The Iglesia de San Agustín (Church of Saint Augustine) stands in the historical centre of Quito, the capital city of Ecuador. It is close to the town hall and the old Palacio del Gobierno (Palace of the Governor), and only one block from the Plaza de Independencia (Independence Square).
It was constructed during the 16th and 17th centuries, and reconstructed in the 19th century. Currently, it is going through a restructuring process after having suffered great damage during the earthquake of 1987. Quito is located high in the Andes mountains, at an elevation of 9,200 feet (3,000 metres). It lies in a valley on the western slopes of Pichincha, an active volcano. It is the oldest capital city in the South America. Tradition says that Quito was founded on 6th December 1534 by two Spanish conquistadors, Sebastian de Benalcazar and Diego de Almagro. It is thought that the Incas had a city on the site called Quitu that had been built in about the year 1480. They burned the city shortly before the Spaniards arrived to prevent them from capturing it intact, as they had captured Cuzco (in Peru) earlier. The Spaniards then apparently destroyed what had remained as they fruitlessly searched for gold and other precious objects and used the stones to construct the city.
Plans for building the church and convento began in 1573 by the Order of San Agustín (Saint Augustine). The Spanish architect Francisco Becerra, who was in Quito subsequent to 1573, drew plans for both the church and convento of San Agustín. Francisco Becerra was one of the two excellent Spanish architects who went to the New World to design important architectural works during the Spanish colonial era. In 1573, Francisco began to work at the church of Santo Domingo in Mexico, and two years later at the cathedral (duomo) of Puebla, where he was the master (principal) architect. Francisco moved to Peru in 1582 to build the cathedrals of Lima and Cuzco. For the construction of the church and convento of San Agustín in Quito, a contract was signed in 1606 with the Spanish architect Juan del Corral.
He was married to a woman from Quito, and was engaged as supervising architect during the construction to ensure that the plan and drawings of Francisco Becerra were faithfully followed. Here again is another example of the Order of Saint Augustine using the best architect and the best local artists available in the New World during the Spanish colonial era.
When the building of the Iglesia de San Agustín (Church of Saint Augustine) was complete, the high altar-piece was brought from Rome, and the side altars were carved. This was all finished by 1650. According to the inscription over the main entrance, the facade of the church was completed between 1659 and 1669. The convento and its spacious cloister (clausura, chiostro, patio) was built at the same time. The most famous of local artists, Miguel de Santiago y Gorivar, painted the beautiful pictures of the life of Saint Augustine. He painted these huge images on canvas, each 9 feet by 6 (3 metres by 2 metres). He took the engravings of the Flemish artist Boetius Adams Bolswert (1580 – 1633) as a model, and gave them life, colour and atmosphere.
In addition to this series of paintings, there is another very important work of the Quito school, also by Miguel de Santiago, the painting known as The Rule of Augustine, 24 feet by 18 feet (8 metres by 6 metres). But there are many more admirable works of art in the church and convento of San Agustín: a wealth of original details in the columns of the altar-pieces of the church, the beauty of the cloisters with their two-level galleries, and the Sala Capitula (Chapter Hall). The door to the Sala Capitula (Chapter Hall) is half-way down the eastern side of the cloister. It was in this hall that the Declaration of Independence of 10th August 1809 was signed. The Sala Capitula contains a fine crucifix by Jose Olmos "pampite", a Quito artist of the early eighteenth century. On the other side is the podium for the speaker or reader, beautiful carved and covered with precious shell and fine fretwork
The vault (ceiling) of the Sala Capitula also is covered with paintings, including a series of hagiographic motifs, sixteen on either side. The paintings of the death of Saint Augustine and of Saint Jerome are by Miguel de Santiago y Gorivar. There is also is a pietá (Mary with the body of Jesus after his death). It is probably the work of Francisco Ribalta (1565 – 1628), who was a principal artist of the Valencia school of painting in Spain. Because of these works and many others, the church and the convento of San Agustín are one of the greatest centres of colonial Quito art. The church was damaged by an earthquake in 1868. Later it was reconstructed in 1880. The Iglesia de San Agustín (church) has a tower that is 37 meters in height. At its top is a statue of San Agustín that measures three metres. The tower is the widest one in Quito.
