This little statue has been my favorite since I found it three years ago. It came to me in a jumbled box lot from an estate sale. Look at it closely and it is a reassembled puzzle glued together after a bad break. The neck and the base and back have been repaired. The statue was quite dark with dirt when I found it, but has been cleaned just this side of falling apart. It is Portuguese and the eyes are made of glass, giving it a kind and sympathetic countenance. It sits on top of my desk in my writing space in the basement.
Alas, not for me the window view for writing. I do best in my spot underneath the living room, where I can hear the children going about their treks, their games, their cooking. It was many years before I grabbed onto the notion of a place of my own to write. I do it best right here, where disturbance is minimal.
This little statue reminds me of my nephew Jimmy, who looked a lot like this when he was a tiny boy. It’s a sweet religious image. So approachable. Since I understand children, it is so easy for me to pray wrapped in this devotion. I just talk and tell Jesus what I need and I pray for my family, my friends, one by one. It’s conversational and very Filipino. It comes from the heart and not from the detached intellect. It’s a conversation, not a meditation. It’s full of pleas and please. Talking to children is easy, they listen with their big eyes. I become an asking child when I pray to the Santo Niño.
The devotion to the Holy Child was brought to the Philippines in the 1500’s. As is so typical in these stories of religious devotion in the Philippines, the people were in a state of expectation for the Holy Child as he was prefigured in their animist religion. When Magellan arrived, things began peacefully. The Queen of Cebu, Ratu Humanay, was very touched when encountering the Santo Niño statue that Magellan brought with him. She asked to be baptized.
People oftentime think that the Santo Niño de Cebu devotion is the same as the Infant of Prague. The Filipino devotion has an earlier history since Magellan landed in 1521 and the devotion was revived when Legazpi arrived in 1565.
Magellan was killed by Lapu-lapu and the remains of the Spanish fleet hobbled back to Spain. The crew of 250 was reduced to 8. It took some years for the Spanish king to put the Philippines back on its immediate agenda.
When Miguel de Legazpi returned, he fired on the village. Probably in retaliation for Magellan’s death. Several of the huts caught fire, then the wind changed and the rest of the village was kept from burning. One of the Spanish soldiers found a chest with Spanish rope tied around it. In that chest was this statue of the Santo Niño, lying hidden for 44 years. It was the statue given by Magellan to Ratu Humanay. You can read all about the Santo Niño of Cebu right here.
When I was a little girl in the Philippines, I knew so many people who had a deep devotion to the Santo Niño. Stories about prayers answered, tragedies averted, jobs gotten, narrow escapes abounded in the lore of the answered prayer. Filipinos have an external way of showing religious devotion. They are big on ritual, fiesta, public encounters with the Divine. Now that I am almost fifty, I would love to go back and sing my thanks at the Shrine of the Santo Niño. There is so much to be thankful for, and an ongoing list of petitions that need Divine Intervention. Until then, I have my little statue. One day I hope to have a large Santo Niño pendant to wear around my neck like my Aunty Lynne. Someday.