Sto. Niño de Cebu (or Holy Child of Cebu) is a Roman Catholic figure of the child Jesus. The convent was founded on April 28, 1565 by Fr. Andres de Urdaneta which was the same day the Legazpi – Urdaneta expedition arrived in the Philippines. A place was allotted for the church and the convent of San Agustin (the place where Sto. Niño image was found) when Legazpi and his men planned the urbanization of Cebu on May 8, 1565.
Sto. Niño de Cebu image is the oldest Catholic relic in the Philippines and was permanently housed since 1565 at the Basilica Minore del Santo Niño in Cebu City, Cebu which was under the custody of the Augustinians. The convent not only housed the prominent image but also served as the house of the studies of grammar in 1599. It also served as the rest house of missionaries working in the province as well as a retirement home for the aged and the sick.
The church and convent was built by Fr. Diego de Herrera with the use of wood and nipa. This was destroyed by fire on November 1, 1566. In 1605, a new church was constructed by Fr. Pedro Torres still out of wood and nipa. The church was completed in 1626 but unfortunately in March 1628 it was again destroyed by fire. Fr. Juan Medina started the construction of another church around 1628-1629. This time they used a great innovation during those times which is made of stones and bricks. But later on, the construction was stopped because the bricks used apparently “melted” upon contact with air. In February 29, 1735 Father Provincial Bergaño among others started the foundation of the present church which is made of stone. A lot of help came, from the residents of Talisay to the parishioners of Mactan.
The materials used during the construction of the church of Sto. Niño de Cebu was made of stone which were quarried from Capiz and Panay by an army of bancas. The molave wood came from the mountains of Talisay. Rev. Fr. Juan Albarran acquired some knowledge of architecture because there was a lack of chief craftsmen and officers. The construction of the church commenced around 1735-1737 and was completed in 1739 and according to one author named Vela “the church has all the characteristics of a solid construction to withstand all the earthquakes…” The façade of the church is a blending of Muslim, Romanesque and neo-classical features and the bell tower has two blind and open windows alternating in shape, ending up in triangular pinnacles with a circular disc crowned by balusters and a bulbous dome of Muslim influence.
Sto. Niño de Cebu image was the same image that Magellan gave to Queen Juana as a gift during the baptism of King Humabon and his wife Queen Juana on April 14, 1521. When Miguel Lopez de Legazpi and Fr. Andres de Urdaneta arrived in Cebu and formally Christianized the Cebuanos on April 27, 1565, they found the natives unfriendly and set the village on fire. One of the soldiers named Juan Camus found the image of the Sto. Niño de Cebu unharmed in one of the burnt houses. Since then, miraculous image has been revered by the Cebuanos and became the patron of Cebu. Today, the original Sto. Niño de Cebu image beautified with gold and precious stones is shrined in glass which is situated on the left side of the Basilica altar for public devotion.
Devotees of Sto. Niño de Cebu are growing over the years and would easily fill the Basilica beyond its capacity. Because of this, a pilgrim center was built within the church compound which was completed in September 1990. The pilgrim center is an open-air structure that can accommodate 3,500 people. This is where the Holy Mass during Fridays is celebrated as well as religious festivities. The construction funds where from generous contributions from Sto Niño de Cebu devotees around the world.
The church also has Basilica Del Sto. Niño Museum which is situated in the basement of the Pilgrims Center. The museum houses different Sto. Niño de Cebu gowns in various sizes. It also shows different jewelry from rings to necklaces which are placed in one cabinet as well as different kinds of toys. These are usually gifts from devotees offered to the Sto. Niño de Cebu for his use during his feast on the third Sunday of January. You can visit the museum from Monday – Sunday (except Wednesday) from 8:00 AM to 11:45 AM and from 1:30 PM to 4:45 PM. A minimal fee around P10-20 will be collected for the maintenance of the place.
The church also have a “Basilica store” located on the south wing of the Basilica. Replicas of Sto. Niño de Cebu as well as religious articles, rosary among many others are sold in this store as souvenir items. The shop is open Monday to Saturday from 9:00 AM to 6:00 PM.
The church of Sto. Niño de Cebu is located in Magallanes St., Cebu City, Cebu, Philippines. Going west, it is 5 minutes walk to Cebu Metropolitan Cathedral, 6 minutes walk to Rajah Humabon monument, 8 minutes walk to Colon St., the oldest street in the Philippines and about 9 minutes away from the Cebu Heritage Monument. When going north, one can walk going to Fort San Pedro for about 7 minutes.
For more details about the Sto. Niño de Cebu, you can visit their website at http://www.basilicasantonino.org.ph/.