With the arrival of Columbus to the island of Hispaniola in 1492 the process of colonization started. In Autumn 1508 the abbot general of the Order of the Dominicos sent word to the King of Spain that they needed to send representatives to Hispaniola. Finally in 1510 it was agreed to send fifteen friars to Santo Domingo.
When the delegated representatives started arriving they stayed in a meager wooden home. The person living there got booted so the friars had a place to stay. The building of the chapel progressed very slowly as there was no cash allotted or sent for its construction.
In the mean time the friars held meetings and gave their sermons in different parts of the city while waiting for the construction to be completed.
It took a long time to get the chapel build because Spain really did not care to send money for the construction work. Frey Bartolomé de Las Casas, who was in charge of the church in the mid 1500's, eventually sent fray Antonio de Montesino to petition the King for some aide. Finally in 1522, nine years later, Spain came up with the cash and Montecinos hired a builder. There is no real information if this builder ever came to the island or not. Also there is not much on record of the construction of the building.
In 1531-1532 they had the official inauguration of the chapel. Some of the important persons in attendance were Pedro de Córdoba, Reginaldo de Montesinos, Bartolomé de las Casas y Antonio de Montesinos.
In 1534 the convent began holding classes, and in 1538 became the first university in America by the order of Bula In Apostolatus Culmine, with the blessings of Papa Paulo III / Pope Paul the Third. The original name was Universidad de Santo Tomás de Aquino and later it was changed to the Universidad Primada de América / First University of America.
The building was constructed with a mix of architectural styles including Elizabethan Gothic, Baroque and Gothic. The exterior has many different statues and images that are the works of brothers Jorge y Ajejo Fernández from Seville. In the Sixteenth century (Siglo XVI) the entrance to the building boasts five altarpieces; one is painted by Juan Martínez Montañés, a very famous painter of the colonial era.
In 1588 the building was in bad repair. It was too small for all who lived within its walls. Finally, they got money to repair and rebuild. The reconstruction left a few of the original walls incorporated into the building.
The building has been destroyed many times throughout the years but has always been rebuilt.
1545 - A windstorm knocked down the belfry.
1673 - This huge earthquake destroyed parts of the building
1684 - Later another earthquake collapsed the roof of the building
In 1681 the building was said to be in very bad shape. The wooden roof needed to be replaced and the entire structure had to be re-worked. Finally in 1746 the roof was reconstructed to be a barrel vault type roof
In the Summer of 2009 the building again was restored and painted.