Just before everything went horribly wrong and he wound up dead on the beach of Mactan, the Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan presented this small sacred figure, along with other religious gifts to the Cebu chieftain’s wife Hara Amihan to celebrate their conversion to Christianity.
The elaborately dressed carved wooden figure, believed to be of Belgian origin, traveled with Magellan on his voyage of discovery and conquest from Spain to the Philippines, making this the oldest Catholic treasure in the islands.
After Magellan’s death at the hands of angry locals in April 1521, the little Jesus disappeared until 1565, when it was rediscovered. The oldest church in the Philippines, the Basilica Minore del Santo Niño is said to be built over the spot where it was found. The basilica has burnt to the ground twice, and was bombed during WWII, but the little Santo Niño has escaped ‘miraculously’ unscathed.
The Feast of Santo Nino is held locally on the second Sunday in January, followed immediately by the nine day long Sinulog festival, celebrating the local conversion to Christianity with parades, music, and dance.
Magellan’s death is re-enacted locally every April.