Reading today about how the French billionaire families Pinault (Gucci), Arnault (LVMH) and Bettencourt Meyers (L’Oreal) have responded so rapidly to contribute €500 m to fund the reconstruction of the just-ravaged Notre Dame Cathedral brought to mind the predicament of a local church – the Minor Basilica of San Sebastián.
Last year, I joined a historical walking tour of Quiapo that brought me to the Far Eastern University campus (a stunning example of Art Deco architecture), the Bahay Nakpil-Bautista (where Andres Bonifacio’s widow Gregoria de Jesus lived after marrying Juan Nakpil), R. Hidalgo St. (where the once-fabulous ancestral mansions of Manila’s old rich now stand decrepit and abandoned), and finally, the San Sebastián Church.
This 128-year old neo-Gothic structure, the only all-steel church in Asia, was built from massive steel columns and girders shipped from Belgium on 8 cargo vessels, and completed in 1891. Time and the forces of nature, however, have wrought havoc on this historical building. While its metal elements have enabled it to survive many earthquakes, the very same material has made it succumb to rust, corrosion and water seepage. The church is gradually crumbling to the ground, and as our tour group climbed up the bell towers, we could literally feel the spiral staircase swaying to and fro. A 10-year rehabilitation program is being undertaken by a foundation trying mightily to raise some Ps 500 m, but as I recall our tour guide’s observation, only a minute amount has been generated so far. Would that the local tycoons pool their financial resources, like the French, to restore the former glory of this Basilica.
(featured image: The compact Kaweco Steel Sport fountain pen is made from solid stainless steel with a brushed finish. A screw-on cap provides extra security, and the chrome-plated steel nib with an iridium tip complements the sporty design. )