Architecture of San Agustin Church

San agustine cover

Since the dawn of civilization, humans have been erecting structures in the name of religion and have been destroying them for the same reason. There are some structures that are dilapidated the day they are built while others stand the test of time. Even in modern times, it seems our buildings are made out of cardboard and are extremely fragile to natural damage compared to the old structures which show the pinnacle of craftsmanship. Such is a church, known as the San Agustin Church.

San Agustine Church

Located in Manila, Philippines, it is over 400 years old making it the oldest standing church in the country. Under the colonization of the Spanish, they were spread out across the globe to spread catholicism. Upon reaching the Philippines, it was certain that if the span of Christianity is to be increased, a place of worship must be established. Not one, but multiple churches were built during this time and one of them was San Agustine Church, primarily made out of bamboo. However, when the Chinese pirates invaded Manila, they looted everything and set the city on fire, and the San Agustine Church was burnt in that fire. This lead to the first reconstruction of the church, now instead of bamboo it was constructed using wood. Being a wooden structure it was still vulnerable to fire, whether it be untended candles or anything similar. Sure enough, in an unknown accident, the church was burnt yet again.

San agustine black and white

Church after the 1880 earthquake.

Finally, to make the church not be easily damaged a designer by the name of Juan Macias was hired in 1586. Juan decided that it was best to use adobe stones instead of any other material, as it will provide both rigidity and stability. Finally, Juan’s architecture was tested as in the late 1600s, the Philippines was hit by a massive earthquake and most of the city was destroyed, however, the only major damage to the church was in the bell tower, which was ultimately removed from the building.

Following this, the Church has seen many natural disasters from earthquakes to floods and multiple wars. It first became the witness to war against the Britishers for seven years, then fighting the Japanese forces who overtook the church as their prison facility and held hostages in here. Not to mention, world war 2 yet it remains a functioning church to this day and even organizes weddings.

The architecture of the Church

The entirety of the church was made of adobe stones, however, being subject to many disasters some parts of it was replaced with bricks. The architects articulate the reason it was able to withstand so many earthquakes has to do with its unique construction and design choice, it is an oviform structure, basically, egg-shaped. Meaning on the inside the area is quite wide and large and as it moves upwards it starts to get narrower. As for the precise measurements, San Agustine Church is about 68 meters long, 25 meters wide, and 28 meters tall (including the dome). Now it may appear as if the church is unique from other churches, however, when it was created originally with the bell towers, externally it looked exactly like a church in Mexico known as the Puebla cathedral. However, on the inside, it looks quite different.

San agustine door

Beautifully carved wooden door of the church.

As for the decor of the church, at the main entrance underneath the pillars, lion statues can be seen. It is said that these were given as a gift by converted Chinese Catholics. As for the main door itself, beautiful flower carvings have been a part of it since the second reconstruction, it was inspired by baroque a style of 17th-century European architecture. On the outside, the church may not appear as much but it is the inside that truly shows the craftsmanship.

The church has fourteen side chapels with paintings of various saints. One cannot visit this place and not admire the mesmerizing art on the ceiling, these paintings were done in 1875 by two Italian artists, Cesar Alberoni and Giovanni Dibella. Church also houses detailed and beautifully done memorials and tombs for many Spanish conquerors and generals.

Overall, this place should be on everyone’s itinerary if one is visiting the Philippines. Its architecture really sets it apart from everything else in the area.

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