The Steel Church of Asia the San Sebastian Church

The San Sebastian Church in Manila, Philippines was the first all-iron church in the world; the first all-iron structure in Asia, and second in the world after the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France. The metal structure of the church, with Palacios was designe

The San Sebastian Church in Manila, Philippines was the first all-iron church in the world; the first all-iron structure in Asia, and second in the world after the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France. The metal structure of the church, with Palacios was designed by Gustave Eiffel, the French Engineer behind the Eiffel Tower and the steel structure within the statue of liberty. It was the only neo-Gothic steel church in the Philippines and in Asia, and one of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites.

Image by Wikimedia commons

In 1621, a generous patron and devotee of the Christian martyr St. Sebastian, was Don Bernardino Castillo. He donated the land which is the current site of San Sebastian Church for the construction of a church. The original church that was built was made of wood but was burned during a Chinese uprising in 1651. The next structures were made of bricks, but were destroyed by fire and earthquakes.

Image via Google Images

In 1880s, the parish priest of the ruined church, Esteban Martinez, approached Genaro Palacios, a Spanish architect, asking for a proposed plan of the church. Palacios (the one who made the actual design of the entire church) worked with Gustave Eiffel (the one who designed the metal fixtures and over-all structure of the church), and they came up with a plan and design of a fire and earthquake resistant church that was made entirely of steel.

Image via Google Images

The prefabricated steel sections that would compose San Sebastián Church were manufactured in Binche, Belgium. According to the historian Ambeth Ocampo, the knockdown steel parts were ordered from the Societe Anonyme des Enterprises de Travaux Publiques in Brussels. In all, 52 tons of prefabricated steel sections were transported in eight separate shipments from Belgium to the Philippines, the first shipment arriving in 1888. Belgian engineers supervised the assembly of the church, the first column of which was erected on September 11, 1890. The walls were filled with mixed sand, gravel and cement. The stained glass windows were imported from the Henri Oidtmann Company, a German stained glass firm, while local artisans assisted in applying the finishing touches of the steel church. (- Excerpt from Wikipedia)

Images via Google Images

On June 24, 1890, the Church was raised into the status of a minor basilica. The following year, it was inaugurated and blessed.

The San Sebastian church was a reflection of the late 19th century innovations in architecture, art and construction. The interior of the church displays groined vaults that were styled along neo-Gothic lines. The steel parts of columns, walls and ceiling were painted to resemble marble and jasper done by Filipino artist Lorenzo Rocha and his students. Trompe l’oeil paintings were used to decorate the interiors of the church. The Gothic confessionals, pulpit and altars was designed by Filipino artist Lorenzo Guerrero, and his fellow artist Eulogio Garcia carved the statues of holy men and women.

Image via Google Images

There is no other example of a prefabricated all-steel church in the Philippines and in Asia. The San Sebastian Church is the only known all-steel basilica in this part of the world. It was designated as a National Historical Landmark by the Philippine government in 1973 and in 2006, it was included in the Tentative List for possible designation as a World Heritage Site.

 

***Images used are from Google Images

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