This long weekend, try visiting Quiapo, Manila and see for yourself Asia’s only all-steel, pre-fabricated church, the Basilica Minore de San Sebastián. The neo-gothic shrine to Our Lady of Mt. Carmel is found in a swampy place formally known as Calumpang, on a lot donated by the pious couple Don Bernardino del Castillo and Doña María Enriquez.
Designed by Don Genaro Palacios, then Director of Public Works of the colonial government, the Basilica was the toast of Manila’s society when it was consecrated. Located at the end of R. Hidalgo, once Manila’s “millionaire’s row”, the all-steel church was a gem that featured the talents and skills of men of different cultural influences. The architect, Palacios, was a Spaniard. The steel sheets that compose the church were sourced from Belgium while the magnificent stained-glass windows were from Dr. Henri Oidtmann Company, a German firm.
The interiors were painted by a group led by Don Lorenzo Rocha, head of the Academia de Dibujo, Pintura y Grabado. Joining him were famous artists Isabelo Tampinco and Félix Martínez. They lavished the church with exquisite trompe l’oeil and made the interiors seem like these were made of jasper and marble.
The church is currently facing terrible disintegration. Visiting the church and making a modest donation can be of great help in making known the many problems threatening the structure. The San Sebastián Basilica Conservation and Development Inc. is headed by a gracious and passionate lady, Ms. Tina Paterno.
* I wrote a more concise and informative article on this fable church for Metro Society’s Arts and Culture May issue.