Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Magellan's Cross - The Birth of a Nation and the Filipino Faith

It's not just a cross, make no mistake. It is a chapel, small and circular, arising between Cebu City Hall and Basilica Minore del Santo Nino, and straddling Magallanes Street right in the heart of the old city. Being both a religious edifice and a tourist attraction, it attracts the curious, the tourist, the faithful and a myriad of touts dressed in yellow who would pray for your intentions - for a fee, of course. After all, some people believe that this wooden cross possesses miraculous powers that could grant wishes or heal the sick.

Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan was on an ambitious expedition that jump started in 1519. It would be the first to sail from the Atlantic into the "peaceful seas" which has then been called Pacific Ocean. This is the same expedition that completed the circumnavigation of the Earth, deftly proving that the world was not flat. And some time while braving the uncharted territories, it came across an island that has since been called the Philippines, named after a Spanish king (King Philip). Unfortunately for Magellan, he wasn't able to complete the journey. He was killed in Cebu in the Battle of Mactan by the local chief, Lapu Lapu.

Magellan was able to convert Cebu's Rajah Humabon and his queen into Christians, something he didn't succeed with the chief of Mactan, Lapu Lapu, who moonlighted as pirate of the Cebu straits, who was dismissive. Yes, the brave warrior wasn't exactly heroic in intent. Things turned sour and Humabon eventually convinced Magellan to "kill the enemy" - something the Portuguese explorer didn't envision would end his journey. Magellan got hit by a bamboo spear. He was then surrounded by the tribesmen who bludgeoned the European to his death.

The mural that adorns the ceiling of this chapel depicts the arrival of the Spaniards in the island, bringing with them Catholicism, making the Philippines the one and only seat of Catholicism in the Asian region. In fact, more than 80% of its now-100 million population are avowed Catholics. Magellan's Cross underlines the early origins of the Filipino faith. The same cross carried by Magellan to the country has been encased by a protective wooden cross, the one we find inside the chapel, although many believe that the original cross doesn't exist anymore.

Visiting Cebu City takes a tourist into the tempestuous historical past of a country continually besieged by foreign conquerors - the Spaniards, the Americans, the British (for a short time), and the Japanese. It took us awhile to rise from our colonial past moving up to the darkest years of our so-called independence - the Martial Law years. What have we gained and what have we become since then?

We are slowly rising from decades of greed, corruption and political opportunism. They've been utter baby steps. We are still learning, but there is hope. 

This is the Eye in the Sky!

Chapel that bears Magellan's Cross

Cebu City Hall

Vendor selling one of Cebu City's main products - guitars.

Bags made of indigenous materials.

A tourist police station a few meters from the chapel.

A mad rush somewhere. The basilica and Magellan's Cross are in the vicinity of Carbon Market.


Ola said...

this is interesting that there are people who would pray 'on your behalf' for a fee...

eye in the sky said...

It's a common practice actually which is rather ironic now that I think about it.

Ramakrishnan said...

Nice pics and so much history. My heart goes out to poor Magellan - didn't know he was killed in this place. Amazing that the Spaniards succeeded in converting a whole Nation into Catholics.

eye in the sky said...

@ R. Ramakrishnan: That was such a success for the Spaniards who had almost 400 years to rule the whole Philippine archipelago - that's enough sovereignty to unite a nation that was once composed of several independent kingdoms, rajahnates, prinicipalities. They were able to achieve a sort of political unification, but in the process regarded anything non-Spanish as inferior which is ironic. Why would you want to own lands and people that you deem worthless or not up to par?

The Americans followed this colonialism with almost a hundred years. And so on...

The history of the Philippines is a vicious cycle of colonial rule and in the process we've become so "Americanized" - everything about our society is like America; the language, the state of Education, the "shopping mall" mentality. We're like an unspoken, unlisted State of America.

Cebu Urbano said...

thanks for featuring Cebu City, Philippines esp the Magellan's Cross. More power to you always ;-)

eye in the sky said...

My pleasure... and thanks for the heads up. :)

marvinhudsons said...

The Magellan's Cross has been one of the traditional places to visit in Cebu because of its rich historical relevance. It has been claimed that the cross was indeed first planted in this spot, and this eventually led to the Spanish-era of the Philippines