The most interesting aspect of its facade is its main door which dates from the 17th century. The exterior part of the western section was never whitewashed, so it is possible to see the delicate bonding of bricks that make up the thick walls. The gilded crucifix on the main altar offers an impressive example of a style of art called the School of Quito, which combines themes of Spanish and indigenous cultures.
Photos (at left)Picture 1: The tower of Iglesia de San Agustín; a statue of Saint Augustine (3 metres tall) atop it. Picture 2: A view of the cloister (clausura, patio), with its palm trees.
The altar displays two huge paintings by Miguel de Santiago y Gorivar about the life of Saint Augustine of Hippo. Involved in this work were artists and sculptors who represented the highest level of the combination of Spanish and Ecuadorean art called the "School of Quito." No surface in the church is left unpainted. Images of saints decorate the arches against a pastel background. A statue of a black Christ occupies a side altar.
On 10th August 1809, a small group signed Ecuador's "Declaration of Independence" from Spain in of the Sala Capitular (Chapter Hall) of the adjacent Augustinian convento. Actually they were really declaring independence from Spain then controlled by Napoleon Bonaparte. Napoleon had the King of Spain, Fernando VII, with his own brother. The revolutionaries managed to gain control of the city of Quito for a few days, but none of the other regions of Ecuador joined their revolution. They ousted from office Ruiz de Castilla, who was the president of Ecuador approved by Spain.
Photos (at right)Picture 1: Church of Saint Augustine, Quito, Eduador. Picture 2: View of the tower from the cloister (clausura, patio, chiostro). Picture 3: A painting in the Church Meseo (Museum).
Ruiz de Castilla managed to send letters to Peru and Colombia requesting troops to restore him back into power. When the soldiers arrived, Castilla broke the amnesty agreement with the revolutionaries and had them imprisoned in a cellar.
The revolutionaries (fighters for the independence of Ecuador) were held there for almost a year. On 2nd August 1810 a group of fellow patriots sought to break them out of jail. While some were freed, the soldiers in anger killed those who were still imprisoned. The troops then went out in the plaza and throughout the city streets killing anyone on sight. Tradition says the killing continued until a bishop known as Cuero y Caicedo walked through the streets with a crucifix and a procession of priests pleading with the soldiers to stop killing innocent people.
Ironically enough, the dead who had signed the Declaration of Independence in the Convento of Saint Augustine on 10th August 1809 were buried under the floor of the Church of Saint Augustine exactly a year later. In the adjacent Convento de San Agustín, the large cloister (clausura, patio) contains large palm trees and a colonial fountain. The ground level there is now used as the Museo de San Agustin – a museum and art gallery.
On exhibit there is a huge collection of paintings attributed to artists mostly from the Quito school, but also from other periods and schools. Artists include such noteworthy names as Miguel de Santiago y Gorivar. The themes of the art are predominantly religious. Among the notable exhibits are the incredible carved benches and altar of the Sala Capitular (Chapter Hall).
The church is open daily. The Museo (museum and art gallery) is open on weekdays between 9.00am – 1.00pm and 3.00pm – 6.00pm, free of charge.
San Agustín, Quito. A You Tube (4 mins 30 secs) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IitJWXpv_HY
Convento San Agustín, Quito. A You Tube (14 minutes) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zu8qhY02NSk Museo Miguel de Santiago Convento de San Agustin. The Augustinian former monastery – now preserved as a Museum in Quito, the capital city of Ecuador. Described thus by tourists: “A hidden pearl in El Centro / Old Town. Probably the most impressive convent in town. Forty-four very large paintings surround three sides of the garden/courtyard. And don't forget to go see the "chapel" / room where the 1806 independence was signed. A very quiet and large museum that gives a good image of what a monastery looked like in 17th century Quito. Some of the damaged by an earthquake in April 2016 may not have reopened to the public.” This website has thirty-one good photographs.https://www.tripadvisor.com.au/Attraction_Review-g294308-d4815522-Reviews-Museo_Miguel_de_Santiago_Convento_de_San_Agustin-Quito_Pichincha_Province.html