Devotion to the Holy Image

When the men of Conquistador Ferdinand Magellan in 1521 fled from the Zubu settlement on their leader’s death, legends say that there were efforts by the natives to destroy what the Spaniards left, the image of the Santo Niño. After all, it was a new idol, a strange one to pagan natives. It was also gifted to thenative queen by white men who engaged them in a battle in the isle of Mactan. Thus, as told, there were attempts to do away with it.

But all these attempts to ax or burn the image were in vain. The little King prevailed.

“The miracle was not surviving the ax and the fire; the miracle was surviving the fury and hatred of the natives”, said writer Nick Joaquin.

The strange staying power of the Santo Niño, its other worldly- capability to survive, must have given rise to the first devotion of the image even by pagan natives and by the dark-some newly- Christianized descendants of Zubu King Humabon and Mactan chieftain Lapulapu as they were converted by Miguel Lopez de Legazpi four decades later.

The devotion is a feeling of awed love for what the image symbolizes. And this feeling is lent meaning when expressed in the way it is believed to be manifested that would best please Him. Through the years, certain ways of worship to show devotion have endured all other changes in the life of the Cebuano community. Among these is the yearly pilgrimage to the shrine in April until 1720 and in January thereafter.

Most stories about the Santo Niño miracles in the personal lives of men in the past centuries have been woven around this undying tradition of pilgrimage. Even in the “ Legends of the Santo Niño” by Manuel Enruquez de la Calzada, most modern day confessions of personal miracles are about the suprahuman intervention shown in thelives of pious men and women who come yearly ot the shrine in sheer trust in His power to help them. Yet others go to the shrine oftener, especially when beset with personal problems. And the “miracles” recorded in legends are still happening to many, stories yet to be told and written about.

The yearly pilgrimage to the shrine, the best manifestation of the devotion, is not complete without the emotional prayer, the fervent sinulog dance, the candles burned at the altar and the agnoses (relics). The age of creative commercialism, whether censurable or taken as normal in an economically fast developing city, has also added to the religious aspect of the devotion the souvenir collecting evoked by enterprising commerciantes who sell varied sizes of Santo Niño replicas and statuettes of other saints.

Candle burning is done by devotees who, as the candle vendors put it matter-of- fact, are too shy to dance the sinulog. These are mostly students or office employees or city devotees who habitually visit the image even outside the fiesta season when the sinulog dance is not generally done. Candle vendors, thus, do not only burn candles of their customers but also dance the sinulog for them when requested. Thus, the candle stands lined at one side of the Basilica leading to the Santo Niño shrine, daily glittering with burning vigil candles in glass containers, are top- heavy with lights in January on to the feast on the third Sunday.

Agnoses are for sale for the devotee who wants to bring home something out of the pilgrimage that would keep the devotion alive. Vendors make their agnoses by enclosing in plastic covers reprints of pictures of saints in between where are inserted ashes of palms and flowers used in processions during lent, or dust from the Santo Niño chapel. It is believed that the evil spirits are kept away from the wearer of the agnoses.

Devotion from the heart of the more affluent believer is manifested in gifts, as seen even in the gifts of the Spanish royalty in the past centuries, like the large and green emeralds set in gold of the pendant in precious rubies. In contemporary times, rich devotees have gifted the Santo Niño with stones, gold and robe of the finest fabric accented by precious jewelry.

The poor give as much as the rich, a show of the same devotion, which cannot be said to be less. They leave at the shrine handkerchiefs or roses, which have the same value in terms of devotion as the crown of gold gifted by the late President Carlos P. Garcia.

The devotees pray for health as well as economic well- being for peace in quarrel- torn families, or strength of faith in the Child of Love. (OMA)

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