In the June 2010 issue of Bluprint Magazine, my images of San Sebastian Minor Basilica made it to the cover as well as main feature entitled: Prefab Gothic Revival: Saving the All-Steel San Sebastian Basilica in Manila. The article is written by Tina Paterno, a New York based conservator, who is in the country spearheading, as project head, the restoration of this stunning and historic edifice.
The author details the history of San Sebastian, which took a decade to design and execute from 1881 – 1891 under the auspices of the Augustinian Recollects. This was made possible due to one man, Genaro Palacios where a plaque bearing his name is inscribed at the floor near the entrance.
However, Tina also focuses on the often unseen problems of this structure. Foremost is the alarming corrosion of the metal structure that is not noticed by visitors and parishioners. As one looks closely, rust has eaten some parts of the steel panels. Warping has afflicted some sections and already, 36 kilos of metal have fallen.
Not only that, water has leaked. The beautiful trompe l’oeil at the choirloft, transept dome, pendentives and at the walls near the altar is slowly damaged as the steel panels continue to deteriorate. For Tina, these are just from the outside. She is more concerned of the condition of the unseen steel trusses.
This article is thus timely and important in order to raise awareness and galvanize support not only within the parish of San Sebastian but also with heritage advocates and ordinary Filipinos. In the next few months, detailed study and assessment will be conducted to give a real picture of the extent of deterioration and recommend appropriate action.
The San Sebastian Minor Basilica in Manila is a national treasure, a Philippine National Historical Landmark since 1973 and is listed in the World Monuments Fund under the Watchlist 2010 of Cultural Heritage at Risk.
Bluprint is monthly magazine, a design sourcebook published by the Mega Publishing Group. This month’s issue is on Sacred Spaces and includes other religious architecture found in the country.