Among the popular devotions of our country, none is more significant to our people than the devotion of Santo Niño. This is a devotion with a national spirit, not based on pious traditions and miraculous accounts, but authenticated by history and projected into the birth and socio-political development of the nation.
The devotion to the Christ-child seemed to have originated in Spain at the beginning of the 16th century and usually it emphasized the ideas of kingship. From Spain, the devotion spread to the rest of Europe.
It must have been popular in Belgium by the beginning of the 16th century since the image of the Santo Niño de Cebu seemed to have come from Flanders. And from Europe – it spread to the other parts of the world.
Saturday, March 16, 1521, the ship of Ferdinand Magellan reached Samar. The natives seemed to be friendly. Unlike other people who were fearful of the white men, the Visayans approached them by their own accord.
The natives took their leave and came back with provisions which the Spaniards purchased. After the encounter, Magellan sailed to another island – Limasawa. Through an interpreter, Magellan made known his intention.
The Spaniards were welcomed by Rajah Awi, chief of the island. On the island of Limasawa, on March 31, 1521, the first mass was celebrated on Philippine soil. After the mass, from Limasawa the Spaniards sailed to the harbor of Cebu. They were accompanied by Rajah Awi.
A short while, the Rajah of Cebu accustomed to foreign traders from Asia, was prepared to deal with the Spaniards as traders. The intervention of Rajah Awi and the warnings of the traders concerning the might of white visitors disposed Humabon to make peace with them. To visitors of his ship, Magellan gave a brief catechesis of Christian faith. He spoke through interpreter.
One week after the Spaniards landed in Cebu, the first to be baptized was Rajah Humabon. In the afternoon, it was the turn of the Queen and the ladies. Before baptism, the Queen was shown an image of the cross, the statue of the Mother of god and Santo Niño.
After her baptism, the Queen asked for the image of the Santo Niño and it was entrusted to her keeping. She was given the name Doña Juana. Magellan became the champion of Rajah Humabon. He ordered all the chiefs to surrender and meet the king.
Lapu-lapu, king of Mactan was no coward. Overconfident and wanting to teach Lapu-lapu a lesson and at the same time to impress Rajah Humabon, Magellan sailed to Mactan where Lapu-lapu was ready and waiting. A fierce battle ensued, and Magellan was hit and he commanded his men to fall back to their boats. A few loyal soldiers remained by his side. They could not save Magellan who was wounded again.
After Magellan died, the Spaniards fled from Mactan while the lifeless body of their fallen leader was brought to Lapu-lapu. Aboard the ship, Rajah Humabon and the Spaniards mourned for Magellan.
Forty-four years later, the Spaniards returned to Cebu headed by Miguel Lopez de Legaspi. They were met with resistance and hostility and Legaspi had to resort to force. Meanwhile, Juan de Camuz, a sailor from Bermio, Vizcaya headed towards the native houses. He found a box and wondered what it contained. Upon opening it, he saw that it had an image of the Santo Niño, the one given to the Queen of Cebu by Magellan.
The image was presented to Legaspi. The finding of the statue caused a sensation among the Spaniards. They considered it as an omen to eventually convert the natives to Christianity and went about building a camp and a temporary chapel.
The enthronement of the statue in the temporary chapel was held with solemn ceremonies. Attracted by the rites and because of a strong curiosity, the Cebuanos emerged from their hiding places and joined the ceremony.
The Augustinian priest, Fr. Andres de Urdaneta enthroned the image of Santo Niño. Then, the natives talked of peace with Legaspi. In honor of the Santo Niño, the Spaniards organized the Confraternity of the Holy Child. Legaspi and his officials made a solemn bow.
The enthronement of the Santo Niño was the first crack in the hostile relations between the natives and foreigners. Rajah Tupas was informed of Legaspi’s intention to speak of peace. The Spaniards also demanded for a tribute. A church was then constructed in honor of the image of the Holy Child.
The Spaniards called the church the church of Santo Niño and it was the first house of worship ever constructed in this country. Later, it was ruined due to fire. Another church was built, and this time it was more solid and made of timber – only to be burned down once again.
The present building of the Church and monastery where the Santo Niño is kept and venerated was started about the year 1730. The image of the Santo Niño was finally mounted on January 16, 1740. By that time the colonial government and Motherhouse of the Augustinians had been transferred to Manila but wherever the friars went, they made it a point to spread the devotion to Santo Niño.
It was in 1968 when the image of Santo Niño was brought to San Jose Parish while a cofradia was organized by Rev. Fr. Ambrosio Galindez, OSA, parish priest of San Jose and enshrined thereat. It is because of this devotion that the Dinagyang was born and has become a joyous religious and socio-cultural celebration held every 4th Sunday of January annually.