About Us

The Church in 1621

The convent and the church of San Sebastian rose up in 1621 in a place situated in the vicinity of Sampaloc and Quiapo districts. The barrio was then called Calumpang because of the abundance of trees of that name found in that area. It was flood prone, sparsely populated and in unhealthy condition. Yet, the intrepid Father Rodrigo de San Miguel, vice provincial of the Augustinian Recollects in the Philippines, found in it an ideal place for repose and spiritual retreat for the missionaries.

Most of all, the pastor in Father Rodrigo believed that the 300 residents of Calumpang needed spiritual attention.

Blueprints for a prefabricated Iron Church

As early as January 1883 the Augustinian Recollect community had decided to construct a new church that could withstand the forces of nature, one to be built of iron entirely. For this purpose, they consulted Architect Genaro Palacios, then the Director of Public Works in colonial Philippines and a pious devotee of the Marian cult. In June 1883 Palacios presented the blueprints for the new shrine.

After negotiation with several European companies, the contract was awarded on March 9, 1886 to a Belgian firm Societe Anonyme d’ Enterprises de Travaux Publiques of British Brussels by Father Toribo Minguella, the Order’s procurator in Madrid.

Meanwhile in Manila, the blueprints for the colossal projects were submitted to the governor general by San Sebastian prior Father Gregorio Sesma. In June 1886, the Inspector General of Public Works readily perfect concept, aesthetic quality and architectural beauty. “In the meantime, Palacios and a Recollect brother in the know, Gregorio Navas, Journeyed to the Belgian Firms foundry shop in Binche where they supervised the work. The first steamship William Burkit, Loaded with central naves of the new church, reached Manila in June 1888. A total of eight ships carrying 50,000 tons of iron steel and glass artwork were used in the four-year project (May 1887 – July 1891).

New Basilica for Manila

On August 15, 1891 the new church was blest by archbishop of Manila, Bernardo Nozaleda. Its doors were once again opened to the Filipino people. After the inauguration, the clergy and laity held a religious triduum as thanksgiving for the completion of the monumental project.

A year earlier, on June 24, 1890 Pope Leo XIII had granted basilica status of San Sebastian church attached to Saint Peter’s basilica in the Vatican. Two weeks thereafter, it was further attached to the basilica of St. John Lateran, the Pope’s cathedral as bishop of Rome, by virtue of which it shared the special privileges of the two eminent basilicas.

Citadel of faith for another Hundred Years

So the next time you pass by San Sebastian church and gaze at its proud and majestic spires in a lighter shade of green, feel proud of our world-class Filipino architectural heritage. Pay tribute to the selfless sacrifices and the inexhaustible patience of the Augustinian Recollect community that struggled to build one church after another to fulfill a commitment made 396 years ago to the Virgen del Carmen and to the Filipino people. Remember the generations of Christians of yore, their steadfast belief in God and filial confidence in his mother. And never forget to breathe a prayer that San Sebastian church shall remain for the next hundred years a firm citadel of faith and a radiant beacon of charity standing prominently out there in the heart of Manila.

1975 – The Birth of a Parish

The transformation of San Sebastian Basilica to a parish began sometime in June 1975 when the Archbishop of Manila. His Excellency Cardinal Jaime Cardinal Sin set the stage for the change by verbally offering to the then Vicar Provincial Fr. Alejandro Remirez, OAR, The possibility of having the basilica established as a parish church.

Not long afterwards on June 24, 1975, at the behest of Fr. Vicar Provincial a consultative meeting was convened among the members of the San Sebastian community, to discuss the idea of a parochial establishment of San Sebastian Basilica.

On August 15, 1975, His Excellency, Archbishop Sin published a Decree of Erection of the new San Sebastian Parish, the Perimeter of which is bounded by:

  • From the junction of Estero de San Miguel and Estero de Quiapo;
  • Follow the Estero de Quiapo up to R. Hidalgo.
  • From R. Hidalgo, right to Lepanto Street, then right to
  • Gastambide Street up to Legarda
  • From the junction of Legarda and Gastambide, right to Mendiola
  • Bridge, then continue right to Estero de San Miguel, Until the
  • Starting point is reached

His Excellency, Archbishop Jaime Cardinal Sin, on August 16, 1975, upon the recommendation of Vicar Provincial, appointed Fr. Jose Antonio Calvo, OAR, as the first parish priest of the new San Sebastian Parish.

This appointment was confirmed and formalized on September 14, 1975 when Fr. Calvo was installed in a solemn ceremony officiated by the Archbishop himself.

On that same date the Archbishop, likewise appointed Fathers Pedro Pena, OAR, Pedro Escamillas OAR; and Narciso Obiedo, OAR, as assistant Parish Priests.

Since then the Parish has been under the care of:

Fr. German Chicote, OAR 1976 – 1979
Fr. Juan Jose Goicoechea, OAR 1979 – 1982
Fr. Hermenegildo Ceniza, OAR 1991 – 1994
Fr. Samson Silloriquez, OAR 1994 – 2003
Fr. Paulino Dacanay, OAR 2003 – 2009
Fr. Leopoldo Estioko, OAR 2009 – 2012
Fr. Rommel Rubia, OAR 2012 – 2014
Fr. James Bumangabang, OAR 2012 – 2014
Fr. Antonio Zabala, OAR 2015 – Present

Origins of the Marian Devotion

The statue of the Virgen del Carmen, according to Father Benito de San Pablo, prior of San Sebastian convent in 1742, was brought to Manila in 1618 by Father Rodrigo de San Miguel himself. On his way to the Philippines from Spain, the Recollect missionary stopped off in Mexico where Discalced Carmelite nuns of San Jose monestry in Mexico City entrusted the image to his care. In Manila, the missionary could not find a more propitious sanctuary for the Virgen del Carmen than the newly built San Sebastian Church where the image was enshrined on May 5, 1621. Thereafter, it would be for over two hundred years the sole Carmelite shrine in the archipelago.

This year the parish is preparing for the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the first image of Our Lady of Mount Carmel arriving in 1681 and enshrined since 1621.