close up of rust taking over Basilica Minore de San Sebastian
Plaza del Carmen, Quiapo, Manila

San Sebastian is probably one of Manila’s Best kept secrets. Its magnificent gothic towers surely dominate its neighborhood but in this dense district of Manila the colleges and the universities, the bargain shops, the black and public markets and more importantly, the other basilica (Black Nazarene or simply Quiapo Church) and its historic Plaza Miranda grab all the attention. How come?

San Sebastian is also the National Shrine of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, the prime example of Gothic revival in the Philippines, Asia’s only all-steel church or basilica (according to UNESCO), the first prefabricated building in the world (and most likely the only prefabricated steel church), and a designated National Historic Landmark (1973). It is designed by Spanish architect Genaro Palacios with the famous Catedral de Burgos in mind, with possibilities of Gustave Eiffel taking part in the designing and construction process (no less than IM Pei and local historian Ambeth Ocampo researching about this issue). It is also currently in the tentative list for possible designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

San Sebastian is definitely a treasure and is also a witness to the city’s history and its district’s progression. But rust is taking over its Belgian steel, paint is peeling off its Spanish designed exterior. The Filipino skill that enriches its richly gothic interiors, paintings and statues, the German-made stained glass and the prized Mexican image of Our Lady of Mount Carmel may never witness appreciation again if the exterior continues to ward people off, or worse- if it becomes too dangerous to contain anything.

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