The Image of Santo Niño de Cebu as a Sign of Christ

Augustinian friars praying before the image of the Santo Niño de Cebu at the Basilica Minore del Santo Niño de Cebu.

As a Sacred Image in the Church, the image of Santo Niño de Cebu is a sign of Christ. It is not honored in itself. Rather, it is honored because it represents the God-Man Jesus Christ who became a child like us. The Fathers of the Council of Trent decreed:

“We honor sacred images not because we believe that any divinity or virtue are in them or anything is to be asked of them or that trust is to be reposed in images but because the honor given them is referred to their prototypes that by which the images which we kiss and fall prostrate, we adore Christ and venerate the saints.”

The Council of Trent

The image of Santo Niño is not created by sculptures to gain fame and glory for the sake of art itself. On the contrary, it is meant to glorify and evoke the transcendent mystery of God. St. Augustine writes about the beauty that transcends material things and the important role these material things play in bringing him to the Divine. He writes:

“But, what do I love, when I love Thee? Not the prettiness of a body, not the gracefulness of temporal rhythm, not the brightness of light, not the sweet melodies… these I do not love, when I love my God. Yet, I do love something like a light, a voice, an odour, food, an embrace, when I love my God.”

Confessions, X, VI, 8.

The image functions primarily to dispose the faithful towards the infinite Mystery. It pulls the believers like a magnet towards the Beauty who is God made flesh in Jesus Christ. No wonder according to the Gozos, the Santo Niño is called the batubalani sa gugma, a Cebuano phrase which literally means “magnet of love.” Like a magnet, the beauty of Christ in the image calls and brings the people to Himself.

For Anscar Chupunco, the image of the Christ-Child is not just an image of a vulnerable child. More than this, it is a sign that points to the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Christ. Fr. Andrew Batayola, OSA, Augustinian friar and former Rector of the Basilica Minore del Santo Niño de Cebu, asserts that the image of the Santo Nino speaks about the Total Christ where its red cape symbolizes Christ’s Passion and Death and its inner white garment and crown speak of His glorious resurrection. This idea of the image of the child Jesus capturing His Passion and Death is also mentioned by Dez Bautista and Abe Florendo who claim that the look of fear on the face of the Holy Child in the icon of the Mother of Perpetual Help “seems to be caused by a vision of the Passion revealed by Archangel Gabriel holding the cross and nails and Archangel Michael with the lance, the poled tipped with a sponge and a vessel containing vinegar.” The Augustinian friar Czar Emmanuel Alvarez also affirms this internal unity of Christ’s birth and the Paschal Mystery – that is, his passion, death and resurrection in a depiction of the baby Jesus in swaddling clothes like mummy in strips of linen and placed in a manger that resembles a tomb.

This is the image of a 4th Century Roman Paleochristian “Sarcophagus of Stilicho.”

Aside from Christ’s Passion and Death, the kingly regalia of the image of the Santo Niño also points us to the Resurrection of Christ. Christ’s resurrection conquered death and by His victory, He gives humanity the reason to hope that life and love will always be victorious.

The image of the Santo Niño de Cebu is a sign that points us to Christ. It is not an image that we worship nor honor in itself. We honor the image because it is a sign that points us to Christ. May our lives too become signs that bring and gather people to Christ.

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