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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.
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 collective title Baroque Churches of the Philippines. It was named a National Historical Landmark by the Philippine government in 1976.
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 December, 1574 during the attempted invasion of Manila by the forces of Limahong. A second church made of wood was constructed on the site. This was destroyed in February 1583, in a 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.
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 on January 19, 1607, and named St. Paul of Manila. Macías, who had died before the completion of the church, was officially acknowledged by the Augustinians as the builder of the edifice.
San Agustin Church was looted by the British forces which occupied Manila in 1762 during the Seven Years’ War. In 1854, the church was renovated under the supervision of architect Luciano Oliver. Nine years later, on June 3, 1863, the strongest earthquake at that 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 other major earthquakes that struck Manila before in 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 during World War II, San Agustin Church was turned into a concentration camp for prisoners. In the final days of the Battle of Manila, hundreds of Intramuros residents and clergy were held hostage in the church by Japanese soldiers; many of the hostages would be killed during the three-week long battle. The church itself survived the bombardment of Intramuros by American and Filipino forces with only its roof damaged, the only one of the seven churches in the walled city to remain standing. The adjacent monastery however was totally destroyed, and was later rebuilt in the 1970s as a museum under the design of architect Angel Nakpil.
San Agustín Church measures 67.15 meters long and 24.93 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.
The church interior is in the form of a Latin cross. The church has 14 side chapels and a trompe-l’œil ceiling painted in 1875 by Italian artists Cesare Alberoni and Giovanni Dibella. Up in the choir loft are hand-carved 17th-century seats of molave, a tropical hardwood.
The church contains the tomb of Spanish conquistadors Miguel López de Legazpi, Juan de Salcedo and Martín de Goiti, as well as several early Spanish Governors-General and archbishops. Their bones are buried in a communal vault near the main altar. The painter Juan Luna, and the statesmen Pedro A. Paterno and Trinidad Pardo de Tavera are among the hundreds of laypersons whose remains are also housed within the church.
San Agustin Church also hosts an image of Our Lady of Consolation (Nuestra Senora de Consolacion y Correa), which was canonically crowned by Manila Archbishop Cardinal Jaime Sin in 2000. – wikipedia.org