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The image that survived

A puddle at the Basilica reflects devotees dancing the traditional Sinulog. FERDINAND EDRALIN

CEBU, Philippines -  We knew the image could have come from Flanders. We learned from our deeply devoted grandparents that it was miraculous. History tells us it was a gift to Rajah Humabon’s chief wife, Humamay. We have it in our hearts that it still is around, albeit fragile. But a recent confirmation that it has been presented for public viewing, through the years, still left us startled!

Basilica del Sto. Niño rector Fr. Jonas M. Mejares has asserted that the image kept in a bullet-proof transparent case, referred to locally as the “urna,” is the original image of the Sto. Niño – the one handed over by Magellan to Queen Juana (the new name of baptized Humamay) and the one found by Spanish mariner Juan de Camus on April 28, 1565 in a pine box among the ruins of a burnt house (where the basilica stands today).

What I earlier learned was that the original icon was too brittle to handle, having survived a fire, so that it was kept in a specially designed container. Despite constant visits to the shrine, there’s this conviction that I would never ever come to see the original one because private viewing was only afforded to a few, the privileged members of the Holy Order. And that the one at the shrine is just the closest replica of the original, good enough to deter several reported attempts to burn it or steal it.

“When I assumed as rector, the first thing that came to me was to look for the original one. Hain man gyod nang original beh kay aron makakita ko ug makahikap niana?” this was Fr. Mejares’ initial request, he shared. And so he was told that the one kept in the urna visited and kissed by devotees in long queues is the One.

“To those who wouldn’t believe because it was in the past made known that he was kept safe inside the basilica, in the upper floor where only the church officials have access, I would take this effort to announce that the one you have been visiting and kissing all these years is the original image. Ngano gud intawon magbuhatbuhat kog istorya? Unsa may makuha nako? The Senyor has been there all along,” he added.

As for the color, it was explained that there were already retouches done to it to get back to shape. Some antique photographs showed that the image was dark in color. A certain Dr. Mimi Trosdal had pointed out that it was an Augustinian friar who painted the statue black but that the reason for it is unknown till today. However, a nun from Belgium who was staying with the Redemptorists wiped the icon. Such act revealed its terracotta color. Trosdal then restored the image to polychrome as seen today. Trosdal is the anthropologist who acquired the statue from the Redemptorists.

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“Since it’s too brittle to handle, we have this closest replica in my office to be used officially for the procession (on the Visperas). The one to be used during the fluvial procession will be that one displayed in the museum housed by the Pilgrim Center,” Fr. Mejares explained.

According to Wikipedia, it was Miguel Lopez de Legazpi who instituted a fiesta to commemorate the finding of the image, and although the original celebration still survives, Pope Innocent XIII  moved the celebration to the Third Sunday of January to avoid conflict with Eastertide . This is why the feast is already on its 447th year. (FREEMAN)


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