iSee San Sebastian Basilica

Giant gothic church, one of the largest all-steel structures in the world

Made of steel

San Sebastian is an amazing piece of engineering. This giant basilica is the only steel pre-fab church in Asia and one of the largest in the whole world. You wouldn’t say it’s made of steel though, they pained the whole church to look like neo-gothic stone ‘the steel was like a giant piece of metal ‘canvas’. When in 1890 the Augustinian brothers started the fifth round of reconstruction of their 16th-century church - previous structures had been destroyed by earthquakes - they wanted a solid timeless structure. No efforts were spared. Over 1,500 tons of steel and cast iron, pre-fabricated in Belgium were brought by steamships to Manila. Like the Eiffel Tower, which was cast at the same Belgium factory, the basilica's metal parts are fastened without welding, only by rivets, screws and bolts. The brothers had good foresight; 125 years later, the church is still standing, having survived 11 major earthquakes and two world wars.

Lady of Carmel

San Sebastian is also home to a shrine of Our Lady of Mt Carmel, the legendary virgin with healing powers worshipped by millions of people around the world. It was the Augustinian Order that brought the icon to Manila in 1681 and made San Sebastian the prime place of Carmelite pilgrims for the whole country. A few years ago, Our Lady even got papal blessing. Come to San Sebastian on January 21 or July 16. when the church community - and the whole country - celebrates the feast of Our Lady. Thousands of people flock to the streets carrying around the image of Carmel in a grand procession to honour the ‘beautiful Flower of Carmel … Most Faithful vine … Splendor of Heaven ‘.

Hidden secrets

Enjoy a quiet moment in this unique, solemn, sacred space with its ornate paintings, tall ceilings and no less than 56 hand painted stained-glass windows. Or, try one of the guided tours. For just 200p, you’ll be shown the Church’s inner ‘sanctum’, the bell towers and other off-limits areas and even better, you’ll hear about stories and legends beyond the cut and dry notes of history. Tours are provided by the same folks that have been working so hard over the past 110 years to preserve, document and celebrate this unique Church, the non—profit San Sebastian Basilica Conservation and Development Foundation. The organisation is run by passionate volunteers, but the restoration is headed by a full-time local team aided by some top-notch experts from all over the world. Students only pay 50p., teachers, Quiapo residents, policemen, firemen are welcome free of charge.

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