For the first time ever, we had reason to make a long-time wish come true: a close-up view of San Sebastian Church, which we saw from Legarda and Mendiola as a towering landmark during the protest rallies to Malacanang prior to Proclamation 1081 in September 1972. Today, it looms as our beacon for disembarking at the Legarda station each time we take the MRT-3 for a faster trip to UST.
In May this year, the eldest son of a very good friend and his sweetheart chose to get married there. Camera bug that we are, we took just a few shots of the wedding ceremony while we focused on details of this architectural marvel, and its awesome interior with its antique yet beautiful altar, pulpit, rose windows and other artistic decorations.
We would like to say that the Recoletos tie us up with this church historically because our hometown's Roman Catholic parish is called San Sebastian, who is himself our patron saint although our town fiesta has nothing to do at all with him. When San Narciso, Zambales became full-fledged town in 1849, the new iglesia was Recollect and the first parish priest was Friar Alberto Serrano de Santa Ana, religioso de la orden de Agustinos Recoletos. The SVD's would take over the parish in the early part of the 20th century and later the Columban order.
Our tertiary education was public in the Diliman Republic, but a very good townmate friend, now a senior Canadian citizen went to school at the San Sebastian College-Recoletos, which is adjunct to the church. We had another friend who brought us around to sing-along joints for the beer and the karaoke, and in one of those sorties, we got to meet another Baste (yes, that's what they ID themselves), years before he joined showbiz and rose to become the wowowee tycoon Willie Revillame, who was a drummer of a boy band then. A nephew graduated as a Baste when his uncle on his mother's side was rector of discipline there in the 1980s.
Thus, from our first brief visita of San Sebastian Church--almost two hours covering the wedding rites and the ritual photo sessions after--we brought home a camera-ful of beautiful memories, the collage of pictures above being just part of the trove. Given these, we needed to look back to see how it was back then when it was built and new.
There is more to the capsule history in the landmark, which was attached there in 1934. In his work about the Recollects in the Philippines, Manuel del Val (1929) wrote:
"Besides their convent and church in Intramuros, the Recollects also built the San Sebastian church, a large, all-steel church, and one of the most remarkable edifices in the world. As early as 1621, a modest convent and church were erected on this site, the district then being but poorly populated, but they placed there a venerable image, brought from Mexico, the "Madre del Carmelo", the fame of which soon spread over all Manila due to the miraculous cure of the Dean of the Cathedral, Juan Velez, later Bishop of Cebu, who had been given up by all the doctors. Earthquakes destroyed this building, and a later one stood until 1859. The third church erected on this site, opened in 1868 with elaborate ceremonies, and in which, thereafter, services were held with unusual magnificence, was completely destroyed in the memorable earthquake of July, 1880. The Recollect fathers did not lose courage under these repeated calamities, but determined to build, even at the greatest sacrifice, the temple which today proudly dominates the city. They thought to build this church of iron, and recommended the matter to Senor Don Genaro Palacios for study. He presented a plan which greatly pleased them, and the execution of the work was turned over to the Societe Anonigme d' Entreprises de Travaux Publiques, of Brussels, Belgium. Sections of the church in the form of hundreds of thousands of tons of steel were shipped to Manila, and the company sent Messrs. Pedro Brokel and Desiderio Carpentier to assemble them. These men deserve the greatest praise for their labors, but the people of Manila could also see the Recollect Brother Remigio, on Plaza del Carmen wearing a big straw hat in sunshine and in rain, aiding in the direction of the work. He had given proof of great architectural skill in former works, and should be given credit as well as the two other directors of the construction. The pulpit and the confessionals were designed by the artist Don Lorenzo Guerrero, and their construction and also that of the images was the work of Don Eulogio Garcia. The painting of the temple was done by the distinguished Professor Lorenzo Rocha, assisted by his pupils. This is the wonderful church of San Sebastian, dedicated to Nuestra Senora del Carmen. Its very high towers can be seen from a long distance, and serve navigators as a landmark."
The contract for painting of the new church was "let out to natives by the day. They erected some 25 feet of bamboo scaffolding and painted to the top of it, then erected 25 feet more scaffolding and painted to the top of that, and so on until the church was completed. ...Painters receive from 60 cents to $1.25 Mexican (Atkinson, 1902)."
Around 1855, an American observed that people were constantly going in and out of the large steel church, and "floor up to the altar was filled with kneeling devotees," mostly ladies with their "beautiful soft pina veils of white, contrasting with their rich black hair and brunette faces (Ball, 1855). These ladies probably walked or rode the horse-drawn carriage to the church through uncluttered streets.
Those ladies are gone forever but San Sebastian Church with all its antiquities inside its all-steel shell still reign above the din of the cellphoning crowd and of tricycles and other tranport vehicles. Thank God, no American Columban priest ever descended here, and just like what he did to the retablo altar of the San Narciso, Zambales Church, obliterated in one bold stroke the beautiful antique altar of this mighty San Sebastian Church.
Atkinson, Fred W. (1902). Education in the Philippine Islands [Chapter XXIX, Report of the Commissioner of Education for 1900-1901]. Washington: Government Printing Office. Retrieved from http://name.umdl.umich.edu/ahk8492.0001.001
Ball, Benjamin Lincoln. (1855). Rambles in Eastern Asia, including China and Manilla, with notes of the voyage to China, excursions in Manilla, Hong-Kong, Canton, Shanghai, Ningpoo, Amoy, Fouchow, and Macao, Second edition. Boston: James French and Company. Retrieved from http://name.umdl.umich.edu/aac6132.0001.001
Lyons, Norbert. (1924, February). Manila, the City of Churches II - Outside the Walled City. The American Chamber of Commerce Journal. 4(2):8-11. Retrieved from http://name.umdl.umich.edu/aaj0523.1923.001.
Val, Manuel del. (1929, September). The Works of the Recollect Fathers in the Philippines. The Philippine Magazine. 26(4):217, 228, 230, 232. Retrieved from http://name.umdl.umich.edu/acd5869.0026.001
Historical Photo Credits:
Brown, Arthur Judson. (1904). The New Era in the Philippines. Nashville, Tenn. And Dallas, Texas: South Methodist Episcopal Church. Retrieved from http://name.umdl.umich.edu/ahz9194.0001.001
Church, A. M.[ed.]. (c1898). Picturesque Cuba, Porto Rico, Hawaii, and the Philippines; a photographic panorama of our new possessions. Springfield,Ohio: Mast, Crowell & Kirkpatrick. Retrieved from http://name.umdl.umich.edu/AGF6711.0001.001
Holmes, Burton. (c1918). Manila. Chicago?:s.n. Retrieved from http://name.umdl.umich.edu/aea0032.0001.00
Philippine Commission of Independence. (1923). Beautiful Philippines/A Handbook of General Information). Manila: Bureau of Printing. Retrieved from http://name.umdl.umich.edu/afj2148.0001.001