Monday, February 02, 2009
Magellan's Cross, and the City Square it sits in
The day before we were to head back to Angeles City we did a tour of Cebu City proper. We made a deal with a taxi driver for three hours for 650 pesos. Now that's not a bad deal, only about 14 bucks. We probably could have gone lower still, but he seemed like a good chap, so what the heck.
We told him we wanted to see "the sights," but he didn’t seem to get what we meant by the phrase. So, I got specific and asked him if he knew about Magellan’s Cross and the old fort. Aha! He got that. He seemed to know the location of both of those sites, so, off we went across to Cebu City from Mactan.
Magellan’s Cross is the first place we stopped. With the big time annual Sinulog Festival just kicking off, which I understand lasts for more than a week, evidently there were lots of folks in town to help celebrate it. Along with all these people, we checked out the cross pavilion located right in front of a church devoted to The Santa Nino, or the Christ Child; or at least that what it says on the sign in front of the church.
The story behind this religious festival, "The Sinulog," goes like this:
More than 40 years after Magellan’s death, Legaspi and his men returned to these islands to make good on the original claim for them for Spain made by the ill-fated Magellan. Using overwhelming firepower and lots of Spanish steel to destroy all resistance, Legaspi didn’t repeat the mistakes of Magellan. While looting one of the villages in what is now Cebu City, one of the Spanish soldiers found a wooden statue of the Christ Child that a priest under Magellan, some 40 years earlier, had presented to Hara Amihan, the wife of Rajah Humabon. The statue was a gift to celebrate the occasion of the Cebu queen's conversion to Christianity. The finding of the statue was declared miraculous by a priest under Legaspi and he declared the site a holy one. So, upon it, or near it, the basilica of San Augustin was built.
So that explains the Sinulog festival and the origin of the Santo Nino Basilica, but the tale of Magellan’s Cross is a bit different. The pavilion for the cross is in the square outside the entrance to a basilica and across the square from the Cebu City Hall. There is also a university in the vicinity, also named after The Santo Nino, the evidence of it being groups of nursing, and other medical type students in their training whites, all roaming about all over the place.
The sign inside the kiosk-like pavilion says that the cross in there encases the remains of the original one planted by Magellan in 1521. Now excuse my skepticism, but if you really think that any of the original cross still exists, and it’s there, inside that cross on display, then I have a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you. Still, I found it to be historically significant, because even though the Spanish priests that started the tradition, did so in the early 1700s, about 200 years after the time of Magellan, it's still important because of how long it's been there, and thus probably marks the spot not too far from where Magellan actually did plant his cross. As they say in the big city, “it’s all good.”
The colorful mural on the ceiling above the cross depicts Magellan planting one for Spain, and in doing so, the bringing to this part of the world, among other things, Christianity. It also marks the arrival of a whole new set of traditions and culture, and perhaps most importantly, it marks some 350 years of Spanish dominion over the Philippines. I make no judgments here on whether or not that was a good thing; as an interested observer of history, it just is.
After the moment or two it took to take several photographs at the cross pavilion and to read the captions, we decided to take a lap around the outside of the large square. I took photos of the view as we sauntered around to the left, past the college, city hall, past a fellow in charge of burning candles to The Santo Nino, and finally to the larger-than-life statuary of Jose Rizal way up on his concrete pedestal, forever conducting business at his over-sized desk. If you don’t know who Rizal is, then you know nothing of this country. I call him “Jose the Brilliant,” and he is THE MAN.
We took our time and did the whole thing in a liesurely 25 or so minutes. We texted our taxi man, met him back at his sedan, and headed out to the nearby Fort San Pedro. There is a lot to like about that fort, and a lot to comment on. More on the fort probably in the next post.
In the meantime, when you have time, check out here the full flickr set of photos I took of Magellan’s Cross and the immediate environs.