San Sebastian Church in Manila: Everything you Need to Know

The Basilica Minore de San Sebastián

San Sebastian Church in Manila by Asolrac1 via Wikipedia CC

San Sebastian Church: The All-Metal Church in the Philippines

The San Sebastian Church or Basilica Minore de San Sebastian is an all-steel Roman Catholic Church located in Plaza del Carmen, Quiapo, Manila. It features a remarkable and well-preserved Gothic Revival architecture that attracts many tourists and is claimed as Asia’s only steel church. Also, it is considered as a National Historic Landmark, National Cultural Treasure, and included on the tentative list of World Heritage Site. Apart from this, the basilica is the parish church of San Sebastian, and also the National Shrine of Our Lady of Mount Carmel.

San Sebastian Church, Manila, Philippines, June 11, 2017 by John Tewell via Flickr CC
San Sebastian Church, Manila, Philippines, June 11, 2017 by John Tewell via Flickr CC

History

In 1621, the land where the basilica stands were donated by Bernardino Castillo. The basilica was originally constructed from wood which was caught on fire in 1651 during a Chinese Filipino uprising and was rebuilt from bricks which were later destroyed in 1859, 1863, and 1880 by fire and earthquakes.

The San Sebastian Basilica under construction in 1890. via Factoidz
The San Sebastian Basilica under construction in 1890. via By factoidz, Public Domain, CC
San Sebastian Church, Manila, Philippines, early 20th Century by John Tewell via Flickr CC
San Sebastian Church, Manila, Philippines, early 20th Century by John Tewell via Flickr CC

Through the initiative of the former parish priest Esteban Martinez, Spanish Architect Genaro Palacios agreed to build a fire and earthquake-resistant church in 1880, resulting in the idea of creating an all-steel church. Fusing the design concept of Earthquake baroque and Neo-Gothic architecture, Architect Palacios finished the design for the basilica inspired by Burgos Cathedral in Burgos, Spain. In 1891, the San Sebastian Church was fully constructed featuring a painted light blue façade, towering spires, steel columns, groined vaults, dome murals, and stained glass windows.

View of the San Sebastian Church Manila main altar by Anyo Niminus via Wikipedia CC
View of the San Sebastian Church Manila main altar by Anyo Niminus via Wikipedia CC

However, although Architect Palacios was considered as the designer of the basilica, there are unverified reports from historians that Gustave Eiffel, who built the Eiffel Tower in Paris and Statue of Liberty in New York, was associated with designing the San Sebastian Church. Based on Eiffel’s official catalogs, it refers to possibly designing a church in Manila in 1875, which was 13 years before San Sebastian church started its construction.

Photograph of the San Sebastian Church in Manila, Philippines, around 1945 or 1946 during World War II. Photograph taken while James W. Setzer of Maiden, NC, was serving in the 29th Engineer Topographic Battalion in the Philippines (circa 1945-1946).     From James W. Setzer Papers, WWII 245, WWII Papers, Military Collection, State Archives of North Carolina, Raleigh, N.C.
Photograph of the San Sebastian Church in Manila, Philippines, around 1945 or 1946 during World War II. Photograph taken while James W. Setzer of Maiden, NC, was serving in the 29th Engineer Topographic Battalion in the Philippines (circa 1945-1946). From James W. Setzer Papers, WWII 245, WWII Papers, Military Collection, State Archives of North Carolina, Raleigh, N.C.

The San Sebastian Church also holds a 1618 image of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, attracting Filipino devotees in the country. The Philippines’ first image of the Virgin was gifted from the Carmelite nuns of Mexico to Augustinian Recollects. Being the first sanctuary of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, San Sebastian Church celebrates the over 400 year’s arrival of the sacred image in the Philippines.

Saving the All-Steel Basilica

The ceiling of the church, showing the groin vaults. by Marksy via Wikipedia CC
The ceiling of the church, showing the groin vaults. By Marksy – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, CC

On January 7, 2021, the Augustinian Recollects and San Sebastian Basilica Conservation and Development Foundation launched an online petition for the restoration and conservation of the all-steel basilica due to the deterioration of steel caused by rust. The #SaveSanSebastian needs to gather 400,000 signatures to support the restoration and oppose the construction of building a condominium behind the basilica. Since the new condominium has 100-meter proximity to the church, its construction can interrupt the ongoing restoration project.

How to get there:

If you are coming around LRT 1, head to the Doroteo Jose Station as your drop-off point. Ride a jeep in Recto with Sta. Mesa route. Afterward, get off around Mendiola before reaching the crossing, walk through the Ayala Bridge, and turn right before reaching San Rafael Street. From there, you will catch sight of a light blue Gothic church.

But if you don’t like the hassle of walking, you can get off at LRT 1 Central Station, and ride a jeep heading to the San Miguel-Quiapo route. This route will exactly drop you off right in front of San Sebastian Church.

San Sebastian Church in Manila by Asolrac1 via Wikipedia CC
San Sebastian Church in Manila By Asolrac1 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, CC

New Normal Guidelines and Mass Schedule

Based on the official website of San Sebastian Catholic Church, they have returned to their regular mass and confession schedule with some restrictions.

  • Non-Vaccinated: Wearing a mask or face covering is required
  • For Fully-Vaccinated: No mask required

The San Sebastian Church is open from Tuesday-Friday at 9:00 AM- 3:00 PM, and the mass schedule:

  • Tuesday-Friday: 8:00 AM
  • Saturday: 4:00 PM Mass with Sign Language Interpreter
  • Sunday: 8:00 AM & 10:00 AM

References

  • (2002), Saving San Sebastian: The All-Metal Church in the Philippines, Cyark
  • Sehgal, (2016), 10 Things to Know about San Sebastian Church, Trip-N-Travel
  • San Sebastian Basilica in Manila: the iron church, Agustinos Recoletos
  • Soilla, (2021), San Sebastian Basilica: Why Is There A Petition To Save It?, Tatler

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