The Gardener’s Tale of the Santo Nino de Cebu

      Comments Off on The Gardener’s Tale of the Santo Nino de Cebu

About four decades after Magellan’s death in Mactan, following many unsuccessful attempts to return, Spanish Power at long last made it back to these shores.

The King Charles of Spain who was also Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire and Ferdinand Magellan always took the latter’s mission quite seriously as including three areas: the economic (particularly spices, gold and general trade); the imperial-political (discovering and settling new lands); above all, the religio-spiritual intention (converting people to Christianity).

Corresponding to these three, Magellan understood trade; he was a great warrior; but he was not a clergyman. In this third area, he was a lay person.

But his work as lay missionary ultimately bore great harvest, or so it seems. Cebu became the seat of Christianity in the whole archipelago and Asia Pacific, and the peoples of the islands became a nation. How did this happen?

Forty-four years after Mactan, his successor, Miguel Lopez de Legaspi, found in the smoking ruins of Cebu the little image of the Child Jesus of Flanders with His coat of flounce and jaunty cap of velvet. It was the image Magellan’s party gave to Queen Juana, wife of King Carlos (Humabon).

But let’s just go back a little bit. After the debacle of Mactan in Magellan’s time, Spain tried many times to come back to Cebu or to the Islas de San Lazaro or to las Islas Felipinas – in vain. It was all frustration and failure and, who knows how expensive it got to be.

It was not only difficult; it was well-nigh impossible to follow Magellan’s act, to repeat what his men and he had gone through and accomplished in the original Armada de Maluco.

But neither Charles nor his son Philip (Felipe II) had it within them to surrender or give up. The success (and failure) of Magellan’s Expedition had fired their imagination in terms of expanding the Empire, or finding more wealth, or spreading the Catholic Christian faith, or “all of the above.”

They organized more expeditions, spent more fortunes and experienced more failures in the decades following Magellan’s untimely demise – until Fray Andres de Urdaneta, veteran navigator, and Don Miguel Lopez de Legazpi, veteran administrator teamed up under el Rey Felipe II to come to where Magellan died, not directly from Spain but from West-Coastal Mexico.

Arriving in Cebu on Friday, April 27th 1565, Rajah Tupas was king. You know Tupas from the time of Humabon, when he was presumed heir of King Carlos. He was probably only in his late teens then but now he was much older (late fifties? early sixties?) and with the clear guilty memory of what happened to Magellan and his men.

All these decades, it was the lingering belief of the people of Cebu that Spain may take its time but it would surely come back to wreak vengeance. And now they were back, almost half a century later.

Unbeknownst to Legazpi, people were starting to pack and move elsewhere. Tupas was getting hard to get; one emissary after another was merely doing a good job biding their time. All the gift-giving from Legaspi’s side was not making any dent.

Still, Legazpi was determined to exhaust all means of peace.

Tupas was finding this hard to believe. To him it was a given, that the Spaniards were back to avenge the massacre of his fleet a generation ago. And yet, here is Legazpi asking for peace and the casi-casi, the blood ceremony of brotherhood!

He would play their game, Tupas decided. If the Spaniards wanted peace, he would now prepare for war. That night he sent out messengers to his friends and allies to muster reinforcements for his beleaguered town.

The next day, Legazpi continued his toing-and-froing process of various emissaries, now including Fray Urdaneta and Admiral Mateo de Saez. They did not see Tupas anywhere; they only saw more people leaving town and in a way that was beginning to look like a stampede.

The third time Legazpi sent Saez and Urdaneta to offer Tupas the handclasp of brotherhood and peace, the reception committee was shockingly different. By now it was Tupas’ army, in battle array, waving lances, knives and bolos.

They had put on their wooden corselets and rope armour (escaupiles), and had armed themselves with their lances, shields, small cutlasses, and arrows. Many plumes and varied headdresses were waving. The help of men had come in praus from the outside. Their number had reached about two thousand warriors.

Through an interpreter, Admiral Saez told them that since they did not desire friendship and peace but were only anxious for war, war it is they would have. He advised them to act like men, defend themselves well and guard their homes.

The militant people replied, “Be it so! Be it so! Come on, we await you.”

In anguish, Magellan’s worthy successor consulted again with his officers, Crown officials and monks. Had he not tried all possible means to win over these “perfidious” and “intractable” people? There is no record of Fray Urdaneta’s opinion but the captains immediately drew up their battle plan.

It was classic and simple. Three batels of soldiers, led by Saez, Goiti and Isla, would attack one point where a bigger concentration of enemy boats and warriors were gathered. Another company under the hidalgos of Legaspi’s retinue would storm the other side of town.

As the assault waves embarked, the artillery of the flagship fired on the balotos and the guns of the ships, the San Pablo and the San Juan, bombarded the town. The thunderous roar of the guns quickly ended the battle.

The “Cebuanos” were scattered, running every which way. The Spaniards pursued them but they, of course, were much lighter and swifter on the run.

In the melee, however, a house was fired on by a shot from one of the boats, causing a general conflagration.  The fire burned more than a hundred houses or more than half of the town.

Juan de Camus, one of the sailors, was poking about the houses for loot with his friend, a bombardier, Pedro de Alorza. There was this small, quite modest house that looked unentered, as yet. Soldiers and sailors were now all over, ransacking the half-burned city.

Entering that house, Camus found a few boxes. One caught his eye because it was tied with cord and string that were clearly Spanish. He broke open the box and found inside another handsome box of pinewood. Inside was a wooden image of the Child Jesus of Flanders.

It was dressed in a coat of flounce, a collar of spun gold and a tiny, exquisite cap of velvet. The image was intact, except for the little cross atop the globe which was missing. There were some spots on the highly polished forehead, perhaps because of kissing, and a few spots on the globe.

The tiny right hand was raised in blessing.

When Legaspi saw the dramatic find, he was deeply moved. He may not have known then that it was Magellan’s gift to la Reina Juana almost half a century earlier. Anyway, taking the image in his hands he kissed its tiny feet, and raising his eyes to heaven, he prayed:

“Lord, Thou art powerful to punish the offenses done in this island against Thy Majesty, and in order to found in it Thy House and Holy Church where Thy glorious name may be venerated and exalted!

“I beseech Thee to enlighten and guide me so that all we do here may be to Thy glory and honor and the glorification of Thy Holy Catholic Faith.”

He later ordered the image to be brought in solemn procession to the temporary church and enthroned on the main altar.

And that’s the true historical background of “Pit, Senor.” – #CharlesAvila, #TheGardener/ 15 January 2023