Santo Niño

The Santo Niño and Pre-Colonial Filipinos: The Syncretism of the Catholic Faith and the Ancient Religion of Pre-Colonial Filipinos

Decades after Magellan set foot in the Philippines, the image of the child Jesus (Santo Niño) was discovered in Cebu upon the arrival of Miguel Lopez de Legazpi, captain of an expedition sent by Spain to Southeast Asia in 1565. Legazpi believed it was the same image Ferdinand Magellan presented to the queen of Cebu forty-four years earlier.

Why would the natives kept such image even years without instruction from any Catholic Priests prior to the return of the Spaniards thru Legazpi? Did the natives added the Sto Nino as their deity? or Did they embraced the Catholic Faith already then?

A netizen by the name of 𝗠𝗮𝗻𝘂𝗲𝗹 𝗥𝗖 shared to us his answers:

“As a Cebuano who knows about these events based on literature on the Christianization of the Philippines and has studied them, I’ll answer these questions.

“The Cebuanos kept the image of Santo Niño because they worshipped Him. During the Christianization of the Philippines, if you remember, we openly accepted Jesus and Chistianity. We know that the King and Queen of Cebu were the first to accept the new Faith. We were also given an idea of their motives for accepting Christianity. For Rajah Humabon, it was purely a political move since he wanted to be closer to the the Spaniards so they can kill Datu Lapulapu. On the side of Queen Humamay, her acceptance was more sincere since she was enamored by the Child Jesus, calling it the “most beautiful Child she had ever seen”. There was also an incident concerning Baladhay, Humabon’s adviser, who had fallen ill and was healed after they prayed to the Santo Niño. The rest of the Kingdom of Sugbo soon followed them.

“When the Spaniards left, the Child Jesus was still considered as a Visayan God. They referred to Him as “Santonilyo”, the God of Graces, since whetever you asked of Him, he would always give it to you. He was also called the “Rain God” or the “Rain-maker” because, during drought, everytime they dipped the image of Santo Niño, it would rain sometime in the day (This tradition is still alive today in Cebu and is done during droughts and fires).

“This form of Christianity is not genuinely “Catholic” since it lacks formal Catechism, however, it is rather a form of “Christian Synchretism” or “Synchretized Christianity”. This is because their Faith was a mergence of the Precolonial Visayan Faith and Christianity (This is common in Southeast Asia, such as the case of Thailand, merging Hinduism and Buddhism with their local Faith).

“When Legazpi came, he was met with a resistance from Cebuanos who still had resentment for Magellan. The Spaniards retaliated and burned the shoreline village. While searching through the debris, they found a crate with the image of the Santo Niño inside. At that moment, they named the village after the Most Holy Name of Jesus. The natives came back to them because they feared that the Spaniards would take their God, but instead they received the formal Catechism.

Overall, we can conclude that:
-Christianity was openly accepted by the Cebuanos.
-The Santo Niño was worshipped as a Visayan God.
-The mergence of Christianity in the Precolonial Visayan Faith was a form of Synchretization.
-The Spaniards are ruthless individuals that burned the Kingdom of Sugbo and destroyed every other aspect of our culture.
-We were colonized by the Spaniards through force and brutality, not by Christianity.

In the end, the Santo Niño, despite being a more recent addition to the pantheon of Visayan gods, He is the only one that is still worshipped today. Having a synchretized culture would actually be having a more diverse and accepting culture. We would have a deeper sense, acceptance, and understanding of Spirituality. Our culture would have been richer and more unique had the Spaniards not taken away every other aspect of it. But, perhaps, this is why we Cebuanos still worship the Santo Niño, because He is the only one Visayan God left. This Faith is still very present and very much more than alive in this day and age.

(Side Note: There is a need to study more on Precolonial Spirituality and Traditions regarding worshipping Supreme beings since there is not much discussion, education, and research on the matter).”

Painting: “Presentation of the image of Santo Niño to the Queen Juana of Cebu” by Nemesio Miranda Jr.