The Magellan’s cross in Cebu city is a tangible symbol of the Catholic Church in the Philippines. The cross continues to attract curious tourists into visiting the monumental site.
Ferdinand Magellan is a Portuguese navigator who worked for the King of Spain and was in search for the Spice Islands. He was the first European explorer who came to the Philippines in 1521. Along with his search mission on the Spice Islands, Magellan also had a mission to spread Christianity throughout the island. Magellan planted the cross himself to honor Rajah Humabon’s baptism, his wife and some 500 local warriors who accepted Christianity as their religion. The planting of the cross marked not only a significant event for Cebu, but for the Filipino history and Catholic faith as well. As said in part of a song entitled “Magellan” sung by local singer Yoyoy Villame, “all people were baptized and built the church of Christ… and that’s the beginning of our Catholic life”.
Another wooden cross has been known to have encased the original cross for protection. The cross that is visible at the kiosk today is already a replica of the wooden cross Magellan and the Spaniards had planted to mark the beginning of Christianity in the island. The original cross had not been preserved as both locals and tourists believed that it had miraculous powers to heal. As a result of the belief, the people started to chip off some parts of the cross to take home. Some even gradually removed parts of the original cross for mere souvenir purposes. The cross is now kept in a small chapel situated in front the Cebu’s City Hall and next to the Basilica del Sto. Nino. In 1834, an octagon brick pavilion was built to house the cross along Magellan’s Street, which is directly translated into the Spanish name Magallanes.
Magellan’s tragic death was caused by the island’s chieftain Lapu-lapu and the natives as both fought for dominance over the island. The fight is more popularly known as the Battle of Mactan and it took place on April 27, 1521. The cross of Magellan has become a symbol of the city as its chapel’s image can be found in the city’s seal. It is has also been widely used in the logos and seals of Cebu-based government and non-governmental organizations.
The old practice was to light candles and throw coins at the foot of the cross. Today, several locals surround the chapel, selling candles and other religious accessories. Several women who sell these items world ask for your name and then dance in front of Magellan’s cross as they say a prayer for your protection and safety. This has become a tradition, along with the lighting of the candle.
The Magellan’s Cross may not be a breathtaking sight to view now, but its historical significance means there is more to it than meets the eyes. For the Cebuanos, it is the mark of the early development of the nation. And for the Filipinos, it is the beginning of the faith that would eventually become the dominant religion of the country.