The present structure is actually the third Augustinian church erected on the site. The first San Agustin Church was made of bamboo and nipa. It was completed in 1571, but destroyed by fire in December 1574 during the attempted invasion of Manila by the forces of Limahong. A second church made of wood was constructed but was destroyed in February 1583, in a fire that started when a candle set ablaze the drapes of the funeral bier during the interment of the Spanish Governor-General Gonzalo Ronquillo de Peñalosa.
The Augustinians decided to rebuild the church using stone, and to construct as well an adjacent monastery. Construction began in 1586, from the design of Juan Macias. The structure was built using hewn adobe stones quarried from Meycauayan, Binangonan and San Mateo, Rizal. The church was formally declared as completed on January 19, 1607, and named St. Paul of Manila.
San Agustin Church was looted by the British forces which occupied Manila in 1762 during the Seven Years' War. It withstood major earthquakes that struck Manila in 1645, 1754, 1852, 1863, and 1880. During the Japanese occupation of the Philippines during World War II, San Agustin Church was turned into a concentration camp for prisoners. The church itself survived the bombardment of Intramuros by American and Filipino forces with only its roof destroyed, the only one of the seven churches in the walled city to remain standing. The adjacent monastery however was totally destroyed.
San Agustín Church measures 67.15 meters long and 24.93 meters wide. It is said that the design was derived from Augustinian churches built in Mexico, and is almost an exact copy of Puebla Cathedral in Puebla, Mexico. The facade is unassuming and even criticized as "lacking grace and charm", but it has notable baroque touches, especially the ornate carvings on its wooden doors. The church courtyard is graced by several granite sculptures of lions, which had been gifted by Chinese converts to Catholicism.
The church contains the tomb of Spanish conquistadors Miguel López de Legazpi, Juan de Salcedo and Martín de Goiti, as well as several early Spanish Governors-General and archbishops. Their bones are buried in a communal vault near the main altar. The painter Juan Luna, and the statesmen Pedro A. Paterno and Trinidad Pardo de Tavera are among the hundreds of laypersons whose remains are also housed within the church.
The church interior is in the form of a Latin cross. The church has 14 side chapels and a trompe-l'oeil ceiling painted in 1875 by Italian artists Cesare Alberoni and Giovanni Dibella. Up in the choir loft are hand-carved 17th-century seats of molave, a beautiful tropical hardwood.
San Agustin Church also hosts an image of Our Lady of Consolation (Nuestra Senora de Consolacion y Correa), which was canonically crowned by Manila Archbishop Cardinal Jaime Sin in 2000.
Side Altar, San Agustin Church Postcard