Santo Niño de Cebú

For other uses, see Santo Niño (disambiguation).
Holy Child of Cebu
Balaang Bata sa Sugbo
Santo Niño de Cebú
Batang Banal ng Cebu

Image of Señor Santo Niño de Cebu
Location Cebu, Philippines
Date 21 April 1521
Witness Ferdinand Magellan
Antonio Pigafetta
Rajah Humabon
Type Wooden statue
Holy See approval Pope Innocent XIII
Pope Paul VI
Pope John Paul II
Shrine Basílica Minore del Santo Niño
Attributes Crown, sceptre, orb, dark skin, maroon mantle, Salvator Mundi

The Santo Niño de Cebú (Cebuano: Balaang Bata sa Sugbo, Filipino: Batang Banal ng Cebu, Spanish: Santo Niño de Cebú) is a Roman Catholic title of Jesus Christ associated with a statue of the Child Jesus – venerated as miraculous by many Filipino Catholics. The oldest Christian image in the Philippines, it was originally given in 1521 as a baptismal gift by Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan to Lady Humamay, the chief consort of Rajah Humabon, along with a statue of the Virgin Mary, and a bust of depicting Christ as Ecce Homo.

The image merited papal recognition on 28 April 1965, when Pope Paul VI issued a papal bull for the Canonical Coronation and Pontifical High Mass via the papal legate to the Philippines, Cardinal Ildebrando Antoniutti. to mark the 400th anniversary of the icon's finding.[1][2][3]

The image measures approximately twelve inches tall, and is believed to be originally made in Flanders, Belgium. The statue is clothed in rich fabrics, and bears imperial regalia including a gold crown, globus cruciger, and various sceptres mostly donated by devotees.

The Santo Niño image is replicated in many homes and business establishments, with different titles reinterpreted in various areas of the country. The Holy Child's feast is liturgically celebrated every third Sunday of January, during which devotees carry a portable Santo Niño image onto the street fiesta dancing celebrations. The image is one of the most beloved and recognizable cultural icons in the Philippines, found in both religious and secular areas. It is permanently encased within bulletproof glass in a chapel at the Basílica Menor del Santo Niño.


The image of the Santo Niño is kept in its own chapel in the Basilica. It is considered the oldest religious relic in the Philippines.[4]

In April 1521, Ferdinand Magellan, in the service of Charles V of Spain, arrived in Cebu during his voyage to find a westward route to the Indies.[5] He persuaded Rajah Humabon and his chief consort Humamay, to pledge their allegiance to Spain. They were then baptised into the Catholic faith, taking the Christian names Carlos (after Charles V) and Juana (after Joanna of Castile, Charles' mother).

According to Antonio Pigafetta, Italian chronicler to the Spanish expedition, Magellan handed Pigafetta the image to be given to the newly-christened Queen Juana right after the baptism, officiated by Pedro Valderrama.[5] It was Pigafetta himself who personally presented the Santo Niño to the newly baptised Queen Juana as a symbol of their new alliance; to her newly christened husband King Carlos, Magellan presented the bust of "Ecce Homo", or the depiction of Christ before Pontius Pilate. He also presented an image of the Virgin Mary to the natives who were baptised after their rulers. Magellan died on 27 April 1521 in the Battle of Mactan. Legends say that after initial efforts by the natives to destroy it, the image was venerated as the animist creator deity Bathala. Many historians consider the facial structure of the statue made from Belgium, where Infant Jesus of Prague statues were also common.

44 years after Magellan's soldiers left, the next Spanish expedition arrived on April 27, 1565, led by Miguel López de Legazpi. He found the natives hostile, fearing retribution for Magellan's death, and the village caught fire in the ensuing conflict. The next day, the Spanish mariner Juan Camus found the image of the Santo Niño in a pine box amidst the ruins of a burnt house.[4] The image, carved from wood and coated with paint, stood 30 centimetres tall, and wore a loose velvet garment, a gilded neck chain and a red woolen hood. A golden globus cruciger or orb was in the left hand, with the right hand slightly raised in benediction. Camus presented the image to Miguel López de Legazpi and the Augustinian priests; the natives refused to associate it with the gift of Magellan, claiming it had existed there since ancient times. Writer Dr. Resil Mojares wrote that the natives did so for fear that the Spaniards would demand it back. The natives’ version of the origin of the Santo Niño is in the Agipo (stump or driftwood) legend, which states that the statue was caught by a fisherman who chose to get rid of it, only to have it returned with a plentiful harvest.

The statue was later taken out for procession, afterwards which Legazpi then ordered the creation of the Confraternity of the Santo Niño de Cebú, appointing Father Andrés de Urdaneta as head superior. Legazpi instituted a fiesta to commemorate the finding of the image, and the original celebration still survives.

The Minor Basilica of Santo Niño (Spanish: Basílica Menor del Santo Niño) was built on the spot where the image was found by Juan Camus. The church was originally made out of bamboo and mangrove palm and claims to be the oldest parish in the Philippines. Pope Paul VI elevated it to the status of Minor Basilica on its 400th anniversary.


Devotees flock to the Basílica Minore del Santo Niño during the novena masses.

