The Minor Basilica of San Sebastian is labor of love and devotion to God and Our Lady of Mount Carmel, a treasure of history and art, a monument of faith, a witness of international collaboration.

A story of love and commitment:  Love, that identifying hallmark in the Recoletos charism, that was made manifest in total commitment to the Filipino people.  The church is the testimonial of the Christian community’s heartfelt gratitude to the Blessed Mother for the many special favors and answered prayers granted to her unnumbered devotees.  San Sebastian church shall always be remembered as an imposing monument to the unwavering human courage in the midst of adversities and to the heroic struggle of the dauntless Filipinos and the resilient Augustinian Recollects against the harsh elements of  Nature.  The present church of San Sebastian is an edifice all Filipinos should be proud of not just because of its historical antecedents but also for its enduring architectural and artistic legacy.  It was the first all-steel structure in Asia ever, the second in the world after the Eiffel tower of Paris. The church is a unique showcase of international talents and skills:  Filipino painters, financial and human resources; Spanish architect, planners and ships;  German stained glass; Chinese carpentry.  The holy Marian icon is a gift from Mexico, as is Mexican the generous donor of 1621, Don Bernardino del Castillo.

The Gothic cathedral represented the universe in microcosm and each architectural concept, including the loftiness and huge dimensions of the structure, were intended to convey a theological message: The Great Glory of God.

The building becomes a microcosm in two ways, firstly, the mathematical and geometrical nature of the construction is an image of the orderly universe, in which an underlying rationality and logic can be perceived. Secondly, the statues, sculptural decoration, stained glass and murals incorporate the essence of creation in depictions of the Labours of the Months and the Zodiac and sacred history from the Old and New Testaments and Lives of the Saints, as well as reference to the eternal in the Last Judgment and Coronation of the Virgin.

Most Important dates

1606 Order of the Augustinian Recollects arrive in the Philippines from Spain.
1617 Recollect Friar Fr. Aganduru ferries the first icon of Mt Carmel to the Philippines. The image is a gift from Carmelite Nuns of Mexico City.
1618 Fr. Rodrigo de San Miguel brings to Manila the Our Lady of Mount Carmel Image.
1621 Don Bernardino del Castillo and wife donate to Recollects Calumpang estate and rest house.
1621 May 5 Inauguration of San Sebastian church, with Our Lady of Mount Carmel Image.
1645 Church no. 2 constructed, also of masonry, and fell in 1645 by earthquake church no. 3 constructed, also of masonry, also damaged undated – church no. X constructed, fell in 1863 by earthquake
1645 Nov. 30 San Andres earthquake seriously damaged church and convent.
1762 British invasion of Manila. Church sacred vessels and jewels ransacked.
1855 1858 San Sebastian church and convent improved and repaired, new vessels acquired.
1863 June 3 Strong earthquake damaged church. Later demolished. Masses held at convent.
1867 Jan 20 Inauguration of new church. Considered one of the fairest in Manila and arrabales.
1880 July 14 Earthquake devastates church. Church closed to the public.
1881 February Director of Public Works Genaro Palacios inspects church and declares it unsafe. Recommend to prior Fr. Esteban Martinez building a steel church instead.
1883 June 14 Palacios’ design of a new steel church approved by Recollect provincial council.
1886 March 9 The Societe Anonyme d’Enterprises de Travaux publics awarded contract to build the steel church.
1888 June 12 First shipload of steel parts and frames arrives in Manila aboard English steamer William Burkitt. A total of 6 ships brought the cargo of 1,527 tons.
1890 June 24 Pope Leo XIII raised church to Basilica status, attached permanently to St. Peter’s Basilica.
1890 July 4 San Sebastian attached to St. John Lateran Basilica; concession renewable every 15 years. (show Lateran coat of arms façade).
1891 Aug 15 Bishop Nozaleda inaugurates Basilica. Five days with novena, masses and culminating procession.
1934 Basilica classified as historical building by Historical Research and Markers Committee. (Marker installed in 1977)
1973 Basilica declared a national historical landmark (Pres. Decree no. 260)
1975 Aug 13 Cardinal Sin makes San Sebastian into a Parish.
1991 Aug 15 First centenary of the basilica’s inauguration.
1991 Aug 18 Canonical crowning of Carmel image.
1991 Aug 28 NHI marker unveiled commemorating first centennial.
1992 Aug 15 Commemorative stamp of the basilica.

The Carmelite Devotion of San Sebastian Basilica

Undergirding the architectural and artistic icon that is San Sebastian is its Spiritual raison d’etre. Churches are places of worship to God and this particular church, in addition , is a place of veneration for Mary, Our Lady of Mount Carmel.

After the tabernacle that holds the Blessed Sacrament, the next most revered part of the main altar is the ivory Marian image, which arrived in the Philippines in 1618, a gift of Discalced Carmelite nuns in Mexico to the Recollect missionaries who were on the way to joining the evangelization work in the archipelago. Enthroned on 5 May 1621, the image has served as the focus of the Carmelite devotion in the country for almost three centuries; it has contributed largely to forging the Filipino nation into a “pueblo amante de Maria “ and has brought to life what is now the Congregation of Augustinian Recollect Sisters. To its devotees, it provides “ comfort in their worries, remedy for their needs as well as solace and succor in the labors”. According to a mid-18th century prior of San Sebastian.

The devotee of Carmel wears the brown scapular which, tradition holds, was given by the Blessed Virgin to Carmelite General St. Simon stock in 1251. The scapular symbolizes Mary’s special predilection for it’s wearer; conscious of the predilection, the devotee strives to be like Jesus’ mother, pondering Him in the heart and imitating Him in daily life. Only by living thus will the devotee be assured of the promise attached to the scapular: that he who dies wearing it shall not suffer the eternal fire.

Manila Cathedral Dean and future Cebu bishop Msgr. Juan Velez established in San Sebastian Church Cofradia de Nuestra Senora del Carmen (Confraternity of our Lady of Mount Carmel) in 1621, soon after prodigiously recovering from a fatal illness which he attributed to the visit at his home, at his request, by the Marian image.

The cofrades, like all members of any confraternity, sought the practice of charity and piety, and in their case, also “the promotion of the Carmel scapular and the Marian promises associated with it, as well as the management of the culture for the Virgin under the close supervision of the Recollects in San Sebastian Church” after a 1650 approval of the scapular devotion by the Carmelite Vicar Provincial of the Andalusian province, Fr. Diego del Castillo, the Carmelite superior general Fr. Pablo de San Ignacio canonically confirmed the cofradia and authorized the prior of San Sebastian convent on 19 August 1691. His successors went on to found “cofradia in other cities and places in the Philippines he deems convenient”, as well as “ admit the faithful who seek affiliation to said cofradia and to bless the holy scapular”.

To keep the Carmelite devotion burning, the friar and faithful would start rebuilding when earthquakes and other disasters struck (1645,1863 and 1880 ), no sooner had the dust settled on the rubble to which the preceding church had been reduced. Thus, after the 1880 tremors rendered unsafe a shrine that had just been inaugurated 13 years earlier, the present all steel temple – earthquake – and – fire resistant and termite-proof would eventually emerge and continue the Filipinos’filial love and commitment to Mary, Our Lady of Mount Carmel.