In his book San Agustin, Noble Stone Shrine (see end note), Pedro Galende notes that the Augustinians "who came from Spain and those born in Mexico had a great opportunity to observe and study the Latin American monastic architecture which they later used in the Philippines."
"They took into consideration the quality of the local stone and the weather conditions which required them to sacrifice aesthetic requirement for durability."
In design, the church is a simple box or barn and rather plain. It was characterized in Spanish documents as de camarin, i.e., "like a storehouse", which is the box plan found all over the Philippines.
When Manila to the British forces in 1762, the sailors invaded the church and the adjacent monastery (convento) of Saint Augustine.
Books, manuscripts, gold and precious stones, ivory images, vestments, silver marcos and two portable organs were lost.
The original of the church structure was later added to in 1854 by the Municipal Architect of Manila, Don Luciano Oliver.
He attempted to improve the church’s squat façade by adding two bell towers, constructed in 1861. The towers countered the squat appearance of the church, but ignored the original earthquake precautions that had favoured the original squat design.
The left tower cracked badly during the 1863 earthquake, and further damaged by a subsequent earthquake.
Soon after 1880 it was torn down and never rebuilt (see image at right, and also on the fifth page). The bell from the remaining tower weighs 3,400 kilograms. It was lowered to the ground in 1927, and now stands at the entrance of the San Agustín Museum.
The present structure has survived the fires of 1574 and 1583, the earthquakes of 1645, 1754, 1852, 1863, 1880, 1968, and 1970.
As well, the church survived the bombardment during fighting in Manila in February 1945, when the cathedral (duomo) a few streets away was completely destroyed.
Sixteen glass chandeliers were imported from Paris in 1873, and are still a feature of the church.
Some background on Intramuros.
This walled city was laid out on a grid, with 51 blocks within an uneven pentagon, its massive walls breached by seven gates.
Only Spaniards and Spanish mestizos (i.e., persons with one Spanish parent and one Filipino parent) were allowed to live inside; each night, drawbridges across the moat were raised to ensure the security and safety of the colonists.
The walls contained 12 churches, plus chapels, convents, monasteries, palaces for the governor general and archbishop, government buildings, schools, a university, printing press, hospital, and barracks.
The elite dwelt in elegant houses with wrought iron balconies and tiled roofs, although the narrow streets were not paved until the late 19th century.
Not much was left of this medieval European city in the tropics after World War II, but a restoration project by the Intramuros Administration is ongoing. So far, the gates and walls have been restored, along with five period houses.
For further reading
The historical walled city of
Manila. A brief history of Intramuros.
Photos (at right):
Picture 1: The facade today, before repainting. Note that the left tower is missing.
Picture 2: Interior of Church of San Agustín, Intramuros.
Picture 3: The facade today.
To view the photo gallery of the Augustinians in the Philippines in this web site, select Philippines: Province of Cebu and Philippines: Intramuros after you click here.