Passing throngs of humanity through the streets of Cebu City, I caught a glimpse of my query; the faded white bell tower of the Minor Basilica of Sto. Niño. My pulse beat faster and my strides quickened. I was about to enter the oldest church (in terms of lineage) in the Philippines.
The sky was the same grey hue that blanketed the city’s Metropolitan Cathedral which was just a few minutes’ walk from the Sto. Niño church. Vendors selling candles walked along the plaza, mingling with the hundreds of tourist flocking the most famous church in the island.
The current reincarnation of the Basilica has been a witness of both modern and archaic history since its completion in 1739. But unlike most of its counterparts, it has withstood the ravages of time, natural calamities and war; it is the same structure that was ordered built by then Cebu Governor, Fernando Valdés y Tamon in 1735.But its history goes much deeper than the 18th century.
The original church was founded almost two centuries earlier by an Augustinian priest in 1566 using wood and nipa. The church was built on the grounds where an image of the Sto. Niño was found amongst the burnt rubble of a house.
It is apparently the same Sto. Niño that Ferdinand Magellan gave as a present to Rajah Humabon’s wife as a symbol of their alliance during their conversion to the Christian faith 44 years earlier.
Made of wood and measuring at a mere twelve inches, the image miraculously survived the razing of the house and is said to be the oldest religious relic in the country. The image is believed to be made in Flanders, Belgium owing to its similarity to the Infant Jesus of Prague.
It gladdens my spirits that the guardians of the Sto. Niño Church didn’t fall into the familiar trappings of renovation instead of restoration. History can clearly be seen throughout the façade of the Basilica. The stones which were manually quarried from the provinces of Capiz and Panay remain unpainted and the reliefs of friars, saints and angels remain undisturbed by modern concrete.
The church is built in the tradition of most old churches in the country; squat with thick stone walls to counter destructive earthquakes. The façade is said to be a combination of Muslim, Romanesque and Neo-Classical architecture with its
massive dome, arcade of faux flat Doric columns, ornate pediments architrave and arched openings.
History continues as one enters the dim halls of the Basilica. The arched roof is replete with intricate murals that overwhelm the senses. Massive crystal chandeliers warmly illuminate the interior, leading pilgrims and tourists to the impressive 17-niche retablo painted in sparkling gold.
Off the church’s left wing, more paintings can be found depicting the history of the Basilica; from Magellan’s conversion of the locals to various depictions of the Holy Child Jesus. Similar to the niche I chanced upon the nearby Metropolitan Cathedral, it also houses images of saints and the holy family, albeit on a larger scale.
My visit to the oldest church in the country was brief but filled my senses to brimming. The details and history of the Basilica Minore del Sto. Niño is just so overwhelming that a quick run-around simply does not do the church any justice. In hindsight, I should’ve spent less time hunting lechons through the city and stayed a few hours longer at this church instead.
Basilica Minore del Sto. Niño
Address: Brgy. Sto. Nino, Osmena Boulevard, Cebu City
Telephone: (032) 253-6422 | (032) 255-8823
Mass Schedule: Click Here
GPS Coordinates: 10.294283,123.901865
View Location on Google Maps: Click Here