The Holy Child Jesus isn't just a static icon on an altar. Elders give representations of it to their children for protection — an image of it in the dining area, a miniature statue in the car or a medallion for someone about to take an exam.
The Sto. Niño de Cebu is not confined to a singular form; instead, it assumes a multitude of shapes and expressions, each carrying unique stories and profound significance. The Sto. Niño, in all its forms, remains a constant presence, symbolizing faith, continuity and the interconnectedness of everyday life with the divine.
When the Ramon Aboitiz Foundation Inc., through The Kabilin Center (TKC), in partnership with SM City Cebu launched the “Treasures of Devotion exhibit located at The Northwing, SM City Cebu on Jan. 8, 2024, Cebuanos are brought closer to their faith through these tangibles.
Throughout these 500 years of belief and believing, clergy and devotees acquired many liturgical and devotional materials that have helped shape Cebuano's faith and devotion.
“The outside portions of the panels will show scenes of the story of the Sto. Niño de Cebu presented as state-class artworks. They’re complimented with different images of Sto Niño de Cebu,” said Heidee Palapar, head of TKC.
The different Sto. Nino images and other tangible religious objects featured in the exhibit are loaned from The Heritage of Faith Museum of Cansojong, Talisay City.
According to TKC, through photo and video documentation, the religious objects found in diocesan and parish museums and private collections in Cebu were cataloged, unearthing layers of memories and experiences accrued by generations of believers.
With the gallery designed to have thematic and conceptual groupings, one theme showcases various representations of the Holy Child Jesus called “The Images of Christ."
According to TKC website, this includes notable figures from St. Theresa’s College and the intriguing Sto. Niño del Teniente of San Nicolas Parish.
A unique addition is the Sto. Niño from Danao Parish, holding a saw, though not readily accessible to the public. Its inclusion emphasizes the virtual exhibition's purpose.
Devotee, John Mecca, from Danao, said this Sto. Niño is highly coveted, prompting its concealment in the church's secure vault to prevent duplication.
“Many are envious of this image. We do not show it to the public because it will be copied. This is the only statue that looks like that. He looks like a real child. That’s why it won’t be released anymore; it’s kept hidden in the vault. Our church has a vault with big metal doors,” said Mecca.
Indeed, the Sto. Nino reveals a fascinating diversity in its representations, with distinct titles such as "The Sleeping Santo Niño," "Santo Niño de Pasyon," "Santo Niño de Cristobal," "Santo de Pescador" and numerous others.
In historical contexts, affluent families exhibited their devotion and reverence to Sto. Niño by offering luxurious garments as donations. These donated garments became a manifestation of the community's collective dedication, enhancing the regal and sacred aura surrounding the revered image of Sto. Niño.
On the other hand, another popular version of Sto. Niño is the Sto. Niño Palaboy is characterized by a rugged appearance and adorned in a distressed white sleeveless undershirt.
Each title tells a dynamic story, adding layers to the spiritual significance of the Holy Child Jesus across various regions and cultures.
Meanwhile, the original Sto. Niño in Cebu is encased in bulletproof glass inside the Santo Niño Chapel, located on the right side of the altar.
Sto. Niño de Cebu is typically dressed in rich liturgical vestments, including an embroidered chasuble and a crown, emphasizing the Holy Child's regality and sacred importance in the Catholic faith.
Devotees continue to line up to witness the four-century-old original wooden image of the Holy Child inside the Basilica.
Fr. Ion Miranda, one of the friars of the Basilica Minore del Sto. Niño said the Basilica keeps the original image of Santo Niño de Cebu.
“We try to correct the belief that the Augustinians are hiding the original image. The one that people visit is the original image. That's what people have been lining up,” said Fr. Ion Miranda.
Centuries ago, the Sto. Niño, now at the heart of the vibrant Sinulog celebrations, found its beginnings as a baptismal gift from Ferdinand Magellan to Queen Juana of Cebu in 1521.
For over 450 years, the Augustinians safeguarded this precious icon, with a significant shift occurring merely four decades ago when custody transitioned to the hands of Filipino Augustinians.
This subtle change marked a chapter in the enduring story of the Sto. Niño, connecting the past to the present in the sacred journey.
Preserving these images of Sto. Niño is essential for cultural heritage, the continuation of religious traditions, and the celebration of a shared identity among Filipinos, most especially Cebuanos.