It is remarkable to realize that San Sebastian Basilica has managed to withstand a lot for more than 125 years and counting. It managed to survive earthquakes, typhoons, and war, not to mention the changing urban landscape that has been detrimental to the city’s development after the war. Its significance as a landmark, a heritage structure and an architectural marvel has not diminished and has become an important of Manila’s landscape for more than a century. That’s not to say the San Sebastian Basilica has been without its own challenges. On the contrary, the fact that it is structure made entirely of metal makes it more prone to elements and the costs of maintaining such as huge structure is a challenge in itself.
With the importance of preserving such a landmark an utmost priority, the San Sebastian Basilica Conservation and Development Foundation was established in 2011. Composed of key Augustinian Recollect priests and conservation professionals, among others, the foundation has been the driving force behind the current campaign for the conservation of San Sebastian Basilica that is expected to be completed by 2022.
As a fundraiser to help finance the ongoing conservation efforts and draw greater awareness about the structure, the foundation recently opened San Sebastian Basilica for tours, taking visitors not only inside the church sanctuary, but also up in the choir loft to the belfry, which at the time was the highest point in Manila. It is an opportunity for visitors to see San Sebastian beyond its sacred functions, providing a close look at the technology and engineering behind it that one would not normally see in a place of worship.
It was also an opportunity to learn more not only about San Sebastian but also the challenges it currently faces and the work being done to address them. One of them is the problem of corrosion which is expected of a structure made entirely of metal. But the corrosion that has been a cause of concern is not actually the one that is visible to the eye; in fact such issues are more easily addressed. The real problem is internal corrosion, one that is not visible to the naked eye. Apparently, there was this design flaw in the structure in which water and moisture actually managed to get inside the church through holes that were present in spires. And this would have been undiscovered had not for the study that was done on the entire structure, using small cameras to inspect the internal sections of the church.
There is also the challenge of preserving the paintings in the church, all painted on the church’s metal surface. With the details now greatly faded, there is a pressing need to restore the paintings. However, considering the delicate condition of the metal used in the church, the struggle to balance conserving the metal structure and make it more corrosion-resistant and that of the painting has been a constant struggle that conservationists are trying to accomplish.
Considering that very few churches provide such tours that let you go deep inside the church structure, the San Sebastian Basilica tour is one tour everyone should check out. You not get to appreciate more a historic, cultural, and architectural gem, but you also help in the protection of this landmark for years to come.
For more information about the San Sebastian Basilica conservation efforts, visit the San Sebastian Basilica Conservation and Development Foundation website. You can also visit their Facebook page for information on the tours and how you can join.
Acknowledgements to the San Sebastian Basilica Conservation and Development Foundation