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San Sebastián Church

Attraction type: Churches
Address: Plaza del Carmen, Quiapo, Manila
Phone: +63 (2) 7348908

“Discover the rich history of San Sebastian Church… “

Also referred to as the Basilica Minore de San Sebastián, the San Sebastián Church is one of the many Roman Catholic minor basilica in the capital of the Philippines. The construction of the church was formally completed in 1891. Up to the present, the San Sebastián church is widely known for its impressive architectural features. It is considered as a good sample of the revival of Gothic architecture not only in the entire country but across Asia. The structure is the only church or basilica in Asia that is all made of steel. In fact, it claimed as the sole prefabricated steel religious structure around the world.

As additional recognition, the church was included in the Tentative List of the World Heritage Site in 2006. But in 1973, the Philippine government awarded the San Sebastián Church as a National Historical Landmark. The church is administered by The Oder of the Augustinian Recollects, who happen to operate a college adjacent to the church.

The land which the church stands at the present was just donated by a generous patron named Don Bernardino Castillo in 1621. He was also a devotee of Saint Sebastian, who is known as a Christian martyr. Originally, the church was made of wood but it was burnt during the Chinese revolt in 1651. The church undergone many reconstructions with the use of brick but were destroyed by fire as well as earthquakes that hit Manila in 1859, 1863 and 1880.

During 1880s, the parish priest of San Sebastián – Esteban Martinez, sought the help of architect Genaro Palacios to plan the reconstruction of the ruined church. Both planned to made the structure fire and earthquake proof by using steel entirely. Palacious was able to complete the design combining Earthquake Baroque and Neo-Gothic style. The final design of the structure was inspired by the popular Gothic Burgos Cathedral in the city of Burgos, Spain.

On June 24, 1890, the San Sebastián Church became a minor basilica through the declaration of Pope Leo XIII. The church has two openwork towers as well as steel vaulting. Its nave stands 12 meters (39 ft) from the floor to the dome, and about 32 meters (105 ft) towards the tip of the spires. The astounding interior incorporates groined vaults with marble and jasper like ambiance. The walls, steel columns and ceiling were hand painted by Lorenzo Rocha along with his students. There are notable decorations inside the church made by skilled artisans. An image of Our Lady of Mount Carmel is set above the main altar. This statue was a gift from Carmelite sisters who came from Mexico City in 1671.

Recently, the church experienced threats to its durability and strength. Rust and corrosion started to develop on the steel structure. In 1998, the World Monuments Fund included the San Sebastian Church on the watch list of the 100 Most Endangered Sites. However, the church undergone restoration and maintenance with the help of funding from the government and non-government organization. Thus, it continues to be a famous historical landmark in the Philippines.