A visit in Cebu won’t be complete without visiting the country’s oldest Roman Catholic Church – Basilica Minore del Sto. Niño. It is a homegrown site of devotion for many Cebuanos and Filipinos alike which stood to many hardship – destroyed by fire twice (1602 and 1735) and damaged by earthquake (2013). But aside from the annual Sinulog celebration and the veneration to the miraculous image of infant Jesus, what you do know about Basilica Minore del Sto. Niño?
Here are some fun facts that you probably don’t know about Basilica Minore del Sto. Niño:
- It was formerly known as San Agustin Church.
On April 28, 1565, the convent and church of Sto. Niño de Cebu was founded by Father Andres de Urdaneta. It was the same day when the Legazpi-Urdaneta expedition arrived in the island of Cebu. A place was allotted for the church and convent of San Agustin “where the image of Sto. Niño image had been found”; hence, the building of structure made of hard wood, mud, and nipa.
- The “finding” (Kaplag) of the statuette of the Santo Niño by Juan Camus fired the Augustinians’ hope and courage in their mission of Christianizing the Filipinos.
Father Urdaneta was commissioned by the Royal order of Spain’s King Philip II to launch and direct the expedition to the Philippines. After two months of expedition, the fleet set sail from Bohol to Cebu where the old kingdom of Humabon is now in the realm of Rajah Tupas. However, after what happened in the battle of Mactan, Tupas was skeptical of the Spaniards’ porestations of friendship and their peace offerings hence he ordered the townspeople to evacuate and summoned their allies. Though no battle was ensued Legazpi ordered the ships’ artillery to fire on April 28. The natives fled to the mountains so when they landed they found an empty burned town. A sailor of the fleet, Juan Camus, found the image which was presented by Magellan to the Queen of Cebu. This then fired the Augustinians’ hope and courage in their mission of Christianizing the Filipinos.
- Santo Niño was supposed to be made of bricks.
After the fire in 1602 and the destruction of the roofing and façade of the church in 1729, Fr. Jose Bosqued considered building a much stronger church. After gaining funds and labor support, the construction began in 1730. However, they noticed that the humid weather of Cebu is not suitable for a brick-church as they start to deteriorate immediately. The project was then demolished and was replaced with stones. They then began gathering stone supplies from Carcar and quarry in Mactan Island, Capiz, and Panay which then became the foundations of the church.
- President Ferdinand Marcos declared the Sto. Niño Basilica as a National Shrine.
After its construction, Cardinal Hildebrando Antoniutti, Papal Legate to the Philippines, conferred upon the church the title “Basilica Minore” (The Minor Basilica of the Holy Child) – a special privilege granted to the Augutinian Order by Pope Paul VI. Moreover, the Holy See also calls the church as the temple, the “Mother and Head of all Churches in the Philippines”. Seeing its historical significance, the former President Ferdinand Marcos also declared Basilica Minore del Sto. Niño as National Shrine.
From what stood as a burnt hut back then, the Basilica Minore del Sto. Niño continuous to evolve with its devotees. It is currently located in the heart of Cebu City bordered by Osmeña Boulevard, D. Jakosalem Street, P. Burgos Street, and Plaza Sugbo – where the historic Magellan’s Cross can be found.