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Sto. Niño

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Title: Sto. Niño  
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Subject: Miguel López de Legazpi, Manila, Kalibo, Aklan, Bislig, Cabuyao, Timeline of the Catholic Church, Isulan, Sultan Kudarat, Bustos, Bulacan, Bayog, Zamboanga del Sur
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Sto. Niño

For other meanings, see Santo Niño (disambiguation).
Holy Child of Cebu
Balaang Bata sa Sugbo
Santo Niño de Cebú
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 Basilica Minore del Santo Niño

The Santo Niño de Cebú (Spanish: Holy Child of Cebu) is a celebrated Roman Catholic religious vested statue of the Child Jesus venerated by many Filipino Catholics who believe it to be miraculous.

Claiming to be the oldest religious image in the Philippines, the statue was originally given in 1521 as a baptismal gift by Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan via Antonio Pigafetta, who physically handed it to Lady Humamay, the principal wife of Rajah Humabon, along with a statue of the Our Lady of Guidance and a surviving bust statue of Ecce Homo.

The image merited a Papal blessing on April 28, 1965, the 400th centennial anniversary, when Pope Paul VI issued a papal bull for the Canonical Coronation and Pontifical High Mass via the papal legate to the Philippines, Cardinal Amleto Giovanni Cicognani.[1][2][3]

The Santo Niño image is replicated in many homes and business establishments, with different titles reinterpreted in various areas of the country. The image's feast is liturgically celebrated every third Sunday of January, during which devotees carry a portable Santo Niño image onto the street fiesta dancing celebrations. The image is one of the most beloved and recognizable cultural icons in the Philippines, found in both religious and secular areas.


Measuring approximately twelve inches tall, the statue is believed to be originally made in Flanders, Belgium, and is highly similar in iconography to the Infant Jesus of Prague.

The statue is clothed in its distinctive and expensive red manto, and bears regalia that include a gold crown, globus cruciger, and sceptre mostly donated from devotees in the Philippines and abroad. It is permanently housed encased in bulletproof glass at the Basilica Minore del Santo Niño in Cebu City. Its feast is celebrated every Third Sunday of January.


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.[4] He persuaded Rajah Humabon and his chief wife Humamay, to pledge their allegiance with Spain. They were later baptised into the Catholic faith, taking the Christian names Carlos (after Holy Roman Emperor Charles V) and Juana (after Joanna of Castile).

According to Antonio Pigafetta, Italian chronicler to the Spanish expedition, Ferdinand Magellan handed Pigafetta the image to be given to the Rajah's wife right after the baptismal rite officiated by Padre Pedro Valderrama.[5] As it was Pigafetta himself who personally presented the Santo Niño to the newly baptised Queen Juana as a symbol of the alliance, her newly baptized husband King Carlos, Magellan presented the bust of "Ecce Homo", or the depiction of Christ before Pontius Pilate. He then 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, leaving the image behind. Legends say that after initial efforts by the natives to destroy it, the image was venerated as the animist creation deity Bathala. Many historians consider the facial structure of the statue made from Belgium, where Infant Jesus of Prague statues were also common.

In 1980, Filipino historian Nicomedes Márquez Joaquín wrote about the 44 years after Magellan's soldiers left before the next Spanish expedition came under Miguel López de Legazpi. Joaquín said that the statue was once denounced by natives as originally brought by Magellan, but was re-inforced again by de Legazpi which the natives continued to dispute claiming that the statue came originally from their land.

On 28 April 1565, Spanish mariner Juan de Camus found the statue in a pine box amidst the ruins of a burnt house. 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 woolen red hood. A golden sphere, a replica of the world, was in the left hand, and the right hand is 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: Basilica Menor del Santo Niño) was built on the spot where the image was found by Juan de Camus. The parish was originally made out of bamboo and mangrove palm and claims to be the oldest parish in the Philippines. Pope Paul VI elevated its rank as Minor Basilica on its 400th year anniversary.

Feast in Cebu

The feast locally known as Fiesta Señor starts on the Thursday after the Solemnity of the Epiphany. Each year, the celebration starts with a procession wherein the image of Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe de Cebú is paraded in the streets during dawn. On the last day of the novena, the images of Señor Santo Niño de Cebú, Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe de Cebú, and the Ecce Homo are all paraded to the National Shrine of Saint Joseph in Mandaue City for the traditional transfer of relic (Spanish: Traslación) which is finally taken to the Basilica for its final enthronement.

Papal approval

The original feast date for the image was April 28, but in the 18th century, 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. In 1965, Pope Paul VI bestowed his Apostolic blessing on the image by also making its shrine a Minor Basilica. In addition, Pope John Paul II gave his papal endorsement for the image in his Mass for Families in 1981.[6]

Mechelen statue

Recent historical research points to the discovery of a similar Child Jesus known as the Mechelen or Mechlin statue currently housed in the Louvre Museum. The statue was originally acquired in September 2009 from a private art collector.[7] 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 Mechlin statues and the Santo Niño de Cebu are approximately the same height at approximately twelve inches tall, while having similar characteristics such as the standing pose, naked body, hand blessing gesture and golden globes. 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 Cebu statue's fingers lean to the left, while that of the Mechelen statue points to the right. 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 knape or close to the neckline, while the Cebu statue looks like it is only up 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 housed in the Louvre Museum, in Paris, France. It is displayed naked, without any regalia, pedestal, accessories or any jeweled vestments.

Patron saint controversy

The Santo Niño was popularly considered the official patron saint 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 the principal patroness of Cebu in 2002.

Pious devotion

The devotion to the statue 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.

One of Chicago's Polish parishes, St. Wenceslaus Roman Catholic Church, has a statue of Santo Niño de Cebú in one of its side altars.

In Tampa, Florida, a shrine was built on the grounds of St.Paul's Roman Catholic Church located on Dale Mabry Highway. 2013 marked the 25th Anniversary of the Santo Niño Fiesta and Sinulog held in Tampa.

External links

  • Original Image of the Sto. Niño de Cebú
  • Santo Nino Online- A blog connecting Santo Niño devotees worldwide
  • New Zealand - Filipino Devotees of Señor Sto. Niño
  • Origin of the Image of Senor Santo Niño
  • Cebu Heritage – Santo Niño History



  1. Sto. Nino de Cebu. Bata sa Sugbo

es:Santo Niño de Cebú hr:Santo Niño de Cebú it:Santo Niño de Cebú

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