The Basilica Minore de San Sebastian in Manila is commonly as one of the most sought after churches for a wedding in the Philippines. It is said that one needs to reserve a year in advance just to get wed inside its lofty halls; but this cathedral has more to offer than just weddings.
Its light green spires, towering a hundred and five feet from the ground, huge central rose window, pointed arches and colorful stained glass panels all echo the Gothic Architectural style of Medieval Europe. Digging deeper into its history, you will find that this massive cathedral did indeed originate from English lands.
In 1621, the first version of the San Sebastian Church took shape with the help of a Don Bernardino Castillo, a patron and devotee of the martyr Saint Sebastian. It was originally made of wood and was later burned down during a Chinese uprising. The succeeding incarnations of the church, which were made of bricks, were also destroyed in 1859, 1863 and 1880 by fire and earthquakes.
The final design that we’re now familiar with came upon in 1880 as then parish priest, Estebán Martínez, requested Architect Genaro Palacios to design a cathedral that can withstand both fires and earthquakes.
So it was that an all-steel pre-fabricated church was designed which is said to be the first of its kind in the world. It was also rumored that the prominent French Engineer, Gustave Eiffel of the Statue of Liberty and Eiffel tower fame, had also had a hand in designing the basilica.
The church was literally built like a Lego, with the steel sections shipped from Belgium and the stained glasses from Germany. It only took a year to assemble and finish the construction in Manila.
Entering the church, it would be hard not to get impressed. The long central nave is towered by massive steel columns rising to a height of almost forty feet. Looking up, the hand-painted vaulted ceiling done by Lorenzo Rocha is just a wonder to behold. On both sides of the church, colorful stained glass windows and trompe l'oeil (3D-like paintings) artworks line the halls. The centerpiece above the altar is an image of Our Lady of Mount Carmel which was given to the church by the Carmelite sisters from Mexico City in 1617.
Although I have not really been inside a medieval church, I feel that the cathedral definitely retains the feel of such architecture. The ambience and details of the structure is just extraordinary. The San Sebastian Cathedral has been marked by the late President Marcos as a National Historical Landmark and is also a candidate of UNESCO’s World Heritage Site.
For Manila residents, this architectural masterpiece is just a stone’s throw away from anywhere in the city. I actually spent my college days just a few blocks from this church and had never visited it all through those years, and to think that I took up BS Architecture. It had to take a wedding invite to get me to visit this historical landmark.
If you happen to pass by Manila sometime, don’t be like me, try to drop by the Basilica Minore de San Sebastian and be mesmerized by its beauty.
San Sebastian Church
Address: Plaza del Carmen, Manila 1011, Philippines
Phone Number: (02) 523-8411