Santo Niño de Cebú

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For other uses, see Santo Niño (disambiguation).
Holy Child of Cebu
Balaang Bata sa Sugbo
Santo Niño de Cebú
Batang Banal ng Cebu
Santo Niño de Cebu 2.jpg
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 a statue of the Child Jesus in Cebu City of Philippines.[1] The image is venerated as miraculous by many Filipino Catholics.[2][3] It is one of the oldest Christian relics in the Phillipines,[4] originally given in 1521 as a gift by explorer Ferdinand Magellan to Rajah Humabon and his wife when he landed on the island.[5]

The statue measures approximately twelve inches tall, is made of a dark wood in baroque style and depicts Child Jesus as a king dressed like a Spanish royalty.[5] The expressions, accessories and hand posture of Santo Nino de Cebu are similar to the Infant Jesus of Prague now located in Czech Republic. It is believed that both statues originated from the same European source, with the devotion to Santo Nino starting earlier of the two.[6] The statue is clothed in rich fabrics, wears jewelry such as gilded neck chain and bears imperial regalia including a gold crown, globus cruciger, and various sceptres mostly donated by devotees.

The image received papal recognition on 28 April 1965, when Pope Paul VI issued a papal bull for the Canonical Coronation of the statue and raised the church that houses it to a basilica status to mark the 400th anniversary of the first Christian mission and rediscovery of the statue in Cebu.[7][8] The image has historically attracted devotional worship in Philippines, attracting devotional worship, processions and pilgrimage, with numerous Filipino pilgrims touching or kissing the foot of the idol's stand.[9] There is an annual feast every January on the third Sunday which is marked by fiesta, sinulog dancing in the streets, and prayers to Senor Santo Nino statue.[5]

The Holy Child's image is liturgically celebrated during weekly mass, novenas and Christian holidays. Along with the Black Nazarene idol of Jesus Christ, it is the most popular object of devotion in the Philippines.[10] The Santo Niño image is replicated in many homes and business establishments, with different titles reinterpreted in various areas of the country. It is one of the most beloved and recognizable cultural icons in the Philippines, with the original permanently encased within bulletproof glass in a chapel at the Basílica Menor del Santo Niño.[11]


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.[12]

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.[13] He persuaded Rajah Humabon and his wife Hara 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.[13] 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.[citation needed] 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.[12] 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[edit]

The Sinulog procession includes dancing and fiesta in reverence of Santo Nino. Above, a Sinulog participant carrying a copy of the Santo Nino statue.

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 symbolizes 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.[14]

Pontifical approbation[edit]

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

  • Pope Innocent XIII moved the date to avoid conflict with the Eastertide. In addition, he approved special liturgical texts for use during the local feast of the Santo Niño in the Philippines, set on the third Sunday of January, followed by the Sinulog festival.
  • Pope Paul VI issued a Canonical Coronation for the image on 28 April 1965 via his Papal legate. Through the Papal bull "Ut Clarificetur", the same Pontiff raised the sanctuary a Minor Basilica on 2 May 1965.
  • Pope John Paul II gave his papal endorsement for the image in his Mass for Families in 1981.[15]

Military Honours[edit]

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).[16] For this reason, the statue is vested in a red cape and sash, symbolising the rank of a general, and military boots.[17]

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.[18][19] 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.[20]

Infant Jesus of Mechelen[edit]

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.[21] 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:

  • In published photographs, the Mechelen statue looks frontal and towards in a direct line, while the Cebu statue looks in a downward direction to the devotee, although this may be due to the angle of the camera when the photographs were shot.
  • The Mechelen statue's upraised fingers point to the right, while those of the Cebu state point left (the original wooden fingers, however, point upwards when the golden glove is removed).
  • The Mechelen statue's hair is sculpted all the way to the nape or close to the neckline, while the Cebu statue's hair appears to reach only to the earlobes, although this might again be due to the angle of the camera when the photographs were shot.

