The architecture of San Agustin

San Agustin Church
The beautiful and ancient church of San Agustin
San Agustin, the oldest stone church in the country has the distinction of being made entirely of stone and the first earthquake-proof structure to be erected on Philippine soil. It is solid, compact and well executed that it has survived earthquakes, bombings and both natural and man-made disasters in its 400 years of existence. Its building blocks are adobe stones that have been sourced at the quarries of Guadalupe in present day Makati, San Mateo in Rizal and Meycauayan in Bulacan. However it should be noted that the remaining belfy, extended a level in the year 1854 has some parts incorporated with bricks.

Adobe stones, the building blocks
of San Agustin.
Winand Klassen in his book Architecture in the Philippines (1986, USC Cebu City) traces the influences of the architecture of the church and monastery to ancient western design: first, the church two tower entrance facade probably had its roots to the Syrian churches of the 6th century, like the Basilica at Turmanin. This was later adapted in the Romanesque churches of Normandy and later picked up by the Baroque churches in Germany and influenced the Italian Renaissance church architecture of which, the sanagustindetails3.jpg
The back of the church.
Church of S. Atanasio dei Greci in Rome is a good example. This church also has a striking resemblance to that of San Agustin.

Second, the author writes that the monastery complex design was probably based on the famous St. Gall Monastery in Switzerland (circa 818) which is considered as “designed to be the ideal.” This plan was later used in later medieval monasteries, first in France and later spread to other parts of Europe. During the Renaissance, the major orders continued to follow the layout and a good example is the Il Gesu of the Jesuits.

Left, Seal like decoration bearing an inscription of Saint Paul whose statue is placed at the niche below it. Middle and right, respectively, details of Ionic and Corinthian columns.

Pedro Galende in his book Philippine Church Facades wrote:

The facade is built along neoclassic lines, dramatized by four sets of coupled Ionic and Corinthian columns, which support the triangular pediment. The bell towers provide balance and stability to the vertical orientation, in contrast to the semiarched main entrance and the statued niches of the first level. The rose window in the pediment enhances the massive design. A rectangular segmented opening provides ample natural lighting for the choir loft.

He continues:

Symmetry is achieved by vertical and horizontal movements, voids and solid spaces, and round and rectangular segments. Austerity is enriched by the massiveness of the adobe stone that is softened by a “sober spirit, no nonsense forms, and a sense of quite formality that characterizes the estilo Herreriano of El Escorial.”

Statue of St. Paul, left. Details of angels found at the top of the portal, middle and right. (not to scale).

The Church of S.
Atanasio dei Greci

in Rome.
The facade decorations of San Agustin is very sparse except those found between the two belltowers where composite of Ionic and Corinthian columns and a few details decorations break the monotony. In between these columns are two statued niches. Two angels at the top of the portal can also be found.

In stark contrast to the almost plain facade is the highly stylized and massive carved portal. This portal always takes the viewers breath away.

Like the other baroque churches in Europe and Latin America, the composite columns don’t serve a structural function but more as ornamentation. Nevertheless, its still an elegant structure.


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  4. Can you please explain the origins of the dragons? or Dogs? in front of the church and who is the male chinese looking figure (st agustine?) on the right door opposite a female figure (virgin mary?) on the left door? thanks!

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