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Published: February 9th 2011
All Steel San Sebastian Church
A story goes that Gustav Eiffel actually designed this Church, with steel manufactured in a foundry in Belgium and shipped all the way to Manila.
Skipping Manila? I know .... the sun and sand beckons in the beaches of Boracay
. There's serious diving in Palawan
. You long to breathe the mountain air in Baguio
, or simply go completely rustic in the northermost part of the country in Batanes.
Or maybe you want to try your surfboards in Siargao
or even check out the tarsiers and chocolate hills
in Bohol. For many, it's the heritage sites in Vigan
in the Ilocos region, where one is transported in time to a colonial era. The air is cleaner, less crowded, people likely less busy and thus friendlier, and board and lodging even cheaper in the islands south of Manila and the provinces north of Manila.
I can't blame you. Manila is so congested, dirty in many parts of the city, and traffic is so bad. I live in the better part of the city not too far from the shopping malls and fancy restaurants lining the streets of Makati. I hardly venture out of Makati. In fact, it has been ages since I last got to the center of Manila where one finds Luneta Park, Intramuros
with its city
Typical Filipino Snacks
Puto ----rice cakes. Try it!
walls and Fort Santiago.
Whenever I have foreign visitors who have a day or a whole afternoon to spend in Manila, I would invariably bring them to Intramuros and Fort Santiago, and simply point out Luneta Park as we pass this park along the way. These 3 are the likely top tourist attractions in the city, but I'd say only because not too many write or talk about the other interesting historic sites in the metropolis.
No, it is not a secret. We have heard of some of these places, even watched documentaries on television about them. But perhaps not often enough. Many history books hardly talk about them too. And as soon as we hear the heritage sites are in Quiapo, many of us would either lose interest or feel not too brave to walk the streets there. Sad but true. And I am ashamed to admit it. QUIAPO
is best known for the Quiapo Church, the official "residence" of the Black Nazarene. Around the Church, one finds many hawkers selling religious articles side by side vendors selling "anting-anting"
(charms, herbs, amulets, voodoo items) . Crossing the plaza towards the Church, one would likely meet
La Gota de Leche
Literally means "drop of milk". Built in 1917, restored in 2002-2003. Operated and sustained as a non-government charity organization involved in giving out free milk and pediatric services to indigent children.
"traders" who would not too subtly whisper the dollar-peso exchange rate for those interested to change their precious dollars to Philippine pesos. Mixing with the crowd are likely predators on the lookout for "innocent victims". You find them too in the streets of Madrid, Paris, Prague and Rome. The bag snatchers and thieves. Sadly, these characters kept many like me from visiting this place more often.
La Gota de Leche
Literally means "drop of milk".
This place was inaugurated in 1907 by then Governor-General, later US President William Howard Taft. Designed by Arcadio and Juan Arellano, fathers of Philippine architecture, inspired by the Hospital of the Innocents, an orphanage in Florence designed by Brunelleschi, a renowned Italian Renaissance architect. As if to indicate what this structure stands for, there are decorative reliefs on pediments with images of infants.
Established as a clinic to address malnutrition concerns among the indigents, it was run by the La Proteccion de la Infancia, Inc.
This outreach organization was founded by philanthropist Teodoro R. Yangco in 1907. Records show the construction was completed in 1917 so that makes this building nearly a hundred years old. You can say
"Bahay" means house. This house is right in the middle of Quiapo, wedged in by old, dilapidated buildings on one side and a slum area on the other, a line of fruit stalls and DVD-selling stalls in yet another side.
this organization was the country's very first NGO or non-government organization. A charity project dedicated to infants and young children, its operations involved the distribution of milk to indigent children. It further evolved to champion women's rights as it also houses the "Kababaihan Laban sa Karahasan Foundation" (literally "Women Against Violence"). The charity organization exists to this day, and must take credits for the restoration of this building in 2002-2003, for which it was awarded the 2003 Heritage Award of the UNESCO Asia Pacific Heritage Award for Culture Heritage Conservation.
Located in 859 Sergio Loyola Street (parallel to Morayta Street), La Gota de Leche is very near the University of the East. It almost sticks out like a sore thumb in the University Belt, in Sampaloc to be precise, in an area hemmed in by sidewalk vendors, dilapidated buildings and smelly trash bins. But La Gota stands proud like an old contessa, with its cross-vaulted arcaded loggias, front garden and a non-functional water fountain.
Bahay Nakpil Bahay
means house. This is the house of the Nakpils and Bautistas, built in 1914. Truth is the house should be called Bahay Nakpil-Bautista
. Besides being a century-old
house , its distinction lies in its being home to some of our heroes of the 1896 revolution. Located in A. Bautista Street, just off Ramon Hidalgo Street, the 2 Philippine flags and a marker in front of the house are the only tell-tale signs that it is a house of distinction. Right beside it is another house, even older, which seems ready to collapse anytime. Both are of the "bahay na bato"
architecture which literally means "house made of stone", though structure is really that of an upper storey made of wood built over a stone foundation. Typical of the bahay na bato, architect Arcadio Arellano incorporated Viennese Secession motifs into the making of the house. Oddly, the style was adopted after the family received a gift of Secessionist furniture such that the design of the house worked around the furniture motifs.
The house is owned and built by Dr. Ariston Bautista, a noted propagandist during the Philippine Revolution . His wife was Petrona Nakpil, whose brother, Julio Nakpil, composed the secret society Katipunan's
patriotic hymns. Katipunan was founded by Andres Bonifacio, who is married to Gregoria de Jesus. Inside, there is a marker citing that
this has also been home to Gregoria de Jesus,
widow of working class hero Andres Bonifacio,
who then married Juan Nakpil.
