San Agustin Church of Manila

San Agustin Church of Manila

San Agustin Church is a Roman Catholic church under the auspices of The Order of St. Augustine, located inside the historic walled city of Intramuros in Manila. Completed by 1607, it is the oldest church still standing in the Philippines. No other surviving building in the Philippines has been claimed to pre-date San Agustin Church.

The present structure 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. Made of bamboo and nipa, it was completed in 1571, but destroyed by fire in 1574. A second church made of wood was constructed on the site. This was destroyed again in a fire, in 1583. The Augustinians decided to rebuild the church using stone, and to construct as well an adjacent monastery. The new monastery was operational by 1604, and the church was formally declared complete in 1607, and named St. Paul of Manila.

San Agustin Church measures 67 meters long and 25 meters wide. Its elliptical foundation has allowed it to withstand the numerous earthquakes that have destroyed many other Manila churches. It is said that the design was derived from churches built by the Augustinians in Mexico. The facade is unassuming and even criticized as “lacking grace and charm”, but it has notable baroque touches, especially the ornate carvings on its wooden doors. The church courtyard is graced by several granite sculptures of lions, which had been gifted by Chinese converts to Catholicism.

In 1993, San Agustin Church was one of four Philippine churches constructed during the Spanish colonial period to be designated as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, under the classification “Baroque Churches of the Philippines”. It had been named a National Historical Landmark by the Philippine government in 1976.

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