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The Augustinians in the Philippines

  • The history of Southeast Asia has been one of conflicts and competition in the conversion or capturing of peoples' souls ( minds ). In the Philippines this was commenced 1,000 years ago by the conversion of animist beliefs of the Philippines people in many places there to Muslim beliefs and in the 16th century by the introduction of a new competitor for peoples' minds, Catholicism. Spain led the charge of the Christians into Southeast Asia with a strategy to dominate The Philippines and further use it as its base for further evangelism in Asia.
  • Between 1525 and 1542 Spain under the rule of its monarchs, send '' fleets of discovery '' to the Moluccas region of what is now Indonesia to endeavor to establish a base there. All these attempts were unsuccessful. Upon ascending the throne of Spain, Philip 11 ordered Spain to concentrate on The Philippines, an area neglected by other European powers but the province of the Muslim authority and expansion. The Spanish monarchy and the Catholic Church using the Augustinians implemented a strategy which involved, first proclaiming ''The Province of the Most Holy Name of Jesus of the Philippines of the religious order of St Augustine '' which was created in March 1575 and enforcing its intentions by having troops and priests on location to take possession and implement the strategy.

Summary of events in the Christian invasion of the Philippines

  • The first event was the arrival of Magellan in 1521 and the small settlement created in Cebu.
  • The next step was in 1565 and the arrival of Father Urdanta and his group in the Legazpi expedition to establish a permanent colony in Cebu.
  • The formation of the new Augustinian Province and the arrival of the group of 24  Augustinians in 1575 and settlement in Manila.
  • The Augustinian administration remained in The Philippines until 1898 and by 1754 had converted 351,186 people, by 1845 they were administering 1,359,688 converts in over 146 towns throughout The Philippines. When the Augustinians left with the end of the Spanish control in 1898 over 300 towns and as many Augustinian churches managed 2,237,446 Catholicism believers. From their base at San Agustin Church in Intramuros the Augustinians planned and implemented their evangelism of the Philippines to make it today the only Asia Catholic country. It also provided the base from which Augustinians departed to evangelize in Japan and China. The museum at Intramuros has a n extensive collection of art anfd artifacts from this period and from throughout Asia where they conducted their work.
  • They are also important in the formation of towns and later cities which form much of what we see today in urban centers. The architecture of these towns and Church complexes followed a tradition originating in Spain and also introduced in Mexico whereby the future town plan would be designed and a place for a plaza was included at which would also be the church to be constructed. For towns beside the sea this also meant that the church could be seen out from the sea. Additionally in the Philippines the design and construction had to be such that the complex and church would be suitable for defense. This was because of the pirate invasions and the Muslim slavers invasions discussed elsewhere here. When visiting these church complexes one can see clearly how defense was a paramount consideration. This is something visitors from other Christian countries do not expect to see in their home lands.


Common themes about Augustinian Church Complexes in The Philippines

  • The formation of these towns initially included an enclosed church and attached convent with an atrium and bell tower. The churches were designed to follow Spanish tradition as formulated by the ''Ordenanzas de Fundaciones de Pueblos'' issued in 1571 and the writings about church architecture written by Father Juan de Albarran who constructed the Santo Nino Church in Cebu about 1735. However the Spanish input was modified by several factors, these were the local available materials to be used in the construction, the unskilled labor of the locals, the need for defense elements, the likelihood of earth quakes and the weather considerations. Whilst these factors influenced the external appearance and construction, inside the churches the decorations were traditional and elaborate. In some respects these churches have similarities to those in many parts of South America.
  • Most Churches were made of volcanic tuff or coral stone, depending upon where in the The Philippines they were constructed. Coral stone is the dominate stone in Cebu and Panay in central Philippines whilst gray volcanic tuff is used on Luzon and dominates the Churches in Manila. All churches were covered with stucco and painted white. The roofs were originally covered with dried cogon grass and supported with wooden beams. Later tin sheets were introduced when this became available.
  • The labor was unskilled with no stone masons such as in Europe. The labor was unpaid (  ''polo'') and as this free labor had to fit into agricultural work periods, planting and harvesting, the church construction could take on average 5 to 10 years to complete. This also depended upon access to materials and some constructions are recorded as taking up to 20 years to complete. The result was, apart from timing issues, that the structures were simple, some described as '' barn like '' and used local motifs.
  • The best example of Augustinian churches is San Augustin in Intramuros Manila. This is a world heritage site and comparable to what one can expect to see in Spain.
  • Through out the Philippines there are some ''local'' adaptations in style. In Ilocos the churches are constructed with very thick walss and have massive buttresses to support them. In Chinese communities one can see Chinese mythical lions guarding the Church doorways. ( refer here for Asian mythological beliefs and the lion ).


Why the Augustinians are important in understanding about the Philippines today.
  • Most Filipinos are Catholic Christians and the Catholic churches and beliefs introduced still continue today.
  • The Spanish influence and historical monuments were introduced to the Philippines as a consequence of the evangelism to convert people in Asia to Catholicism.
  • The existence and design of most cities and towns was introduced by these Spanish town planners.
  • Most Filipinos have Spanish family names and many have Spanish ancestors as part of the mixture of their ethnic diversity.