The San Agustín Parish Church, School and Convent are located in Puerta de Tierra, a neighborhood adjacent to Old San Juan. The church was created by the brothers of the Redemptorist Order during the 1880s to provide services to the residents of the sector, which developed because of the lack of space within the walled city of Old San Juan. The structures that remain were built in the decade of the 1910s. Its location in the northern part of the islet of San Juan and its construction are testimony to the urban growth of San Juan beyond the old walls.
The project to build the church began in 1882 when plans were prepared. In 1886, the first construction was built on the site that is today occupied by the parish church. It consisted of a small, wooden chapel, along with a house for the priest who led services. The priest came from the main parish, San Francisco de Assisi, located in Old San Juan. Because of the constant growth of Puerta de Tierra, on September 25, 1889, Bishop Monsignor Juan Antonio Puig y Monserrat declared the erection of the new parish church.
In 1913, the brothers of the Redemptorist Order obtained 4,400 square meters of land on which they built, beginning in 1914, a school, a church and a parish house. Architects Antonio M. Martínez and José Lázaro Costa were in charge of the design and construction of the complex. The inauguration of the buildings took place on December 8, 1915. The Redemptorist brothers and a group of nuns from Notre Dame took residence.
The San Agustín Church is the most important structure in the complex. It was built of reinforced concrete, one of the first uses of that material in Puerto Rico. Its style combines Romantic and Gothic architectural elements. Its façade incorporates two towers of different heights, which makes it asymmetrical, and each tower is topped with a pointed cupola. This arrangement of towers in the façade is known as “westwerk.” The entrance is built on the western façade and incorporates the two towers, a chapel and a vestibule. To the east and west of the temple are the two large structures that served, respectively, as housing for the Redemptorist brothers and the nuns of Notre Dame.
The church is distinguished by the extreme use of stained glass in its windows and by the rose window of its main façade, which admit light to the interior. These elements were a departure from the traditions of Spanish colonial religious architecture, whose interiors were normally dark and somber.
For many years, this was the only Catholic church to hold religious services in English. The school was also known for offering scholarships to low-income students.
Adapted by the PROE Editorial Group
Original source: Catalog of Properties, National Register of Historic Sites, State Office of Historic Conservation, Office of the Governor, 1995.
Author: Grupo Editorial EPRL
Published: September 17, 2014.
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