Laag-Laag sa Cebu (Part 11): Sto. Niño Basilica - Mother and Head of All Churches of the Philippine Islands

The finding of the Santo Niño by Juan Camus


In a partially burned hut, Juan found a pine box gilded with gold. The Spanish soldier opened the box, hoping to find some treasures hidden by indios. Alas! What he found is not gold or silver. What he found is something much more valuable: the image of the Santo Niño.

The accidental discovery of the holy image in Sugbu (now Cebu) is the beginning of Christianity in the Philippines.

According to historical accounts, the image of the Santo Niño discovered by Juan Camus was the same image given by Ferdinand Magellan to Rajah Humabon about 44 years earlier. The discovery of the image was seen as a divine sign by Spanish conquistador Miguel Lopez de Legazpi of their victory in the Philippines.

Restored Santo Niño Cathedral in Cebu City

A church, made of wood and nipa, were immediately built on the very spot where the Santo Niño was discovered. The first church for the Santo Niño destroyed by fire and so was the second church that replaced it.

The stone church for the Santo Niño standing today is the third church structure and was finished around 1739.

Devotees attend the holy mass outside of the Minor Basilica of the Santo Niño in Cebu City

This stone structure of the Basilica Minore del Santo Niño is not impregnable because it was almost destroyed by an earthquake. I have seen the ruins firsthand when I visited Cebu City in 2014, about 4 months after the devastating earthquake in Bohol.

Bell tower of the Minor Basilica of the Santo Niño ruined by the Bohol Earthquake

The basilica’s bell tower collapsed and only half of it remained standing.

Good thing that the basilica is not off limits to visitors that’s I was able to enter it. However, masses have to be held outside of the basilica for the safety of Santo Niño devotees. I actually attended a mass at the open space fronting the Basilica.

Minor Basilica of the Santo Niño in Cebu City ruined by Bohol Earthquake

The ruins of the Minor Basilica of the Santo Niño made the somber atmosphere in the area. Even the vendors around the basilica felt sad seeing their church in ruins.

Balloon vendor outside of the Minor Basilica of the Santo Niño in Cebu City

The lively atmosphere around the Basilica is back during my visit to Cebu City in 2016. The Basilica was restored thanks to the help of the National Historical Commission of the Philippines.

The Basilica now has a new belfry.

Renovated bell tower of the Minor Basilica of the Santo Niño in Cebu City

Even the whole façade of the Basilica was restored and look new.

Minor Basilica of the Santo Niño in Cebu City

Devotees can now attend masses inside the Basilica and visit the Santo Niño without the fear of being buried under the rubble. Tourists like me can safely marvel at the beauty of the seemingly golden altar of the Basilica.

Altar of the Minor Basilica of the Santo Niño in Cebu City

There is one painting inside the Basilica that I enjoyed looking at. It depicts the Santo Niño with his staff pointing towards Cebu.

Painting of the Santo Niño in the Minor Basilica of the Santo Niño in Cebu City

The message of the painting is clear. It shows that Cebu is the center of Christianity in the Philippines. Cebu is the fertile land where the seeds of Faith took root and bear a hundredfold.

This is the reason why the Holy See declared the Basilica Minore del Santo Niño as Mater et Caput Omnium Ecclesiarum Insularum Philippinarum or the Mother and Head of All Churches of the Philippine Islands.

Image of the Santo Niño outside of the Minor Basilica of the Santo Niño, Cebu City

This declaration by the Church only shows the great importance of the Basilica and the Santo Niño to the Filipinos. They are the anchor of our faith and culture.

Candles outside of the Minor Basilica of the Santo Niño in Cebu City

Aside from being the center of Catholic Faith and anchor of Filipino culture, the Basilica also serves as a landmark of World History. In front of the Basilica stands the bronze marker commemorating the journeys of Fray Andres de Urdaneta.

Historical marker showing the travels of Fray Andres de Urdaneta outside of the Minor Basilica of the Santo Niño, Cebu City

Urdaneta is the navigator of the Legazpi Expedition. He is also the first prelate of Cebu. He made a mark in world history for discovering the tornaviaje or the return route from Philippines to Mexico, which became the vital route of Spanish galleons during the great Galleon Trade.

Minor Basilica of the Santo Niño as shown in the Urdaneta Brass Marker

Some historians said that children had special place in the heart of the indios that the Spanish met during the colonization of the Philippines. This is the reason why the Cebuanos readily accepted the Santo Niño in to their hearts. I believe that God, in some way, Christianized the whole country through His humility as a child.

