I learned something incredibly interesting in doing the work of researching the history of this famous church.
What do the following structures in world cities have in common?
I was really quite surprised to discover that the steel structures of each of those landmarks were in fact designed by the same Civil Engineer. Any guesses? Well, I don’t want to keep you guessing all afternoon…so here it is…
The Culprit, er, er sorry the winner is:
The design genius was:
Alexandre Gustave Eiffel.
He was a French civil engineer and architect. A graduate of the École Centrale des Arts et Manufactures, he made his name with various bridges for the French railway network, most famously the Garabit viaduct. His other works included the Eiffle Tower, The Statue of Liberty and San Sebastian Church in Manila.
Born: December 15, 1832, Dijon, France Died: December 27, 1923, Paris, France
This is the Garabit Viaduct in France which was one of Eiffle’s projects.
Just for information sake, this is the brief story of the Garabit Viaduct.
The Garabit Viaduct (Viaduc de Garabit in French) is a railway arch bridge spanning the River Truyère near Ruynes-en-Margeride, Cantal, France in the mountainous Massif Central Region.
The bridge was constructed between 1882 and 1884 by Gustave Eiffel, with structural engineering by Maurice Koechlin and was opened in 1885. It is 565 m (1,854 ft) in length and has a principal arch of 165 m (541 ft) span.
By the end of the 1870s Eiffel & Cie, the company formed by Gustave Eiffel in partnership with Theophile Seyrig, had an established position among the leading French engineering companies. Between 1875 and 1877 the company had built the Maria Pai Bridger over the River Douro at Porto and when it was proposed to construct a railway between Marvejols and Neussargues in the Cantal department the work of constructing a viaduct to cross the River Truyère was given to Eiffel without the usual process of competitive tendering at the recommendation of the engineers of the state Highways Department since the technical problems involved were similar to those of the Maria Pia Bridge; indeed, it was Eiffel & Cie’s success with this project that had led to the proposal for a viaduct at Garabit.
The project was demanding, with a line 120 metres (400 ft) over the River Truyère.
Boyer believed this would be considerably less expensive than taking the railway line around or down through the valley. To resist the wind, Eiffel instantly discarded the principle of solid beam construction, thinking that “it would be very heavy and the beams would rattle in the wind”. Instead, he adopted the concept of trusses or “a series of open triangles” to assuage wind force that “would blow right through them”.
Truss work also provides stability when loads are applied through the theory of tension and compression that states force is exerted on the diagonal and vertical segments causing them to resist one another. Eiffel also improved upon his Douro design, adopting the same two-hinged crescent-arch form but employing an arch visually separated from the thin horizontal girder. The Garabit Viaduct’s arches were engineered to have support hinges, allowing the crescent shape to widen. This method both simplified calculations and improved resistance to wind loads.
When it opened with a single track in November 1885, the Garabit Viaduct was 565 m (1,854 ft) long and weighed 3587 tons. Even more impressive was the actual deflection which was measured at 8 millimetres, a figure precisely anticipated by Eiffel’s calculations.
The bridge when built was the highest in the world. The project cost was 3,100,000 francs.
Our story starts in 1651 in beautiful downtown Manila!
In that year, Don Bernardino Castillo, a generous patron and a devotee of the Chirstian Martyr Saint Sebastian, donated the land upon which the church now stands.
The original church, made of wood, burned in 1651 during a Limahong uprising. The succeeding structures, which were built of brick, were destroyed by fire or earthquakes in 1859, 1863, and 1880.
In the 1880s, Esteban Martínez, the parish priest of the ruined church, approached the Spanish Architect Genaro Palacios, with a plan to build a fire and earthquake proof Church made entirely of steel. Palacios agreed and completed a design that fused the Earthquake Baroque and Neo-Gothic styles of Architecture. His design was said to have been inspired by the famed Gothic Burgos Cathedral in Burgos, Spain.
Note the resemblance between the two churches.
The prefabricated steel sections of the church were manufactured in Binche, Belgium by La société anonyme des Enterprises de Travaux Publiques. In all, 52 tonnes of the steel sections were transported in eight separate shipments from Belgium to the Philippines, the first shipment arriving in 1888.
Belgian engineers supervised the assembly of the church, the first column of which was erected on September 11, 1890. The walls were filled with mixed sand, gravel and cement.
The stained glass windows were imported from the Henri Oidtmann Company, a German stained glass firm, while local artisans handled the finishing touches on the church.
The church was raised to the status of a Minor Basilica by Pope Leo XII,June 24th, 1890. Upon final completion on August 16, 1891, the Basilica Minore de San Sebastian was consecrated by the then Archbishop of Manila, Bernardo Nozaleda.
Now you might want to ask: ‘Ok that’s all well and good, but you said Gustave Eiffel designed the Church. How does he actually fit in to your story?”
It has been said that Eiffel, the engineer behind the Eiffel Tower and the steel structure within the Statue of Liberty was involved in the design and construction of San Sebastian Church.
The connection between Eiffel and San Sebastian Church was reportedly confirmed by Philippine historian Ambeth Ocampo while doing research in Paris. Ocampo published a report stating that the prominent architect I.M. Pei had visited Manila in the 1970s to confirm reports he had heard that Eiffel had designed an all-steel church in Asia.
When Pei inspected San Sebastián Church, he reportedly pronounced that the metal fixtures and overall structure were indeed designed by Eiffel. The official catalogues of Eiffel make definite reference to the design and exportation of a church in Manila in 1875, thirteen years before construction of San Sebastian Church actually began. If true, this would still not preclude the possibility that Eiffel had designed the metal structure of the church, with Palacios completing the actual design work.
