1565 –Miguel Lopez de Legazpi named the first Spanish settlement in the country as San Miguel until after six years when he renamed it as Villa del Santissimo Nombre de Jesus. The old Spanish settlement that was eventually promoted into a ciudad was the section near the bustling port area of Cebu City.
Although nothing much of the old Spanish quarters remain today, it’s still possible to touch the same cannons the Spaniards used to quell Muslim raiders or to kneel in front the wooden image of the infant Jesus the same manner a pagan queen knelt before the same image during the Age of Discovery.
Our walking tour along this historic section of metropolitan Cebu allowed us to pay homage to our Spanish cultural roots and relive the city’s Hispanic heritage.
It was in the old Spanish fort where we started our Cebu Heritage Walk. Located at the port area along with Plaza Independiente, Fuerza de San Pedro was oldest military stronghold built by the Spaniards in the country. It has been occupied and modified since Miguel Lopez de Legazpi constructed the original log-palisade fort in the same site 11 days after his arrival in Cebu.
We entered the fort through a narrow passageway in Cuerpo de Guardia or the main building. At end of the short tunnel, was a landscaped garden enclosed by three coral stone walls. The thick perimeter walls along with the structures within the triangular fort were constructed in 1739.
In less than 15 minutes, we have touched one of the fourteen antique cannons used by the Spaniards to quell attacking Moro pirates, passed by the three bastions namely the La Concepcion, San Ignacio and San Miguel, tossed a coin into a wishing well beside the Vivende del Teniente or the lieutenant’s quarters and peered into the Almazaros del Rivera or powder magazine of the smallest Spanish fort in the Philippines.
An iconic landmark in Cebu, the Shrine of Magellan’s Cross was put up to commemorate the planting of the most important legacy of Spain in the Philippines –Catholicism. The octagonal-shaped chapel was constructed by Bishop Santos Gomez Marañon in 1834. Enclosed within its antique coral stone wall and under its ondiola-tile roof is a replica of the cross planted by Ferdinand Magellan in 1521. The cross was encased in tindalo wood to protect it from the habit of the pious of chipping off parts of the old wood to keep as souvenir or amulet.
Ladies in colorful local costume holding colorful candles walked up to us for a ritual prayer dance. For a small amount, they went into a trance-like state. Shuffling their feet and muttering our petitions in front of the cross, the ritual dance guarantees that our prayers have been delivered to God.
We entered through a narrow passageway across the shrine of Magellan’s Cross. At the other end of it was the old San Agustin Church of Cebu. Popularly known today as the Basilica Minore del Santo Niño, the colonial baroque church houses an important Christian relic in the Philippines –the Señor Sto. Niño de Cebu.
The 500 year old image of the infant Jesus garbed in princely clothing was a baptismal gift of explorer Ferdinand Magellan to the converted island-queen Juana. Today, throngs of pilgrims patiently line up everyday and wait for their turn to get close and whisper their petitions to the Sto. Niño de Cebu.
Exiting through the basilica’s north gate, we walked along Zamora Street then crossed Calle de Legaspi. From there, we entered the premises of the Cebu Metropolitan Cathedral.
Seat of the Archdiocese of Cebu, it was established as a diocese in 1595 and archdiocese in 1934. Today, the 1834 bell tower and baroque façade are the only remnants of the old cathedral which was destroyed during Allied bombings of World War II.
While the Cebu Metropolitan Cathedral was rather plain and extensively modernized, its ecclesiastical museum across the street is stocked with religious and secular treasures and antiquities.
The Ecclesiastical Museum of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Cebu is housed in a huge bahay-na-bato that survived World War II. It has served various functions in different periods as a rectory, a school, a cooperative store, and even temporary chapel during the renovation of the cathedral.
Baby Arnuco, the resident museum guide, led us to the inner sanctum revealing gallery after gallery of church treasures. All we could do is gasp in awe.
The six galleries showcase vintage photographs, a collection of gold monstrances, cruets and chalices, priest vestments trimmed with gold and silver, antique image of every conceivable saint and so many more pieces gathered from the different churches under the Archdiocese of Cebu.
We left the museum bloated with information about Cebu church history. By the time we were back on the street, we realized that we need to eat before proceeding to the Parian District of Cebu.
For a parting shot for this first part of our heritage walk, we crossed Mabini Street from the cathedral museum to Plaza Hamabar. Enthroned at one end of the park is the regal statue of Rajah Hamabar a.k.a Humabon -the hospitable Cebuano chieftain who opened the portals of friendship which paved the way for Spain’s lasting legacy in the Philippines.