The feast, locally known as Fiesta Señor, starts on the Thursday after the Solemnity of the Epiphany. Each year, the celebration starts with a dawn procession wherein the replica image of Santo Niño de Cebu is brought down to the streets. It is then followed by the novena masses, which span nine days.

On the last day of the novena, another dawn procession is held wherein the image of Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe de Cebu removed from its shrine to the Basilica Minore del Santo Niño de Cebu. After the procession, it will stay for a while in the Basilica. Then, the images of Santo Niño de Cebu and Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe de Cebu are brought to the National Shrine of St. Joseph in Mandaue City to be reunited with the church's namesake, thus forming the Holy Family. This transfer, which is common in fiestas throughout the country, is called Traslación.

On the morning of the vesperas ("eve", i.e., the day before) of the feast, the images of Santo Niño de Cebu and Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe de Cebu are brought back to Cebu City in a fluvial procession that concludes with a reenactment of the first Mass and baptism in the islands. It is then followed by a grand yet solemn foot procession in the afternoon, culminating in a Pontifical Mass concelebrated by bishops and priests. The grand Sinulog Festival is then held on the following Sunday.

The Hubo rite

The festival officially ends on the Friday after the icon's feast day, and it is marked with the traditional Hubo (Cebuano, "undress") rite. During a Mass, the basilica's priests and sacristans ceremonially strip the Santo Niño of its festal vestments and regalia.

There is a strict order of divesting the icon: first the crown is removed, followed by the orb and sceptre; then the bands, cape, tunic, inner garments; and finally, the boots. The priest performs the removals, preceding each with a short petition. Each removal is accompanied by a festive drum roll, and ends with the priest chanting Christe exaudi nos (”Christ graciously hear us”).

The priest then carefully immerses the icon in a basin of scented water, wipes it dry, and dresses it in simpler everyday robes. He then replaces the icon's accoutrements in the reverse order of the undressing, each time ending with a prayer and leading the congregation in singing Christus Vincit; Christus Regnat; Christus, Christus Imperat.

The rite is said to highlight Christ's humility, and symbolises a spiritual change that should occur in the individual believer. It was only in 1990 when the Augustinians in charge of the icon first made known and opened the rite to the public; it is now performed in other churches as well.[6]

Pontifical approbation

The original feast date for the image was April 28, but in the 18th century, the following changes were made:

Military Honours

During the Spanish colonial era, the Santo Niño was given the high military rank of Captain-General, with the full title of "Celentísimo Capitán General de las Esfuerzas Españolas en Filipinas" (The Most Esteemed Captain-General of the Spanish Forces in the Philippines).[8] For this reason, the statue is vested in a red cape and sash, symbolising the rank of a general, and military boots.[9]

The image was later honoured by the Philippine Navy with the title "Lord Admiral of the Sea" during the 446th anniversary of the image's Kaplag ("finding" or "rediscovery") in 2011.[10][11] This was done in acknowledgment of Christ's "lordship over seafarers, mariners and the marine ecology." The image was taken aboard the naval ship General Emilio Aguinaldo 140 for a fluvial parade, marking the first time its own naval ensign bearing its coat-of-arms was flown by a Philippine naval vessel. The honour was a joint effort of the Naval Forces Central, Philippine Coast Guard-Cebu District, Cebu Ports Authority, Philippine National Police Maritime Group, among others.[12]

Infant Jesus of Mechelen

A discovery of a similar Child Jesus known as the Infant Jesus of Mechelen is now currently housed in the Louvre Museum. The statue was originally acquired in September 2009 from a private art collector.[13] The word Mechlin is thought to have originated in Mechelen, now a Dutch-speaking city in Antwerp, Flanders, Belgium famed for its early religious Catholic artwork.

Both the Mechelen statue and the Santo Niño de Cebu are approximately twelve inches tall, and have similar characteristics such as the standing pose, naked body, hand gesture and golden orb. More significantly, the faces are almost exactly similar to one another, with the following exceptions:

The Mechelen statue is currently displayed in the Louvre Museum as naked, and without any regalia, pedestal, or accessories. Several pious American Catholics from Texas and New York petitioned the museum in 2012 to purchase the Mechelen statue and release it from the custody of Louvre Endowment Fund, but is seemingly not granted.


Our Lady of Guadalupe of Cebu, Patroness of Cebu

The Santo Niño was popularly considered the official patron of Cebu, but the Church in the Philippines suppressed the notion and clarified that it is not the representation of a saint that intercedes to God but rather of God himself (specifically, Jesus Christ). Instead, the Archbishop of Cebu, Cardinal Ricardo Vidal, declared Our Lady of Guadalupe de Cebu the principal patroness of Cebu in 2002.

The devotion to the Holy Child of Cebu shares its worldwide veneration of the Infant Jesus of Prague. Colloquially referred to as Santo Niño, it is found in many residential homes, business establishments and public transportation. It is often found two traditional vestment colors, a red garment for the residential home, while a green garment for business locations. It is also often found with interchangeable clothing, whereas the devotee may choose to associate their own uniform to the statue, such as physicians, nurses, janitors or teachers. Another popular form of the statue is the Santo Niño de Atocha, but varies as standing pose rather than the seated pose of the Spanish version.

External links


  1. Sto. Nino de Cebu.
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