San Sebastian Church
History and museums
The Basílica Menor de San Sebastián, better known as San Sebastian Church, is a Roman Catholic minor basilica in Manila, Philippines and the seat of the Parish of San Sebastian.
Completed in 1891, San Sebastian Church is noted for its architectural features. an example of the revival of Gothic architecture in the Philippines, it is the only all-steel temple in the Philippines, and is the only prefabricated steel church in the world. In 2006, San Sebastian Church was included in the Tentative List for possible designation as a World Heritage Site. It was designated as a National Historical Landmark by the Philippine government in 1973.
San Sebastian Church is under the care of The Order of the Augustinian Recollects, who also operate a college adjacent to the basilica. It is located at Plaza del Carmen, at the eastern end of Recto Avenue, in Quiapo, Manila.
In 1621, Bernardino Castillo, a generous patron and a devotee of the 3rd-century Roman martyr Saint Sebastian, donated the land upon which the church stands. The original structure, made of wood, burned in 1651 during a Chinese uprising. Succeeding structures, which were built of brick, were destroyed by fire and earthquakes in 1859, 1863, and 1880.
In the 1880s, Esteban Martínez, the parish priest of the ruined church, approached the Spanish architect Genaro Palacios, with a plan to build a fire and earthquake-resistant structure made entirely of steel. Palacios completed a design that fused Earthquake Baroque with the Neo-Gothic style. His final design was said to have been inspired by the famed Gothic Burgos Cathedral in Burgos, Spain.
The prefabricated steel sections that would compose the church were manufactured in Binche, Belgium. According to the historian Ambeth Ocampo, the knockdown steel parts were ordered from the Societe anonyme des Enterprises de Travaux Publiques in Brussels. In all, 52 tonnes (51 long tons; 57 short tons) of prefabricated steel sections were transported in eight separate shipments from Belgium to the Philippines, the first shipment arriving in 1888. Belgian engineers supervised the assembly of the church, the first column of which was erected on September 11, 1890. The walls were filled with mixed sand, gravel, and cement. The stained glass windows were imported from the Heinrich Oidtmann Company, a German stained glass firm, while local artisans assisted in applying the finishing touches.
The church was raised to the status of a minor basilica by Pope Leo XIII on June 24, 1890. Upon its completion the following year, on August 16, 1891, the Basílica Menor de San Sebastián was consecrated by Bernardino Nozaleda y Villa OP, the 25th Archbishop of Manila.
According to Jesús Pastor Paloma, an Agustinian Recollect priest, the structure was also supposed to have a prefabricated retablo (reredos) altar, which was lost at sea when the ship carrying it from Belgium capsized in a storm; a wooden altar was made locally in its stead. Paloma also noted that the bottom part of the church was designed to resemble a ship's hull, so that it would sway during an earthquake.
It has long been reputed that Gustave Eiffel, the French engineer behind the Eiffel Tower and the steel structure within the Statue of Liberty, was involved in the design and construction of San Sebastián, but this was never confirmed.
San Sebastian Church has two openwork towers and steel vaulting. From its floor, the basilica's nave rises 12 meters (39 ft) to the dome, and 32 meters (105 ft) to the tip of the twin spires.
The faux finished interior of the church incorporates groined vaults in the Gothic architecture style permitting very ample illumination from lateral windows. The steel columns, walls and ceiling were painted by Lorenzo Rocha, Isabelo Tampingco and Félix Martínez to give the appearance of marble and jasper. Trompe l'oeil paintings of saints and martyrs by Rocha were used to decorate the interiors of the church. True to the Gothic revival spirit of the church are its confessionals, pulpit, altars and five retablos designed by Lorenzo Guerrero and Rocha. The sculptor Eusebio Garcia carved the statues of holy men and women. Six holy water fonts were constructed for the church, each crafted from marble obtained from Romblon.
Above the main altar is an image of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, given to the church by Carmelite sisters from Mexico City in 1617. The image withstood all the earthquakes and fires which had destroyed previous incarnations of San Sebastian Church, but its ivory head was stolen in 1975.
San Sebastian Church was a declared National Historical Landmark by President Ferdinand Marcos through Presidential Decree No. 260 in 1973. State funding was accorded to the church through the National Historical Institute which undertook restoration in 1982. The Recollect community has likewise expended funds for the church's maintenance and restoration.
On May 16, 2006, San Sebastian Church was included in the Tentative List for possible designation as a World Heritage Site, on account of its architectural and historical heritage.
The church was declared a National Cultural Treasure by the National Museum of the Philippines on August 15, 2011 and unveiling of the marker on January 20, 2012.
In recent years, San Sebastian Church has encountered threats to its structural integrity. The steel structure has been beset by rust and corrosion due to sea breezes from nearby Manila Bay. In 1998, it was placed on the biennial watchlist of the 100 Most Endangered Sites by the World Monuments Fund, though it was not retained in the subsequent watchlists.