San Agustin, the Mother of all churches

San Agustin Church San Agustin World Heritage Site Church in the Agustinian monastery complex in Intramuros is undeniably, the mother of all churches being the oldest in the country despite claims from other places. Constructed from 1587 – 1607, it has survived earthquakes, typhoons, the British Invasion, the Philippine Revolution and World War II, which, was the only building left standing in Intramuros.

Built by the architect Juan Macias, it is the fourth church to be built. Made of wood and light materials, the first church was destroyed in 1574 by the Chinese pirate Limahong. The 2nd and 3rd consumed by fire on 1583 and 1586, respectively. Always known as San Agustin church, its titular patron is the Conversion of Saint Paul.

Funds were always scarce. From the 10,000 ducats extended by Philip II, only 2,ooo was received. This was the reason that the other provincial houses of the order were obligated to support the monastery either in cash or kind with the threat that those who fail to do so, their house will be declared vacant and the prior replaced.

During the British Invasion in 1762, they ransacked and looted the complex and sold the church together with its jewels, vestments, paintings, bells, documents and other things to a Chinese mestizo lawyer, Santiago de Orendain. The Augustinians eventually returned in 1763 and gradually rebuilt the complex.

Originally, the two towers were of a single level only. However, many were complaining, including the Augustinians, saying that the facade was irregular and ugly. It was decided in 1854 during a meeting that another level would be added. This was undertaken under the architect Luciano Oliver.

Before and after the earthquake of 1880

In 1863, an earthquake shook Manila that damaged slightly the church. In 1880, another earthquake happened and this time, the slight cracks caused by the former was now evident. Concerned with public safety, the left tower was demolished and hasn’t been rebuilt.

The church was slightly damaged during the Spanish – American war. It was also occupied by the Japanese during WWII where a mortar fire bore a hole at the side in the present location of Legazpi’s tomb and the roof was destroyed. But despite these, it has survived.

San Agustin church has played host to significant events in our history. It was where the first Church Council and first National Synod was held in 1578 and 1581, respectively. It was at the Sala de Capitulacion where the terms of Spain’s surrender was drawn. In 1994, it was declared one of four Augustinian churches as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.


  1. I was high school when I last visited San Agustin. The interiors are, for me, the grandest in the entire country. Superb indeed.

    Is there a possibility for the belfry that was destroyed to be reconstructed? At least it would give a symmetrical balance to the facade of the church. After all, the ruins in Fr. Blanco’s garden are being reconstructed if I’m not mistaken…

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  3. Pingback: Sacrilege « mackybaka!

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  8. @ Carl – The Blanco garden was unfortunately removed to give way to a dormitory [not sure if it is] How can we move [if they plan to recreate the garden] a place of such importance not only to Filipino culture and botany? Fray Blanco’s garden has joined one of those lost historical gems.

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  12. Pingback: San Agustin Church in Manila. Oldest Church in the country and has been intact since 1607.I know Manila isn’t popular and this church might not be too impressive but it has some decent history and want to share something from Manila. – Zolas B

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