The Church has two open work towers and steel vaulting. From its floor the basilica’s nave rises 12 meters (39 ft) to the dome, and 32 meters (105 ft) to the tip of the spires.
The interior of the church incorporates groined vaults in the Gothic style permitting very ample illumination from lateral windows.
The steel columns, walls & ceilings were painted by Lorenzo Rocha and his students to give the appearance of marbel and jasper.
Trompe l’oeil paintings were used to decorate the interiors of the church.
True to the Gothic revival spirit of the church are its confessionals, pulpit, altars & retablos designed by Lorenzo Guerrero and Rocha. The sculptor Eusebio Garcia carved the statues of holy men and women. Six holy water fonts were constructed for the church, each crafted from marble obtained from Romblon.
The stained glass windows were imported from the Henri Oidtmann Company, a German stained glass firm.
Above the main altar is an image of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, given to the church by Carmelite Sisters from Mexico City in 1617. The statue has withstood all the earthquakes and fires which have destroyed previous incarnations of San Sebastian Church, but its ivory head was stolen in 1975.
In recent years, San Sebastian Church has encountered problems with its structural integrity. The steel structure has been rusting and corrosion has set in, to which the sea breezes from nearby Manila Bay contribute.
In 1998, it was placed on the biennial watchlist of the 100 Most Endangered Sites by the World Monuments Funds, though it was not retained in the subsequent watchlists.
San Sebastian was a declared National Historical Landmark by President Ferdinand Marcos through Presidential Decree No. 260 in 1973. State funding was accorded to the church through the National Historical Institute which undertook restoration in 1982.
The Recollect community has likewise expended funds for the church’s maintenance and restoration.
On May 16, 2006, San Sebastian Church was included in the Tentative List for possible designation as a World Heritage Site, on account of its architectural and historical heritage.
Keeping in mind the potential problems facing the Church here is an article I found written by: Cris Larano for The Wall Street Journal and published on: January 18th, 2013.
Rescuing Manila’s Steel Church
By Cris Larano
It has survived World War II, at least 11 major earthquakes and numerous typhoons that have ravaged Manila over the past 120 years. And the Basilica of San Sebastian–the only all-metal church in Asia–would seem to the casual visitor to be strong enough to withstand even more calamities through this century.
But something is threatening the only neo-Gothic church in the Philippines. It isn’t readily visible on its lightgreen façade or twin bell towers, nor in its interiors, which are faux finished to look like marble and stone.
Over the years, rain water has seeped into the hollow columns, corroding them from within. Close inspection will reveal the problem eating away at the steel doors, columns and walls, all pre-fabricated in Belgium in the late 1880s and shipped to the Manila in nine steamships.
The conservation board is pulling together a game plan to save the church, which holds masses daily and was designated as a national historical landmark in 1973.
Much of the restoration and conservation strategy will depend on the results of a comprehensive diagnostic survey of the church funded by a $92,000-grant from the U.S. ambassador to Manila. It’s expected to be completed by the middle of 2013.
The Augustinian Recollects, a Roman Catholic religious order of friars and nuns founded in Spain during the 16th century, have funds for the restoration that will follow, but early indications suggest their funds won’t be enough.
Ms. Paterno says she can’t estimate how much the restoration will cost, likening the question to a doctor being asked how much treatment will cost before tests have been completed on a patient. In addition to repairing the walls and the columns, workers must restore the murals that adorn the church’s interior.
Augustinian Recollect priest Rene Paglinawan, secretary to the conservation board, said workers in earlier repair efforts used cement and cloth to plug leaks in the columns, exacerbating the corrosion problem. He said the conservation group, formed in 2008, wants to ensure the work is done right, regardless of time and cost.
“You have 3 million pounds of steel riveted and screwed together. Each seam is a potential source of water leak that causes corrosion,” said Tina Paterno, the conservator and executive director of the San Sebastian Basilica Conservation and Development Foundation Inc. who spent a decade as an architectural conservator in New York.
Completed in 1891, the church was designed by Spanish architect Genaro Palacios, then the director of public works in Manila. Several churches built before the basilica were destroyed by the frequent earthquakes that visit the Philippines, which sits in the Pacific Ring of Fire.
“This church was built to withstand strong earthquakes…and the structural engineers give us the good news that it is probably stronger that it needed to be because there were no industrial standards then, so they covered their bases,” said Ms. Paterno. “It’s also very high quality steel.”
Volunteers work on the church during weekdays, in between masses held in the morning and around dusk.
Their ingenuity is evident in the solutions they have devised to undertake the diagnostic survey. On a recent Monday, for example, Alix dela Fuente and Joaquin Benares, both students on breaks from their studies abroad, tinkered with a drone that will fly up to the church’s dome to shoot video needed to assess the damage on the structure. The dome is sealed and is over 30 feet above the church floor.
Corrosion scientist Robert Baboian, a consultant for the restoration of the Statue of Liberty, is also among the many people extending a helping hand pro bono.
Florence Fajatin, 64, a long time parishioner and volunteer at the church, looks forward to the restoration getting under way.
“If you look closely, you’ll see rust is eating away the steel. And when it rains, you’ll see water dripping down from the ceiling,” Ms. Fajatin lamented.
Novelita Costa, 28, dreams of saying her wedding vows at the church, underscoring its special appeal to Catholic Filipinos.
“Many couples, celebrities included, marry here because this Basilica is made of steel. They believe their marriage, like this church, will be as strong as steel. That it will last forever,” said Ms. Costa.
Copyright 2014 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved
This is one of the top 5 churches we have visited since we started doing this; if not the leader of all 40 Church we have seen in the past two years. As a result, I am taking the liberty to add more photos of the church in random order so that those of you who call this your Parish Church will have something, we hope, truly memorable…especially if you are overseas and not presently living at home in Philippines.