San Sebastian Church

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San Sebastian Church facade

The Basilica Minore de San Sebastian is a fine representative of the Gothic revival in the Philippines. The basilica is mixed with 19th-century innovations in church construction, architecture, and art. It takes pride as the only all-steel basilica in the world. The church is under the administration of The Order of the Augustinian Recollects, located at Legarda St. Quiapo, Manila.



In 1621, Don Bernardino Castillo, a generous patron and a well-known devotee of St. Sebastian, Patron of Archers, donated his lot, which is now the present site of the San Sebastian Church. The original church, which was made of wood, was burned in 1651 during a Chinese uprising. The succeeding structures were destroyed twice by fire and an earthquake in 1859, 1863, and 1880 respectively.

Father Esteban Martinez, the parish priest at that time, approached the Spanish Architect Genero Palacios with a plan to build a fire and earthquake-resistant church made entirely of steel. Ambeth Ocampo states that the present San Sebastian church was ordered knockdown in steel parts from the Societe Anonyme des Enterprises de Travaux Publiques in Brussels, Belgium.[1]

Two Belgian engineers supervised the construction of the church. On June 12, 1888, the first shipment of steel parts were brought to the Philippines. For two years, the church was assembled with local artists and craftsmen joining the Belgian firm in applying the final finishing touches on this new church of steel. The stained glass windows were imported from the Henri Oidtmann Company, a German stained glass firm. The engineering technique used in the construction of the church, including metal fixtures and the overall structure, were from Gustave Eiffel, the creator of the Eiffel Tower. This was confirmed when Chinese-American architect, I. M. Pei, visited the Philippines in the late 70’s. He came to confirm what he heard about Gustave Eiffel designing a steel church in Asia.[2]

Minor Basilica

Interior of Basilica Minore de San Sebastian.

The Church of San Sebastian was raised to the status of a minor basilica by Pope Leo XIII on June 24, 1890. The following year, on August 15, 1891, the all-steel church of San Sebastian was inaugurated and blessed. The interior of the church displays groined vaults, a characteristic of Gothic architecture. The columns, walls and ceiling were painted by Filipino artist Lorenzo Rocha and his students resembling marble and jasper. True to the Gothic revival spirit of the church are its confessionals, pulpit and altars as designed by Filipino artist Lorenzo Guerrero. He, with fellow artist Eulogio Garcia, carved the statues of holy men and women. Trompe l'oeil paintings were used to decorate the interiors of the church.[3]


The Church is neo-Gothic in architecture with lancet arches, fan vaults, stained glass windows, and tracery. The church facade features Gothic spires, but lacks the delicate ornamentation characteristic of most Gothic churches.


The Church of San Sebastian was declared National Historical Landmark per Presidential Decree No. 260.[4] State funding was accorded to the church through the National Historical Institute which undertook restoration of the church in 1982. The Recollect community has likewise expended funds for the church's maintenance and restoration.

In addition, the church was listed among the 1998 World's Most Endangered Sites by the World Monuments Watch.[5] On May 16, 2006, San Sebastian Church was included in the Tentative list of the UNESCO Heritage list, citing its architectural and historical heritage.[6]


  • Galende, Pedro G. Philippine Church Facades. Quezon City:, a division of Vibal Publishing House, Inc., 2007.
  • Layug, Benjamin Locsin. A Tourist Guide to Notable Philippine Churches. Quezon City: New Day Publishers, 2007.

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