---

Read about my previous visits to the Minor Basilica of the Santo Niño:

Minor Basilica of the Santo Niño (2010)
Inside the Basilica Minore del Santo Niño (2012)

---

Read more of my latest adventure in the island of Cebu!
.

Laag-Laag sa Cebu (Part 10): A Visit to the Fake(?) Magellan’s Cross

A visit to Ciudad de Cebu will never be complete without seeing the city’s iconic symbols: the image of Santo Niño and Magellan’s Cross. Both of these icons were gifts of the Purtoguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan to the Cebuanos.

My third visit to Magellan’s Cross was about one year after the destructive earthquake in Bohol. The earthquake is so strong that it destroyed the bell tower of the Minor Basilica of the Santo Niño.

Fortunately, the earthquake didn’t destroy Magellan’s Cross Shrine. However, it still has to undergo some repairs so the whole shrine was supported by wooden braces during my visit.

Magellan's Cross Shrine in Cebu City

The Magellan’s Cross Shrine is just a walking distance from the Basilica of the Santo Niño. It is located just in front of the Cebu City Hall.

Magellan’s Shrine is very accessible to public transport. Any tourist can hail taxi cab to go here. Another alternative, particularly for those who want to save money, is by riding a multicab with a Cebu Cathedral placard.

Magellan's Cross Shrine in Cebu City

I am glad that the shrine was not closed to the public despite the fact that it is under renovation. What’s missing are the old manangs who offer prayers (for a fee) and dances in front of Magellan’s Cross. I think the cross is already off limits to them while the Shrine is under repair.

Just like in my first visit, Megallan’s Cross Shrine still has no entrance fee.

Magellan's Cross in Cebu City

Magellan’s Cross survived the earthquake but it still had to be supported by wooden braces.

The cross was erected by Ferdinand Magellan after Rajah Humabon, king of Sugbu, and his subjects converted to Christianity.

The marker at the foot of the cross says that the cross on display is made of Tindalo wood that encases the original cross that was planted by Magellan on the current spot of the Shrine in 1521.

Marker of Magellan's Cross in Cebu City

The original Magellan’s Cross was encased in another wooden cross to protect it from the elements and from people who chip parts of the cross for its alleged miraculous powers.

It is difficult to believe that Magellan’s Cross existed for more than 500 hundred years. There are many people who argue that the current Magellan’s Cross is a fake and that the original cross was destroyed a long time ago. Some even say that Rajah Humabon destroyed the original cross as a proof to Lapu-Lapu that he is no longer allied with the Spaniards.




Rajah Humabon, after the defeat of Magellan in the Battle of Mactan, feared retaliation from the victorious Lapu-Lapu. So, he massacred the remaining Spaniards to show that he is no longer allied with them. I guess that the destruction of the original Magellan’s Cross by Humabon’s men is not too farfetched.

Another proof that the original Magellan’s Cross is gone is that Miguel Lopez de Legazpi, who finally colonized the Philippines for Spain, made no mention of the cross. The discovery of the image of Santo Niño was mentioned but there is no account on Magellan’s Cross. The lack of mention to an important relic such as the Cross may mean that it no longer exists.

Mural on the ceiling of Magellan's Cross Shrine in Cebu City

The mural on the ceiling of Magellan’s Cross Shrine depicts two scenes that happened during Ferdinand Magellan’s sojourn in Cebu. The scenes are the planting of the Cross and the other is the baptism of Rajah Humabon and his subjects.

Painters of the mural in Magellan's Cross Shrine, Cebu City

The mural was painted by Serry M. Josol and Jose Ma. Roa in 1965.

Unfortunately, little is known about these two painters. Even Google couldn’t provide reliable information. Jose Ma. Roa's surname is similar to the middle name of President Rodrigo Roa Duterte. I wonder if the two are relatives.

There is a great possibility that the original Magellan’s Cross is already gone and that what is displayed in the shrine is just a replica. However, this does not reduce the importance of Magellan’s Shrine because it commemorates an important piece of Filipino history and the birth of our Christian Faith.

---

Read more of my latest adventure in the island of Cebu!
A Foretaste of Cebu in Mactan Cebu International Airport

---

Information for this post was obtained from the following sources:

Magellan's Cross in Cebu Living
Retrato
.