Gothic architecture: Basilica Minore de San Sebastian

Among the iconic elements that depict the rich culture and history of Manila are the ancient churches. These stunning creations dating back the early 16th century have become the country’s prominent treasures.
One of the historical churches in Manila that exudes great beauty and architecture is located in Quiapo, Manila. The light blue-green basilica that stands in the busy end of Claro M. Recto Street doesn’t entirely give off an ancient feel, however its color emphasizes its striking features – two open towers with pyramidal spires, louvered windows and an intricately designed rose window, which indicate a particular uniqueness of the church’s architectural background.
Constructed in 1890, inaugurated and blessed the following year, San Sebastian Church is a Roman Catholic minor basilica in Manila which represents true Gothic revival architecture. It is recognized as the only all-steel church in the Philippines, and some say in Asia.
Upon entering the door, the vast interior, warmly lit crystal chandeliers and light entering from the church doors radiate a warm feel. On the sides, the animated colors of the stained glass windows are truly remarkable. These were said to be directly imported from a German steel glass firm, Henri Oidtmann Company.
The walls of the church were a mix of sand, gravel and cement. The interior of the basilica are made of exquisite groined vaults, a true Gothic architecture-style. Confessionals, pulpit, altars and retablos represent fine Gothic revival, which were headed and designed by Professors from the Academia d Pintura y Dibuja, Lorenzo Rocha and Lorenzo Guerrero. The vaults display intricate trompe l’oeil paintings of saints and several religious figures, an art approach where the images create optical illusions. Together with their students, they decorated and painted the columns, walls and ceiling which exude marble and jasper appearance.The central part of the church (commonly called the nave in Gothic Christian architecture)  where the main high altar is located, rises to a height of twelve meters from the floor to the dome while measuring thirty-two meters to the tip of the spires. Beautiful spiral staircases on the side of the church’s main entrance lead to the belfries and the choir loft where a beautiful pipe organ is found.
The magnificent interior of the church is graced by the image of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, a gift given by the Carmelite sisters from Mexico, which is enshrined atop the marvelous altar. Throughout the natural occurrences and previous restorations, the image had survived; however its original ivory head was stolen some 38 years ago.
With these significant elements, San Sebastian Church is indeed the Philippines’ treasure to behold. In general, the basilica remains its beauty and is still preserved. Apart from being a special architectural and historical interest, its splendor and warmth have placed it among the most beloved wedding churches in Manila.
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The land upon which the church stands was said to be donated by Don Bernardino Castillo, a devotee of Saint Sebastian. The first church was made of wood and was burned down during an uprising the mid-16th century. Bricks were used to rebuild the succeeding structures which were then destroyed by earthquake and fire from the mid to late 18th century. The parish priest of the ruined church, Esteban Martinez, came to Spanish architect Genaro Palacios with a plan to build a church is both fire and earthquake resistant.
Its parts, manufactured by the Societe Anonyme des Enterprises de Travaux Publiques, were shipped directly to Manila from Brussels, Belgium. According to some, Alexandar Gustave Eiffel may have been an influence to the basilica’s metal construction. Palacios designed the church while its construction was supervised by Belgian engineers.
The Church and the adjoining San Sebastian College, a Catholic institution, is both owned and operated by the Augustinian Recollects.
Recognitions: The only Neo-Gothic church in the Philippines, National Landmark per Presidential Decree No. 260, 1998 World’s Most Endangered Sites by the World Monuments Watch, included in the tentative list of UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2006. (Sources:;; and


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