Magellan's Cross, another view

Revisiting Magellan’s Cross, Mactan Shrine and Basilica del Sto. Nino

We don’t appreciate something until it’s gone, the cliche goes. Sappy, yes, but this drives home the point that we often take for granted places of historical importance that are right in our backyard. Take, for instance, Magellan’s Cross, Mactan Shrine and the Basilica del Sto. Niño. I spent four years in Cebu City, yet it’s only when I came back after 13 years that I took time to visit these landmarks.

Magellan’s Cross

Maybe it’s good to spice the discussion with some facts, in the same way that vegetables are good for our health. For those who’ll hate me for giving them mental diarrhea, please remember the topics covered in this post — cross for forgiveness, basilica for forgiveness, and Lapulapu for, not forgiveness, but resistance and death.

Our story starts with Ferdinand Magellan eating his meal, preparing for his voyage. But to save you from the insanely boring details, let’s jump to March 16, 1521, when Hernando de Magallanes first set foot in an island that later form part of Las Islas Filipinas. There’s a dispute as to whether the island, where the First Mass was celebrated, is really Limasawa (Southern Leyte) or in Masao (Butuan City). This hot issue is best left for another day.

The recognizable members of Magellan’s crew are Juan Sebastián Elcano and Antonio Lombardo (Pigafetta). Then there’s Fernando Jose and Oscar de la Hoya, but you know the first is a soap opera character and the second lost to Manny Pacquiao.

We know that Magellan later arrived in Cebu, celebrating a mass and planting a cross on April 21, 1521. The original cross planted in Cebu still exists today at the same spot where it was planted. One of the most recognizable landmarks of Cebu, the Magellan’s Cross, houses the original cross, now encased in a Tindalo Wood Cross to protect it from the elements. The painting on the ceiling depicts Magellan and his men planting the cross on where it stands now.

On the other hand, the marker placed by the Philippine Historical Society reads: “From time immemorial this spot has been set aside to commemorate the erection of a cross in Cebu by the expedition of Magellan, when King Humabon of Cebu and his Queen, sons and daughters, together with some 800 of their subjects were baptized by Father Pedro Valderrama. . . The image of the Santo Nino found by the expedition of Legaspi in a house near the present site of the Cathedral of Cebu is venerated by the faithful in the nearby Church of San Agustin.”

Magellan’s Cross is found near the downtown pier area, just beside the Basilica del Sto. Nino and Fort San Pedro.

Basilica del Sto. Niño

We didn’t stay long at Magellan’s Cross because other than taking photos, there’s nothing much to be done and, besides, you’d also want others to have a chance to pose and get their pictures taken on that spot.

It’s always good to read historical markers and, for me, it serves an important purpose of swamping you with facts. At least I can point to the marker if someone tells me my facts are wrong. The marker placed at the Basilica tells us that the church and convent, erected by the Augustinian friars in 1565, were both burned in 1566. The second church was also burned in 1628. The present structure was designed and constructed during the 1700s. Now, have you noticed that other equally impressive churches, including the Manila Cathedral, have been burned and destroyed repeatedly in the past? If you’ve noticed, good — tell us what’s the significance, if any, of this piece of information. And why.  (Just kidding. If you take that seriously, use the comment section below.)

It took exactly six steps to get into the Basilica del Sto. Nino. If you tell me it’s more than six steps, then you’re probably hungry because your stride is short. If you tell me it’s less than six steps, you’re a giant. But we shouldn’t be arguing about steps. The important thing is that the Basilica provides a sweet relief for the harried soul, as well as the perspiring tourists under the Cebuano sun.

I tried to wait and snap a photo of the Basilica, without people, but it seems impossible to do unless you cordon it off completely. People flock to the Basilica at all times of the day, even at lunch time. Just imagine the sea of humanity packing this place during the annual world-famous mardi gras, the Sinulog, which gives tribute to the Sto. Niño.

The courtyard inside the Basilica, beside the church and the chapel where the miraculous image of Sto. Niño is housed, looks out of place in a downtown pier area. A balcony juts out of the stone walls, which gives you a sort of European atmosphere (ok, I haven’t been to Europe) and a weird feeling that Juliet would emerge anytime to look for his Romeo, or a cardinal would suddenly appear and shout: “Habemus Papam!

It’s a perfect place for meditation, except that, to the people lining up at the side of the courtyard, it will look like you’ve lost it.  There’s a long queue of faithfuls waiting for their turn to get inside the Chapel of Sto. Niño. Some, with a hand stretched to touch the glass enclosing the Sto. Niño, would stand there and pray for a minute or two, prompting the guard to politely remind those in line to please do the prayers inside the Church, where the Sto. Niño could be seen anyway.

Not that we can blame the people taking their sweet time to pray. The Sto. Niño, which the faithful believe to be miraculous, is the heart of the Basilica. The hundreds of fingertips touching the glass encasement reflect the fervor of prayers. The fingerprints also mean that we have a blurred photo of the  Sto. Niño.

Mactan Shrine


We capped our trip with a visit to the Mactan Shrine. The story of Mactan also capped, rather sealed, the fate of the explorer Magellan. Only a month after Magellan set foot on Philippine soil, he died on 27 April 1521 fighting LapuLapu and his men.

The marker at the Mactan Shrine proudly proclaims that “Lapulapu became the first Filipino to have repelled European aggression”.

If Lapulapu and his men were alive today, and the fight just ended, I’m deadly sure they would have trooped to the STK (Su-To-Kil), fresh seafood a-la Dampa just beside the Mactan Shrine.We did no fighting, just visiting the Shrine, but we went hungry and had “no choice” but to visit Sutokil.

The shrine is near the airport, just before Shangrila Mactan. If you’re staying in Cebu City, with no plans to visit Mactan island except on your way from and back to the airport, I suggest you plan to squeeze a visit to Mactan Shrine on your way to Cebu City or the return trip.

One more thing, when you enter the Shrine, you’ll see the monument in honor of Magellan in the middle. I thought it’s the only thing to see, so I left and hurried to Sutokil to catch up with my companions. A few steamed crabs and steamed fish later, I asked where on earth is the statue of Lapulapu, which turned out to be strategically placed facing the beach, at the back end of the Shrine.

I told my companions that I truly didn’t know the statue was there. They wouldn’t hear any of it. They’d rather stick to the out-of-this-world assumption that my fat-riddled body felt unworthy to stand near the well-chiseled statue of Lapulapu. To prove them wrong, I’d probably (re-)revisit these historical places and have my photo taken beside Lapulapu, ten years from now. That would be one of the rare instances when I could say I still won’t appreciate the flabs even if I lose them.

How to get there? For maps and directions, go here.



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