Looking Back

Tourists taking selfies overlook this relic

Christianity in the Philippines, if we are to follow the Spanish version of the story, was literally planted on our shores in 1521 when Ferdinand Magellan erected a wood cross in Cebu and caused the mass baptism of natives headed by Rajah Humabon and his wife. We cannot use the word “conversion” here because the Cebuanos did not have the basic Christian training to appreciate the ritual that was made upon them—something they probably mistook to be a strange custom of friendship brought by one of our earliest tourists.

There has been a suggestion that Christianity was introduced by the Portuguese, a narrative covered up during the 400 years of Spanish colonization, because when Pope Alexander VI cut the world in half like an orange, and granted the rights to all unknown lands equally between the kingdoms of Spain and Portugal, the Philippines lay in the Portuguese side. Moving the demarcation line to bring the Philippines into the Spanish side was futile, so Spain kept the Philippines in an exchange that included ceding Spanish Brazil to Portugal.


Tracing the Christianization of the Philippines to Magellan, the fourth centenary should have been celebrated in 1921, but reckoning has been pegged to 1565, the arrival of a Spanish expedition led by Miguel Lopez de Legazpi and navigated by the Augustinian friar Andres de Urdaneta. This explains the Spanish-Philippine history reflected in the naming of upper-crust Makati villages as: Urdaneta, Legazpi, and Magallanes.

All this history is often lost on tourists to Cebu, the “Cradle of Christianity in the Philippines,” who take selfies with the Santo Niño and “Magellan’s Cross.” If they inquired further they would discover another historical relic often overlooked in another part of the Basilica: a wooden bust of the suffering Christ known as “Ecce homo” (Behold the man), the Latin words allegedly proclaimed by Pontius Pilate when he presented Jesus to a mob of angry Jews after he was scourged for claiming to be the Son of God and King of the Jews.


This wooden Ecce Homo is believed to have been one of three religious icons presented to the Queen of Cebu after her baptism when she was given the Christian name “Juana,” in honor of the Spanish Queen who is unfortunately remembered in history as “Juana la Loca” (or Joanna the Mad). The Queen chose the cute Santo Niño over the Ecce Homo and an image of the Virgin Mary. The other two extant relics from the Magellan expedition are worth looking into.

The history of the Ecce Homo is to be found near the image. The pertinent part reads:

“On August 20, 1572 the wooden bust of Jesus Christ was miraculously discovered in an early settlement of Sugbo. The historic event coincided with the death of … Miguel Lopez de Legazpi in Manila. Historian Fray Gaspar de San Agustin recounted in his Conquistas de las Islas Filipinas (Madrid 1698) how it was unearthed in a burial site of a famous and ancient leader named Rajah Carli, believed to be among those baptized during the arrival of Ferdinand Magellan [in 1521]. Popular scholarship associates the name of Rajah Carli with Rajah Humabon with the view that the latter was christened Carlos. Through time the usage or citation of the name may have been misspelled or corrupted and carried over into extant historical literature.

“A certain soldier, Juan de Castilla, uncovered the casket of the chieftain while digging the ground to lay down the foundation of his house. Surprisingly enough, the rajah’s body was still in recognizable condition after many years of entombment. Fray Gaspar de San Agustin’s narration on the finding of the Ecce Homo described the bust’s precise location in evocative detail. It was devoutly placed on the Rajah’s chest in excellent form, contrary to some accounts that it was positioned on the side of the cadaver. A small cross was also held piously in his hands. Such orchestrated precision undoubtedly signified the rajah’s faithful state to the newly embraced Christian belief while still alive.”

The Ecce Homo once located on the tabernacle of the church of the Santo Niño for centuries was moved to San Agustin Museum in Intramuros in 1965. It was returned in August 2011 after a long process began by then Cebu Archbishop Ricardo Cardinal Vidal. It is a historical puzzle waiting to be solved.

Comments are welcome at [email protected] ateneo.edu

Subscribe to Inquirer Opinion Newsletter
Read Next
Don't miss out on the latest news and information.
View comments

Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.

TAGS: Amberth R. Ocampo, Chrsitianity in the Philippines, Ecce Homo, Ferdinand magellan, Inquirer Opinion, Looking Back, Magellan's Cross, selfies
For feedback, complaints, or inquiries, contact us.

© Copyright 1997-2020 INQUIRER.net | All Rights Reserved

We use cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. By continuing, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. To find out more, please click this link.