Cebu: An island of history and religion

My trip last October 2009 was my second time in Cebu. A few years ago, I was only able to catch glimpses of the island’s landmarks, as my travel group was only there en route to Bohol. But last October, we held in Cebu the Visayas leg of the Philippine Blog Awards for the first time — and I finally got the chance to fully appreciate touring the island without hurry.

Magellan's Cross

Cebu is a long, narrow island west of Bohol. One of the most developed provinces in the Philippines, it can probably be considered the center of commerce in the Visayas. It’s quite easy to find ATM machines in Cebu, and most of the city’s establishments have credit card facilities so you wouldn’t have to worry about carrying a lot of cash unlike in other provinces. From this, it’s easy to assume that Cebu is very similar to Metro Manila. Well, it is in terms of development, but Cebu has an island charm that you can’t find in Manila (the beaches are just a stone throw away) and a monumental role in the history of Christianity in the Philippines.

Kid with dad praying

It is known in Philippine history that Ferdinand Magellan and his crew landed on Cebu in 1521 (and eventually met his end in Mactan). It was April of the same year when he first erected a large wooden cross, and in Cebu the religion of Christianity began.

That photo you see in the beginning of this post, that’s Magellan’s Cross in present day. It now sits in the middle of a busy city, and a dome with iconic paintings has been created to protect it from the elements, but I rather think it’s still fascinating. The idea that this cross used to be in the middle of a beach and that it’s been around for hundreds of years — I find it to be of great interest to stand on the spot where history was made.

Years after the Spanish colonial rule, the Philippines is still a predominantly Christian country. We practice a lot of the rituals instilled by the Spanish friars, and most of these rituals still exist today. But a rather interesting note is how Filipinos managed to embrace other religions and somehow merge it with the more popular Christianity. Small statue

The photo to your left is a small statue I found by the doors of Basilica del Santo Niño, a church constructed near the cross of Magellan. I am not well-versed in icons and statues, but this statue seemed quite out of place (well, at least for me it is). As a Roman Catholic myself, religion has been part of my education, but I have never encountered such in any of my studies. I took a photo of the statue with hopes of scourging the internet for answers — its presence on the visage of the church really piqued my curiosity. I wanted to know what could have been the influence of such art work. And why, of all places, did they put it by the entrance of the church and on the floor where it’s almost unnoticeable.

After our brief tour of Magellan’s Cross and Basilica del Santo Niño, we had our lunch in Talisay, where we were graciously welcomed by Markku‘s family. Part of our tour included Fuerza de San Pedro, and lastly, the Taoist Temple.

We barely had enough time to catch our breath from the short hike of stairs to the temple when a very rude attendant ordered us to leave. Albeit the haste, I was able to catch a glimpse of this statue:


The statue was hard to miss. Unlike the one on the church’s entrance, this statue was big and prominently placed outside the temple. Actually, it was the first thing I saw as soon as I reached the top of the stairs. Pretty interesting really. A Taoism-influenced statue found outside and at the foot of a church’s door. I could think of a few reasons for it — an ode to Taoism, an attempt to slowly convert early Taoists to Christianity, or a hidden jab to the religion — but I can only speculate. I haven’t really searched enough for it. Frankly, seeing a larger but very similar version of the church entrance statue at the Taoist Temple was already enough to satisfy my curiosity. But I certainly won’t mind reading additional info should somebody have it on hand :)

Man selling balloons

I’ve heard a number of people say that Cebu is the cradle of Christianity in the Philippines. And rightfully so, as technically, Cebu is the place where the first Christians set foot and began their mission. Today, the Basilica of Santo Niño still stands tall, made of hard stone envisioned to withstand earthquakes and the tests of time, though it was initially built using earth, hard wood and nipa in 1566 by the order of Friar Diego de Herrera. It’s still under the care of Augustinian priests, and I think they still hold mass there (I’m not sure though).

A lot of tourists include visiting the church in their itinerary, so it’s not surprising that there are rather a lot of vendors outside the church. Balloons, religious items, candles, and yes, even prayers. I find it strange paying somebody to pray on my behalf, but hey, to each his own. Either way, it just goes to show how much things have changed and how much remained the same.

Cebu is a paradox of sorts. It’s the most developed province in the Visayas, but at the same time, the oldest city with an interesting history in the country. And yes, the island’s definitely worth a visit. Don’t even get me started with their famous Lechon Cebu :)

There are 6 comments to this entry:

Been there couple of times to see a friend of mine, and I enjoyed all my travel, tours, and holidays days in there. I may safely say, traveling to philippines is much cheaper considerng as in Europe.

I am an expat here living in London UK, and am working for a Coach Company that has connections with Philippines, they offer coach hire, minibus hire, limo hire and airport pickup and airport transfer service and they are looking forward to open a travel, tours and holidays office in Phils, so I am more likely going to see this lovely country once again….Thank you for the history and knowledge though.

Liked your post, I am in London UK but traveling down to Turkey and Cyprus and plan to set a stop during my way home in Philippines, do you mind posting me some hotels reviews and some great places to see in and around the cities?
London UK

I never been to Cebu, hope to finally visits soon

Recommended hotel: Crown Regency Hotel. Don’t forget to try out their “sky adventures”.

Cebu is a great way to discover the Philippines. Nice place, even nicer people.

Cebu is a place full of blessing having beautiful spots and full of polite and friendly individuals. I visited Shang rila, Waterfront, Marco Polo, Crown Regency. If you want a cheaper rate then I can only suggest M Citi Cebu Suites. Great place to stay and their products and services are excellent too.

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