Laag-Laag sa Cebu (Part 12): Why Cebuanos Call Mama Mary as Birhen sa Regla?

Birhen sa Regla image that I brought from Cebu


There is one church on Mactan Island that piqued my curiosity during my first visit to the Province of Cebu. That church is dedicated to the Virgin Mary under the title of “Birhen sa Regla”.

“Why regla?”, I asked. Is Mama Mary a patron saint for ladies suffering dysmenorrhea and pains related to menstruation? Is regla the Cebuano word for blood?

These questions popped to my mind because we Tagalogs define regla as menstruation. I didn’t find having a patron saint for ladies suffering menstrual pains implausible because the Catholic Church has many saints for “random” and “weird” things. An example would be St. Eligius who is the patron saint of gas station and garage workers. In fact, there is a saint who is called upon during menstrual cramps. He is a guy and the general of the Theban Legion named Maurice.



A little Google search revealed that my assumption that regla means menstruation is wrong. Regla is actually an abbreviation of the Spanish word reglamento, which means rule. In short Birhen sa Regla is Our Lady of the Rule in English.

The veneration of Our Lady of the Rule was said to be begun by St. Augustine. According to tradition, St. Augustine has an image of a black Virgin Mary and through that image the saint received the rule that he used to guide his monastic community.

The altar of Opon Church featuring the image of Birhen sa Regla

The islands of Cebu and Mactan were placed under the care of the Augustinians. Thus, it is not surprising that they brought the veneration of the Birhen sa Regla to the islands. The veneration became so popular that the people of Opon (the old name of Lapu-Lapu City) has a big fiesta honoring the black virgin.

The image of Birhen sa Regla was so dear to the people that they offer their precious jewelries for every answered prayer. The image was adorned by precious things until the parish priest decided to remove it after a robbery incident.

I was so oblivious of the fame of the Birhen sa Regla that I didn’t even know that the church where I attended a Sunday mass during my first visit to Cebu housed her famous image!

As newbie collector of Marian images, I found the image of Birhen sa Regla in Cebu unique to the many Marian images that I saw in this archipelago. I considered her as a defining image of Cebu.

My image of Birhen sa Regla


I brought home an image of the Birhen sa Regla and she is now placed in our living room.

What I like with this image is that she holds another image that is so popular in Cebu. And that is the image of the Santo Niño.

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

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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)

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