The restoration of the church of St. Augustine in Almagro has managed to recover a baroque piece of singular beauty
The Figueroa family had a great devotion to Saint Augustine and they were the ones that invited the Augustinian Recollects to settle in the city despite the opposition of the Dominican and Franciscan friars and the Jesuits. Melchor Pérez de Figueroa, Canon of La Paz (Bolivia), in perfect agreement with his sisters, Luisa and María, bequeathed in his will an important part of his assets for the foundation of an Augustinian church and convent in his city.
The Augustinian Recollects in Almargo
In 1637, the Recollects settles in the home belonging to the Figueroa’s –the last member of the family, Maria, had passed three years before. The property in itself was not large enough for a church and convent, so the friars had to buy adjacent properties. The church was finished until 1729. From the start, this property was destined for the friars’ theological studies. The Recollects were present until the expropriation of 1835.
A raíz de la desamortización unos particulares compraron el conjunto arquitectónico y demolieron el convento. Su iglesia se salvó gracias a la acción de los vecinos que la compraron salvando sus retablos. En 1936 fue destruido el retablo barroco de su altar mayor.
As a result of the confiscation ordered by the government, it was sold to some people who demolished the convent. The church was saved thanks to the intervention of people who considered it being a unique piece of art. In 1936 the baroque altarpiece of its main altar was destroyed.
The Church of St. Augustine
The cross shaped church has two lower height side naves. It has eight side chapels linked to each other and open to the main nave. It has a center dome. The apse is flat-bottomed with a niche in the back. The choir is located up high, separated from the nave by a large arch with a wooden balustrade.
The main facade of the church is made of masonry with vertical brick work. The main portal adopts the portal-altarpiece model, attached to a gable with a layout of three vertical rows, separated by giant brick pilasters that unify the two floors.
The Recollect friars were lavish in the interior ornamentation of the building with a great profusion of pictorial works of a narrative and religious character made either in tempera or in oil.
But this magnificent construction suffered the ravages of time and neglect for almost two centuries. Until the Lisbon earthquake of 1755, which shook Almagro, its destructive force left its mark on the building. For decades the City Council has owned the building and has taken responsibility for its restoration and open it to the public, especially tourism.
Wanting to restore the church for the future generations, the Almagro City Council presented the "comprehensive rehabilitation of a heritage asset and functional revitalization in accessible tourist space" project to the FEDER operational program of Castilla-La Mancha between 2014 and 2020. The proposal received the green light to open its doors to all type of events and audiences.
The cost went up to 508,902.95 euros. According to the budget, 80% of the investment was covered by European funds and the other 20% came from the entity that requested the financial aid.
The restoration included the structure of the building, roof and walls, humidity controls and conservation work on paintings.
Upon entering the temple, now dedicated to exhibitions and cultural events, one is left in awe of the light, the clean spaces, and the rich and vivid colors of the murals and columns, vaults and dome paintings.
In the vault of the central nave and the arms of the transept, scenes of the life of Saint Augustine cand be admired, together with other Eucharistic paintings and others dedicated to the Virgin Mary and intercessor before her Son.
The dome is a symbol of heaven and it is dedicated to Christ, the presbytery depicts the image of the Virgin. On the pendentives, on which the dome rests we can see the oil paintings of Augustinian related saints: Alypius, Posidius, Fulgentius and Prosper.
The shield with the double arrowed heart, typical of the Order of Augustinian Recollects, appears profusely on walls, vault and columns.
Even with all the restoration efforts, it’s been impossible to bring out all the light and colors in the original paintings and due to the damage suffered on the baroque altarpiece, one can only imagine how the church looked originally centuries ago. The dedication and restoration efforts done by the city of Almagro is surely praiseworthy. The Augustinian Recollects who lived here for two centuries must be acknowledged because within their poverty, they were able to construct and decorate this memorable temple, which can be admired by all who visit this city.