The Basilica Minore Del Santo Nino is the oldest Roman Catholic Church and monastery of the 16th Century in the island of Cebu. It is strategically located in the center of the city as one of the many local attractions. The history of the Santo Nino itself runs thus: Miguel Lopes de Legazpi’s men found the image of the Santo Nino and pronounced it miraculous as it had survived a fire that gutted the structure of the house in which it was then. The devastating fire left only the blacked Santo Nino, which was burnt so bad that it was hardly recognizable. As Legazpi put it, the statue’s survival was therefore nothing short of a miracle. Legazpi then immediately ordered the construction of the church after such event, which leads us to the Basilica Minore Del Santo Nino today. The church façade provides a perfect example of the combination of three different architectural styles: Muslim, Roman and Neo-classical.
The church was originally built by the Spaniards in 1566 with its original name, San Agustin Church, but it was rebuilt twice, once in 1602 and later in 1735 due to damage from fires and natural calamities. In 1965, Pope Paul VI decided to elevate it to a basilica minore as a tribute to the Sto. Nino de Cebu. The original materials of the church were hard wood, mud and nipa but, upon the order of then-governor of Cebu Fernando Valdes Tamon, the church was rebuilt in hard stone materials to preserve both integrity and beauty. The church is dubbed as earthquake-proof now and, with its design features projecting an eclectic mix of influences, is an architectural treat for Cebu visitors.
It is visited by a huge number of devotees every day, from regular churchgoers to tourists and other visitors. The church has a three-level belfry at the other end of the façade. To accommodate the increasing number of visitors, a pilgrim center was built within the church compound as well as an open-air, theater-like structure so that priests could officiate mass. The pilgrim center also houses the Augustinian Province of Sto. Nino de Cebu which is one of the dozens of geographical and organizational subdivisions of the order of St Augustine. Basilica Minore Del Santo Nino recently completed its restoration of its pipe organs which were installed in 1916 by the Spaniard Jose Loinaz, an organ technician who resided in the Philippines.
Candle vendors here are truly unique in the basilica as they dance their prayers in a two-step forward and one-step-backward beat called the “Sinug”. It is said to have inspired the same rhythm of the popular sinulog dance that is danced every third Sunday of January in the Sinulog Grand Parade. The parade is one of the highlights of the weeklong celebration of the feast of Cebu’s patron saint.
The Basilica Minore Del Santo Nino makes its mark as the most popular symbol of the city of Cebu. The Santo Nino image is not just miraculous but also emblematic of Philippine history: according to the legend, it served as a powerful deity of the colonial period and was generally known by the name, Captain General. The stories are still classed among local superstitions but they have nonetheless contributed to the strength of the devotees of the church.