OUR BELOVED SANTO NINO
Original Sto. Nino de Cebu
Do you know that the original Sto. Nino de Cebu is the oldest religious image brought by the Spaniards to the Philippines?
Although the odd thing was that the image was not really Spanish at all but came from Flanders, Belgium, which was then a colony under Spanish rule. However, it is known as a Spanish image because Ferdinand Magellan brought it with him to the Philippines at the beginning of the 16th century as he was colonizing it and claiming the archipelago for Spain.
It is believed that when Juana, the wife of Rajah Humabon, Cebu’s chieftain, was shown by Magellan a crucifix, an image of the Blessed Mother and the Sto. Nino, which was dressed in rich Flemish costume with a velvet cloak and a plumed hat, she openly admired the statue and immediately asked for it to take the place of her idols.
Probably, it was because the Sto. Nino, in all its princely robes, contrasted sharply with the cruder and more ritual character of the native idols. It suggested pomp and riches which the indios of that time valued highly. It is no wonder that Juana did not respond at all to the crucifix and to the Blessed Mother statues.
Magellan, thus, gave the Sto. Nino to Humabon’s wife, Juana, thereby introducing a new religion embraced by Humabon, his household and his followers, making them the first converts in the Philippines.
However, forty years of unrecorded history left no trail as to what happened to the Sto. Nino during that time.
Recovery by the Legaspi Expedition
According to tradition, the image was “recovered” by the Legaspi-Urdaneta expedition in 1565, that came forty-four years after Magellan’s incursion into the islands.
The story goes that when the villagers saw the Spaniards approaching, they not only set fire to their villages but fled to the hills with Tupas their chieftain. Poking around the houses for loot, the sailor Juan de Camus, on that fateful April 28 found, in one of the unburned huts, the wooden image of the Sto. Nino which they suspected was the same image Magellan had given Humabon’s wife Juana for being the first Christian convert in the Philippines. The Spanish historian, Esteban Rodriguez, wrote that the image was “covered with a white cloth in its cradle and its bonnet was quite in order. The tip of the nose was rubbed off somewhat and the skin was coming off its face.” The Adelantado, Miguel Lopez de Legaspi, added that the image was still in its gilded cradle and except for its missing cross, it was in perfect condition.
When the image was found, it had flowers placed before it, leading the people to conclude that the image must have been valued highly by the descendants of Juana. In later reports by Pedro Chirino, SJ he said the natives “had recourse to it in all their necessities…anointing it with their oils as they were accustomed to anoint their idols.”
First Church in the Country
Years later a church was built on the exact spot where they found the image of the Holy Child and dedicated to the Holy Name of Jesus. Most probably, it was the first church in the country and was made of nipa and bamboo.
Both the statue and the Church were referred to by the Spaniards as Santo Nino (Holy Child).
The image of the Sto. Nino was canonically crowned in the name of His Holiness Pope Paul VI on the Fourth Centennial of the Christianization of the Philippines in 1965.
Controversy over the Sto.Nino
However, a Franciscan priest, Fr. Lorenzo Perez, does not agree with this tradition on the origin of the Sto.Nino. He believes that the Sto. Nino and the Nuestra Senora de Guia, which was found in 1571 were brought to the Philippines by Franciscan missionaries.
Because the Franciscan mission was established in China sometime in the thirteenth century continuing up to the fifteenth century, Fr. Perez argues that they may have passed the archipelago before the coming of the Spaniards.
He also claims the images were made in China because of the oblique slant of the eyes.
The Sto. Nino Today
This image that has managed to survive centuries of wars and earthquakes is now once again restored to its former glory. Now crowned and ornamented with gold and precious stones dressed in a replica of its original gold embroidered garments, He is ensconced and greatly venerated in the Basilica of Sto. Nino, near the so-called Magellan Cross under the custody of the Augustinians who came with the Legaspi-Urdaneta expedition.
