CEBU | The 16th Century Basilica Minore del Sto. Niño of Cebu City

Monday, December 24, 2012

Cebu's Sto. Niño Church

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.
Vendors Selling Candles at Cebu's Sto. Nino BasilicaThe 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.

Historical Marker at Cebu's Sto. Niño ChurchThe 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.
The Image of the Señor Sto. Niño at Cebu's Sto. Niño ChurchIt 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.

Relief Detail at Cebu's Sto. Niño ChurchIt 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.

Ceiling Detail at Cebu's Sto. Niño ChurchThe 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.

The Altar at Cebu's Sto. Niño ChurchHistory 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.

Historical Paintings at Cebu's Sto. Niño ChurchOff 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.

Cebu's Sto. Niño ChurchMy 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.

Cebu City Location Map

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

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  1. I've always thought the San Agustin Church in Intramuros is the oldest, then again that's the difficult part about churches--they don't get finished the same year construction started. Love how you went into detail about the Sto. Nino Basilica. :) Last I heard about San Agustin was they peeled the orange paint, which was a relief because paint + the church's age don't really add up. I was kind of disappointed the first time I saw it coz the facade looked so, um, modern. Hehe. Great photos as usual! ~Nikka

    1. The Santo Ninyo church beat it by about 30 - 40 years, although the structure standing today is a completely different structure to what the Santo Ninyo church is today as that was not constructed until the 1730s.

  2. it has no massive dome, the pediment is not even ornate and there's no doric arcade in the facade.

  3. Two2travel
    I just learned that San Agustin is still the oldest church structure in the country. Sto. Nino is only the oldest in terms of founding date :)

    Corrections done :)