of the bell tower.
We want to thank the following for the contributions to this article:
Photos provided by: Architect Rommel Legaspi,
Primary reference: Angels in Stone, Pedro G. Gallende, OSA
Materials and some photos provided by: www.wikipedia.org