Cebu News

The camareras of the Santo Niño

The Freeman

CEBU, Philippines - Aside from the dancing of the Sinulog, the changing of the Santo Niño’s garments is also a tradition that is observed by devotees.

The dressing and undressing of the Santo Niño de Cebu is a sacred ritual delegated only to trained camareras.

In her dissertation paper (2005), Astrid Sala-Boza said the Santo Niño de Cebu, on ordinary days, wears His “daily wear” and on special occasions, He is donned with fiesta finery, and that the traditional “ilis” and “hubo” are done in a private ceremony performed by camareras or the “keepers of the Prince’s wardrobe.” Sala-Boza is the current camarera of the Santo Niño de Cebu.

According to Sala-Boza, the camareras like her are “from the esteemed beatas” or female devotees of the Holy Child who change the Child’s robes “reverently and carefully.” The camareras, a week before the Child’s fiesta, perform the ritual of changing the fine clothes and jewelry of the Santo Niño in preparation for the procession and other fiesta-related events.

After His feast, the same people, along with the rector of the Basilica, perform the “hubo” or the changing of the Santo Niño’s clothes, wherein from fineries He will be dressed into His daily wear, which include undergarments donated by devotees and a red cape.

The used under-garments valued as “relics” for having been in contact with the holy image are then given to the sick devotees to help them in the healing process. Items that come in close contact with the Santo Niño image are believed to have healing powers.

Sala-Boza said in the 1980s, the changing of the Santo Niño’s garments was made into a semi-public event opened to many devotees. But in the 1990s, because of the “extreme” difficulty in doing it with a lot of people watching, the Augustinians ordered that it be made into a private ritual again, with only the chosen camareras and the rector present.

Dr. Mimi Trosdal, a Santo Niño devotee tasked by the Augustinians with the repair of the original Santo Niño de Cebu image after it sustained damage during World War II, became the main custodian who performed the robing and disrobing of the Holy Child. In 2001, however, Trosdal turned over the privilege to Sala-Boza, who was her trainee. Sala-Boza is assisted by another camarera, Norma Lim Liu.

Santo Niño images of the devotees, however, undergo changes in garments through vendors who do not only sell images, but also vestments of the Holy Child.

Gemma Sarveda, 53, is among the many Santo Niño image vendors who also sell garments and accept repairs of images of devotees.

Sarveda said, in a day, at least 40 devotees entrust their Santo Niño icons to her for a change of clothes.

She said that she learned how to dress the Santo Niño from her mother, who also did the same outside the Cebu Metropolitan Cathedral, the church near the Basilica.

She said that when she was small, she would help her mother cut and sew vestments, as well as repair Santo Niño images.

Sarveda said that she is happy that, in her small way, she is able to help devotees happy by dressing up their Santo Niño images. — /QSB (FREEMAN)


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