San Sebastian Church | Quiapo, Manila
Jutting out of the Manila cityscape are the two pointed Gothic spires of the San Sebastian Church, the only all-metal church in the Philippines. I usually see this sight when I am on an LRT 2 train as it approaches the Legarda station in Quiapo, Manila. It is a curious scene to behold because it stands out from the other buildings in its vicinity in height, color and style.
All the metals used in building the church were said to be manufactured in Belgium and later assembled in Manila by Belgian engineers. The construction was then completed in 1891. The idea of erecting a church out of prefabricated metal components was borne out of the fact that the earlier churches built by the Recollect friars on the same site gave in after fire and strong earthquakes in 1859, 1863 and 1880. The concept was quite unheard of in the Philippines at that time, where most churches are made of brick, stone and other conventional construction materials.
The church’s interiors are equally impressive too with its towering arches, ceilings and walls covered entirely in trompe l’oeil and exquisite stained glass windows. These are some of the characteristics of the Gothic ecclesiastical buildings which place emphasis on verticality and light.
The San Sebastian Church was designed by Genaro Palacios. But there have been theories suggesting that Gustave Eiffel, the man behind the Eiffel Tower in Paris, may have a hand in its design as well. However, the Eiffel connection is disputed to this day.
Even so, the church’s unique attributes are still continued to be recognized. It was declared as a National Historical Landmark by the National Historical Institute in 1973, and a National Cultural Treasure by the National Museum in 2011. It also made it to the tentative list of UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The San Sebastian Church indeed has withstood several wars and earthquakes for more than a century already. It has survived anything except rust which has been gnawing certain areas in the church. If only to preserve this church for the next centuries to come, then there should be massive efforts that should be undertaken to protect and to preserve this truly unique Philippine treasure.