Have you ever read the novella Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame? Or have you watched its musical adaptation by Disney? If you have, then you will already know about the Notre Dame de Paris or also known as Notre Dame Cathedral. Remember the splendor of the cathedral with its beautiful gothic architecture, or its massive open area within, not to mention its gorgeous stained windows. Sadly, for many, it is difficult to travel to Paris, France to visit the cathedral. Not to worry, because there is already one here in Manila, Basilica Menor de San Sebastian.
The Basilica of San Sebastian, The Gothic Church of Manila
The story of Basilica Menor de San Sebastian, otherwise known as Basilica of San Sebastia, started in 1621. A wealthy patron and devotee of Saint Sabastian named Bernardino Castillo donated the plot of land to the church.
On this land, the priest built the basilica of San Sebastian.
During the original construction of the church, they used wood. Using this material made the church flammable and fragile. In 1651 the church caught on fire and turned into ruins. After the fire, they rebuilt the church using bricks, a more durable material. Sadly, they need to rebuild the church again and again. Because during 1859, 1863, and 1880 fires and earthquakes occurred that continued to demolish the church. Again, like clockwork, they tried to rebuild the church again. But this time it will be resistant to earthquakes and fire.
The Parish priest of the church during that time of rebuilding in the 1880s was Esteban Martínez.
To rebuild the church, Martínez approached Spanish architect Genaro Palacios to plan for the new church. Palacios planned to rebuild the church completely out of steel. While the design will be a mixture of Earthquake Baroque and neo-gothic styles. Inspiration for the final design came from a church in Spain called Burgos Cathedral.
The Philippines does not have the infrastructure to construct the metal frames needed for the church. This led them to manufacture metal parts in Belgium. The manufacturer would move the metal parts onto a ship for transport to the Philippines.
The first deliveries of metal parts came on June 12, 1888. For two years, local artisans and Belgian craftsmen combined the manufactured pieces from Europe to complete the church. August 15, 1891, a year later after the start of it construction marked the inauguration and blessing of the Basilica.
At the present, the Basilica of San Sebastian is a unicorn among all other churches in Manila. Being the only all-steel basilica in the Philippines and has a magnificent gothic design that shows the Gothic revival in the Philippines. There are few to can match it uniqueness of the Basilica of San Sabastian.
Going Back to 12th Century Europe
Visiting this church will transport us back into 12th and 16th century Europe. Here, you can see the grandeur of gothic architecture. From the outside, you will see the church’s two massive openwork towers and steel vaulting.
Inside the church, be in awe of the amazing structure of the church. See the column that lifts the church’s dome 12 meters high and holds 1,527 tons of steel together. On the sides of the church spectacular stained glass images of saints and angels greet your eye.
The main altar of the church shows the essence of the Gothic revival design of the whole church. Above the altar stood the image of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. The image was a gift from the church by Carmelite sisters in Mexico City in 1617.
After learning about the majesty of the Basilica of San Sebastian you must be itching to visit it. Well, you can visit the church at Plaza del Carmen, at the eastern end of Recto Avenue, in Quiapo, Manila. You do not have to travel to France to immerse yourself in the story of the Hunchback of Notre Dame. You can just visit the Basilica of San Sebastian for your kick of gothic architecture.
Martin is your average manileño. He loves history and traveling around his beloved Metro Manila. His passion is to make the past come to life by exposing past stories not known by the general public. Tag along with him as he visits the past through the present.