San Agustín Church (See photo at right) at Intramuros in Manila is the oldest Christian sanctuary in the Far East.
It is also the oldest stone building in the Philippines, and the only one there surviving from the sixteenth century.
It marked the start of using permanent materials in contrast to the local architectural tradition of using lightweight construction materials.
The city of Intramuros (Latin for "inside the walls") began in 1570 as the centre of government of the Philippines.
Intramuros is a four-kilometre pentagonal piece of land beside the Pasig River.
It was fortified, and contained administrative buildings, a governor's palace, shops and about 150 houses.
Eventually it contained eight churches and religious order chapels; San Agustin was one of the first two built, and is now the only one that has survived the ravages of warfare and of time.
The Augustinians immediately in that year built a church. They dedicated it in honour of Saint Paul, but it has always been known as the Church of San Agustín (Saint Augustine). This first church on the site was a simple structure of bamboo and thatch.
The completed church was officially accepted in the Augustinian Chapter meeting of 3rd May 1572 by Martin de Rada O.S.A. one of the Augustinian pioneers in the Philippines and the first Provincial of the Augustinian Province of the Philippines.
The first Prior (Augustinian superior) of the adjacent San Agustín monastery was Fr Juan de Alva O.S.A..
Land for the building had been donated by Miguel Lopez de Legaspi, the founder of Manila who had led the expedition to the Philippines from Mexico in 1565.
When two years later this church was burned down in 1574 by the pirate Limahon, a replacement church and monastery were built with the same flammable materials.
This church was damaged by a typhoon in 1582 and razed by a fire on 28th February 1583 during the funeral of Governor General Gonzalo Ronquillo de Penalosa.
For the third time, the church was replaced. This time it had stone walls and wooden posts. Even with less wood in it, it nevertheless burnt down on Palm Sunday, 30th March 1586.
In 1586 the Augustinians approved designs for a church to be made this time of brick and of stone.
The techniques of cutting stone and of mixing lime with sand allowed a different design for the fourth church on the site - a church that still stands 400 years later.
It was to be the first stone church in the Philippines to be built according to the blending of the architecture of Mexico and Spain.
The church was oriented from the southeast to the northeast, following closely the building process in Mexico, in which structures usually lean against the southeast of the church, with the passage into it through the sacristy and the lower cloister.
The Church of San Agustín has been described as "a permanent miracle in stone."
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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.