Bahay Nakpil-Bautista was also the place where the family operated its Plateria Nakpil
which crafted many jewelry pieces highly prized by Manila's elite at the time. As distinguised Quiapo families, the house witnessed many social gatherings and concerts aside from being home to national heroes and artists.
We climbed the same stairs these heroes, artists and illustrious Filipinos climbed at the turn of the 19th century. There is an "entresuelo"
or mezzanine where the room of Julio and Gregoria is located. On the 2nd floor, we were drawn immediately to the living room's ventanillas
and capiz framed window slides. The ventanillas are openings beneath the huge windows to let air in where one can lay out a mat for afternoon naps. As one peers out of these windows now, the urban decay around the place makes one's heart sink. In this same living room, one also finds a reproduction of the Parisian Life
. This is the controversial painting of Juan Luna
, where the original used to hang on the same wall of this house for decades.
A government financial institution obtained the original for US$870,000++ in a Christie's auction in Hongkong some years back, and now proudly displays the original in the GSIS Museum. Also found in the living room is a set of chairs where national hero Jose Rizal
(you see his statue right in the center of Luneta Park, guarded all day) sat during his meeting with members of the La Liga Filipina
in Tondo, Manila, as well as several artwork interpretations done by various artists of the Katipunan.
Today, the area around the house has transformed into a pitiful place, wedged on all sides by vendors selling anything from fruits to pirated DVDs, with a faint aroma from a stinking canal, electrical wires hanging from everywhere and potholes marking the streets and alleys. Just the same, the place instills some national pride as well as gratitude to the family who endeavored to preserve the place. Truly a heritage treasure.
Bahay Nakpil is open Tuesday through Sunday from 9 am to 5 pm. The exact address is 432 A. Bautista Street, Quiapo, Manila, Philippines 1001.Phone: +63 (2) 704-8955 . Here is a map
of this heritage treasure.
Walking Along R. Hidalgo Street
The old photo makes your heart sink even deeper. San Sebastian Church looms in the background, as one strolls along a street passing more old houses, many in decay. We went up one "bahay na bato" which has been leased out, and subleased out, to many families occupying small rented spaces. The Rent Control Law in the country bars property owners to increase rental rates at a certain range, and this allowed these families to keep leasing these spaces at ridiculously low rates. Gentrification truly makes a huge issue here! But such is life. It takes political will to want to restore this once elegant street and district and give new meaning to urban renewal. Preserving our heritage does not necessarily mean being anti-poor. My fingers and toes are crossed that somehow, someday, we can all agree that national pride resides in these heritage treasures.
Towards San Sebastian Church
As we walked towards the Church of San Sebastian, we felt so downhearted that this church had to be painted this flimsy green hue. It is made of a steel frame and panels and is known for
being the only neo-gothic steel church in the Philippines and in Asia. The minty green shade certainly does not give it justice. Why steel?
The Church was destroyed 3 times by earthquake before the Order of Augustinian Recollects decided to have an all-steel structure in its place. That, despite the humidity and tropical climate in Manila. The steel parts were manufactured in a Belgian foundry, then shipped to Manila in 6 ships beginning June 12, 1888. This is the same Belgian foundry which produced the Orient Express. Architect Palacios
oversaw the construction of this landmark structure. For two years, the church was assembled with local artists and craftsmen joining the Belgian firm in applying the final finishing touches. The stained glass windows were imported from a German stained glass factory. In 1891,
the all-steel church of San Sebastian was inaugurated and blessed, and remains to this day as the only known all-steel basilica in this part of the world. There are also confessionals, pulpit, altars, statues of saints in the Gothic style blended with innovations of 19th century. We took 3 spiral stairways to reach the belfry. From there, we were afforded a view of the metropolis in
Old Photo of San Sebastian Church
That's the same Ramon Hidalgo Street. We walked from Bahay Nakpil to San Sebastian Church along this same street.
all its chaos and lack of urban planning. Sigh 😞
San Sebastian Church has been accorded the status of National Historical Landmark in 1973
as well as one of the Most Endangered Sites in the World
by the World Monuments Watch in 1998. In 2006, San Sebastian Church was included in the Tentative List for possible designation as a World Heritage Site. The only all-steel building in the country, and only one of a few all-steel churches in the world. The National Historical Institute undertook restoration of the church since 1982, but sadly, the structure has experienced rust and corrosion on a massive scale. About 36 kilos of steel parts have already fallen from corrosion. Volunteers like Historical Conservationist Tina Paterno (Project director of the San Sebastian Conservation Development Foundation) are heaven-sent. But she certainly needs a lot of help. An international team of structural engineers, conservators, corrosion scientists, metallurgists, architects, historians, have banded together to study the problems and find solutions to prolong the building's lifespan. As Tina gave us a lecture on the "diagnosis" and poor state of this minor basilica, our eyes wandered around the center aisle, the lovely stained glass windows, the image of
Our Lady of Mount Carmel in the altar, the holy water fonts made of marble from Romblon
, the frescoes, the lectern near the altar, the steel columns and walls, and sighed. 😞
It has long been reputed that Gustav Eiffel of Eiffel Tower fame
actually had a hand in the design of San Sebastian Church. The connection was reportedly confirmed in a report done by historian Ambeth Ocampo in the 1970s, citing that even the famed architect I. M. Pei
visited Manila to inspect San Sebastian Church and reportedly pronounced that the metal fixtures and overall structure were indeed designed by Eiffel. (I.M. Pei is the American Chinese architect responsible for that glass pyramid you see in the Louvre Museum) Is this true? Was the Basilica designed by no less than Gustav Eiffel? To this day, the question remains unanswered. But it certainly adds charm if not mystery to this heritage treasure.
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