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Santo Niño Basilica
(Basilica Minore del Santo Niño)
Cebu City

Not far from Magellan's Cross in Cebu is the
Santo Niño Basilica (formerly known as the San Agustin Church). It houses the Philippines' oldest religious relic (or image): the Santo Niño (or, as it formally known, the Santo Niño de Cebú).

Santo Nino Basilica, Cebu

History of the Santo Niño

The Santo Niño is a gem-festooned statue of the holy infant Jesus, given by the Portuguese navigator Ferdinand Magellan to Rajah Humabol's Queen Juana on the occasion of her baptism in 1521.

It is said that, forty-four years later (in 1565), when a large fire swept the settlement of Cebu, the statue miraculously survived and was rediscovered undamaged by Juan de Camus, one of the foot soldiers of the Spanish conquistador Miguel Lopez de Legaspi, who had been bombarding and colonizing the area.

The statue was found inside a burnt wooden box in a small hut in the charred ruins of the settlement. Inside the box was the Santo Niño relic lying next to a number of pagan idols.

In 1565 the Augustinian, Fr. Andres de Urdaneta, built a wood-and-nipa church on the spot where the relic was found. This church was destroyed by fire in 1568 and it was rebuilt (again of wood and nipa) in 1602. This replacement church also burned down in 1628.

The present church (now the Santo Niño Basilica) was built in the period 1735 to 1739/40. The plan was to build a stronger church, made of brick and stone. Brick was found unsuitable and so the church was finally built just of stone.

Description of the Santo Niño

The relic is a 30 cm high image. It is now located inside a glass case in a small chapel to the left of the main altar in the Santo Niño Basilica. The Santo Niño image has a gold crown and a sumptuous wardrobe of rich robes encrusted with splendid jewels.

To see the Santo Niño image, you will have to line up in a long queue of devotees who wait patiently to view their relic close up and perhaps touch it. The queue stretches right down to the basilica doors and outside.

The Santo Niño is venerated as the patron saint of the Cebuanos. Its saint day is in January every year, which is always celebrated by religious processions, pilgrimages, and feasting. Cebu's famous and joyous
Sinulog festival (video) which culminates in the third week of January is held to honor the Santo Niño (Holy Child).

The Santo Niño Basilica

As mentioned above the Santo Niño Basilica is the oldest basilica in the Philippines. Its formal name in Spanish is the Basilica Minore del Santo Niño (that is, the "Minor Basilica of the Holy Child").

The current building was constructed in 1739 or 1740. According to an early writer named Vela, "the church has all the characteristics of a solid construction to withstand earthquakes. This prophesy proved to be true -- at least until the super-typhoon Yolanda of 2013.

The architecture of the Basilica is interesting.

It includes

• a simple and elegant stone facade that is a blend of Muslim, Romanesque and Neoclassical features (see here)

• painted ceiling

• a bell tower (or belfry)

• a carved retablo (that is, a structure at the back of the altar that contains a shelf for lights and ornaments and/or panels of religious paintings, typically of the saints) and a choir screen.

The Santo Niño Basilica also has a museum collection of religious art and artefacts.

The convent next door houses a library (with books on both religious and non-religious topics) and an important collection of archives.

An open-air, theater style Pilgrim Center was constructed in 1991 to accommodate the growing numbers of devotees in attendance at Friday masses and other large religious events.

The Santo Niño Basilica was badly damaged by Typhoon Haiyan (or Yolanda) on 13 October 2013. The belfry (bell tower) collapsed and most of the facade was destroyed. Some of the walls and some of the frescoes were cracked.

Further Reading

Official Website of Santo Nino de Cebu

National Historical Commision blog page on Santo Nino de Cebu

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Author: David Paul Wagner
(David Paul Wagner on Google+)

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