Heritage Sites

Eiffel Tower? Statue of Liberty? Manila Has Its Own Eiffel Landmark!

Metro Manila

Julius Calvin Santos
Julius Calvin Santos | Feb 16, 2015

Alexander Gustave Eiffel is known worldwide as the man behind the iconic structures such as the Statue of Liberty and Eiffel Tower. Little did we know that in the district of Quiapo, Manila an all-steel church stands proud as the only religious structure in the country that is believed to have received the Eiffel touch.

 San Sebastian Basilica glistens amidst the Urban Backdrop of Quiapo, Manila in this photo of Asolrac1 and Wikipedia.com.

The City of Paris has long been identified as the City of Romance and Love. This is the reason why the city has always topped the list of most visited cities thus, making France the no. 1 tourist destination in the world.

With Paris in mind, it’s quite obvious that one iconic structure will forever be identified with this city--- The Eiffel Tower. Named after Alexander Gustave Eiffel, the designer who conceptualized and built it in the 1880s.  

However, unknown to many, Gustave Eiffel had also been involved in designing other famous structures outside of France. He is responsible for the interior of the United State’s Statue of Liberty and a rumored all steel church in Asia.

This church is found right here in the heart of Manila and is called the Basilica of San Sebastian.

History

The Basilica of San Sebastian is the only church in Asia that is made entirely of steel and is also claimed to be the only prefabricated Church of its kind in the World. Imagine,a huge portion of the church made from 3 million pounds of steel were transported to the Philippines from Belgium in 9 different shipments.

Former structures of San Sebastian Church were made of wood, adobe and bricks. These earlier versions were either burned by a local revolt or destroyed by an earthquake.

After witnessing how the brick-made Church crumbled into pieces, Esteban Martinez, Parish Priest of the church, sought the expertise of Spanish Architect Genaro Palacios to build a structure that is both fire and earthquake-proof.

Palacios used his inspiration of the Burgos Cathedral in Spain to create a modern-Gothic Style Church, which would be later turn out to be only one of its kind in the Philippines.

Rising 105 feet from its foundation to the very tip of the double spires, the Basilica remains to be an iconic figure amidst the urban backdrop of Quiapo, Manila today. The façade features multiple smaller spires while the interior walls are joined by intricately connected vaults which is true to its character of being the only Neo-Gothic Church in the country.

As you enter inside, you will be greeted by the walls, pillars and ceiling that look as if they are made of stone, but instead, a faux finished interior was painted on to achieve this marble finish.  Stained glass windows, all imported from Germany provide the ideal indoor lighting that gives the feeling of coziness and warmth inside.

The Church altar  holds the only remaining component of the original pre-steel Church. In 1617, the image of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel was given as a gift from Mexico City to the locals,  274 years before the All-Steel Basilica was completed.  The miraculous image has withstood fires and earthquakes that have damaged the previous churches.

It is nestled at the center of the wooden altar, the only portion of the present church that is not made of steel after the ship carrying the pre-fabricated steel altar sank while on its way to Manila from Belgium.

Alexander Gustave Eiffel’s Participation

When the Basilica of San Sebastian was completed, it was cited by The Order of Augustinian Recollect (OAR) Parishes Manual as the second iron edifice in the world after the Eiffel Tower. But the relationship between the two structures does not end there.

According to the research conducted by the renowned Filipino Historian Ambeth Ocampo, back in the 1970s a Chinese American in the name of I.M. Pei went to the Philippines to inspect San Sebastian Church. Later during his trip, he verified that indeed, the renowned Architect Alexander Gustave Eiffel was behind the Basilica’s Metal fixtures and overall structure. 

Eiffel's Official Catalogue also points to Manila as the destination of the shipment of prefabricated metal portions that would make up an all-iron Church in 1875, merely 13 years before the Basilica's construction.

If these claims are proven to true, this would still not replace the fact that the entirety of San Sebastian Basilica was designed by the Spanish Architect Genaro Palacios and Gustave Eiffel being involved only in the design of its metal structure. 

Restoration Efforts

True to its claim of being a fire and earthquake resistant church, the Basilica of San Sebastian has endured countless typhoons, earthquakes and even the World War II. However, because of its proximity to Manila Bay, the church’s biggest threat creeps secretly inside the steel walls and columns far from the observant eye of any tourist or devotee.  

Rust has corroded the hollow columns from within. Even the walls, steel doors and the façade have shown signs of deterioration due to rusting. While some funds are already available to finance the restoration of San Sebastian, it is not enough. The cost  is estimated to be about the price tag of 6 brand new all-steel churches today as stated by the Former Parish Priest Fr. Rommel Rubia. 

Volunteers and restoration experts have extended their help in the restoration of the church, one of whom is the Corrosion Scientist and Restoration Consultant of the Statue of Liberty, Robert Baboain.  Anyone who would like to experience the grandeur of the church or extend help for its restoration can visit the Basilica. It is located at Plaza del Carmen, Quiapo, Manila.

If you cannot fly to Paris or New York to experience the grandiosity of Eiffel's signature structures, then just hop on to a jeepney to visit this enduring landmark in the Heart of Manila.

For more exciting discoveries and adventures around the Philippines, follow us at our Island Hopping Adventure Philippines (iHAP) page on Facebook as "iHAP" from one island to the other. LIKE US! 

Should you wish to verify information, please refer to the following sources:

http://www.artesdelasfilipinas.com/archives.php?page_id=24

http://www.justjeric.com/2014/04/17/saving-asias-lone-all-steel-church/

http://blogs.wsj.com/indonesiarealtime/2013/01/18/rescuing-manilas-steel-church/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/San_Sebastian_Church_(Manila)

Add to your: Wishlist Done That

Be a Pinoy Wanderer!

Choose Philippines encourages writers, photographers, travelers, bloggers, videographers and everyone with a heart for the Philippines to share their discoveries and travel stories.

Share Your Journey

Other Stories by Julius Calvin Santos

Tell Us What You Think


Related Stories