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[edit]


  1. ^ Bautista, Julius (2006). "The Rebellion and the Icon: Holy Revolutions in the Philippines". Asian Journal of Social Science. Brill Academic Publishers. 34 (2): 291–310. doi:10.1163/156853106777371166. 
  2. ^ Sally Ann Ness (2016). Body, Movement, and Culture: Kinesthetic and Visual Symbolism in a Philippine Community. University of Pennsylvania Press. pp. 71–73. ISBN 978-1-5128-1822-2. 
  3. ^ Damiana L. Eugenio (2007). Philippine Folk Literature: An Anthology. The University of the Philippines Press. pp. xxvii, 226–228. ISBN 978-971-542-536-0. 
  4. ^ Jan van Harssel; Richard H Jackson; Lloyd E. Hudman (2014). National Geographic Learning's Visual Geography of Travel and Tourism. Cengage. p. 504. ISBN 978-1-133-95126-1. 
  5. ^ a b c Jonathan H. X. Lee; Kathleen M. Nadeau (2011). Encyclopedia of Asian American Folklore and Folklife. ABC-CLIO. pp. 405–406. ISBN 978-0-313-35066-5. 
  6. ^ Sally Ann Ness (2016). Body, Movement, and Culture: Kinesthetic and Visual Symbolism in a Philippine Community. University of Pennsylvania Press. p. 63. ISBN 978-1-5128-1822-2. 
  7. ^ Birgit Mersmann; Alexandra Schneider (2009). Transmission Image: Visual Translation and Cultural Agency. Cambridge Scholars. pp. 15–17. ISBN 978-1-4438-0471-4. 
  8. ^ Sally Ann Ness (2016). Body, Movement, and Culture: Kinesthetic and Visual Symbolism in a Philippine Community. University of Pennsylvania Press. pp. 63–67. ISBN 978-1-5128-1822-2. 
  9. ^ Sally Ann Ness (2016). Body, Movement, and Culture: Kinesthetic and Visual Symbolism in a Philippine Community. University of Pennsylvania Press. p. 66. ISBN 978-1-5128-1822-2. , Quote: "As a gesture of reverence, the pilgrims would approach the image to give the foot of the idol's votive stand a kiss or a loving touch, satisfying the ultimate aim of their journey: to draw ever nearer to the Santo Nino de Cebu".
  10. ^ Geoffrey Wainwright (2006). The Oxford History of Christian Worship. Oxford University Press. p. 674. ISBN 978-0-19-513886-3. 
  11. ^ Bryan Christy (2012), Ivory worship, National Geographic; Quote:"Some Filipinos believe the Santo Niño de Cebu is Christ himself. Sixteenth-century Spaniards declared the icon to be miraculous and used it to convert the nation, making this single wooden statue, housed today behind bulletproof glass in Cebu’s Basilica Minore del Santo Niño, the root from which all Filipino Catholicism has grown. Earlier this year a local priest was asked to resign after allegedly advising his parishioners that the Santo Niño and images of the Virgin Mary and other saints were merely statues made of wood and cement."
  12. ^ a b ""Santo Niño Image", Basilica Minore Del Santo Niño de Cebu". 
  13. ^ a b ""History", Santo Niño de Cebu International". 
  14. ^ Cebu Daily News, Cebu Daily News (21 January 2012). "'Hubo shows Sto. Niño's humility'". Philippine Daily Inquirer. Retrieved 17 January 2016. 
  15. ^ "Apostolic Journey to the Far East, Homily for families of John Paul II, 19 February 1981". 
  16. ^ "'Lucky to find Sto. Niño'". 
  17. ^ "Sto. Niño de Cebu: El Capitan General". 
  18. ^
  19. ^
  20. ^ "Navy honors Sto. Ni�o as captain -, Philippine News for Filipinos".  replacement character in |title= at position 20 (help)
  21. ^
  1. Sto. Nino de Cebu.