Devotion to the Sto. Nino rapidly spread. One possible explanation for this is the fact that Filipinos have a soft spot for children.
Many Sto. NInos
As the devotion to the Sto. Nino continued to spread, the original Sto. Nino de Cebu “became the prototype for thousands of images in wood carved by local artisans in the Visayas particularly in Cebu, Panay, Samar, Iloilo and Negros where popular devotions center on the Infant Jesus.”
The Cebu Sto. Nino became the inspiration of Filipino art and greatly influenced the Christian sculptural movement in the Philippines.
It is no wonder that one of the favorite popular folk santos for the home altar is the Sto. Nino or the image of the Child Jesus.
Rarely is He seen as an “official” statue in the church. Most often, His images are small, home-sized types meant for intimate devotions. His features are often modeled on Malay faces rather than on the Spanish, as most santos are.
In the Visayas, the Sto. Nino is commonly mounted on a mortar-like stand.
The Sto. Nino is also the patron of Tondo, one of the oldest and most populous districts in Manila.
A famous image of the child Jesus can also be found in Pandacan, Manila.
Found in the San Agustin Museum in Intramuros is Sto. Nino the Conqueror in the ornate style made in Ivory and wood.
Santo Nino de Ternate
This image dated 1663 originated from the East Indies. Made of dark wood, it was brought over by Ternatan converts who chose to follow the Spaniards when they abandoned the fort of Ternate, Cavite.
The personal dressmakers of the Nino enshrined in the Ternate Church claim that the Nino sometimes plays with his clothes.
Sometimes the Sto. Nino is portrayed as a “sleeping infant” set in a crib or bed. In the Church of Morong in Rizal province east of Manila is a charming ivory image of Nino Dormido with eyes half closed wearing a dreamy half-smile.
Other Sto. Ninos
Many of the images have highly personalized names such as Sto. Nino de Bombero(holding a fireman’s hose), De lasFlores(holding flowers) and De La Esperanzade la Luna(holding an anchor symbolizing hope and standing on a moon).
Some are replicas of existing famous images as Sto.Nino de Praga, de Cebu, de Pandacan and de Tondo.
A few bear Tagalog names such as Sto. Nino Mapagkawanggawa (Charitable Child Jesus) or Sto. Nino Maawain( Merciful Child Jess).
Besides being found in home altars, the Sto. Nino is found in almost every shop. Go to Divisoria and one will be amazed to see how the image of the Child Jesus can be found everywhere. It is as if He is a talisman of good luck.
Historical Background of Devotion
While many Filipinos believe their devotion to the Christ Child is a truly Filipino devotion, this devotion seems to have actually originated in Spain at the beginning of the sixteenth century. It later spread from Spain to the rest of Europe and later on to the other parts of the world.
In fact, the devotion to the Child Jesus was already popular in Belgium by the beginning of the 16th century so that, tradition says, the original Sto. Nino de Cebu was actually made in Flanders.
While our devotions here were spurred by devotions to the Infant of Prague, the Cebu Sto. Nino antedates the Sto. Nino de Praga by at least thirty-three years.
But though European by birth and school (half-Spanish, half-Flemish) the Sto. Nino is purely Filipino by adoption and veneration and remains the oldest and best-loved image of the Filipinos. “Viva Sto. Nino!”
Congregacion del Stomo Nombre del Nino Jesus
Many people, especially Manila couturiers, attribute their good luck to the personal image of the Sto. Nino which they dress up with jewels, fineries and festoon with flowers and fruit offerings.
They organized in 1979 the Congregacion…whose goal was to propagate devotion to the Holy Child. The Congregacion sponsors an annual procession on the last Sunday of January and as many as 260-300 images of the Sto. Nino are carried, some in carrozas, on pushcarts, tricycles, jeeps and even on foot.
Other Sto. Nino Festivals
The annual procession of Sto. Nino in Malolos, Bulacan is a must see for Filipinos and tourists and is not to be missed.