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1521 History

Magellan’s Cross offers indulgence to Catholic faithful

Augustinian friar Santos Gomez Marañon, who served as bishop of Cebu from 1829 to 1840, granted the Magellan’s Cross plenary indulgence to those who pray before it every Feast of the Triumph of the Cross on September 14.

The indulgence is gained by praying the Creed.

For those unfamiliar with Catholic teachings, an indulgence is a way to reduce the punishment for sins. It can be attained by performing a good deed or reciting a prayer or visiting a place.

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1521 Feature History

Is the original really encased inside Magellan’s Cross?

No, according to several historians. The panel placed at the foot of the cross makes two astonishing claims: that it contains the original Magellan’s Cross and that it was planted by the Portuguese explorer on that very spot.

Neither claim holds up to close scrutiny.

It is also interesting to note that the commemorative marker put up by the then Philippines Historical Committee in 1941 never made that claim.

MAGELLAN’S CROSS. This undated photo shows a view of the cross from Cebu City Hall. Behind it is the Basilica Minore del Sto. Niño convent. (Photo from the Cebuano Studies Center of the University of San Carlos)

MAGELLAN’S CROSS. This undated photo shows a view of the cross from Cebu City Hall. Behind it is the Basilica Minore del Sto. Niño convent. (Photo from the Cebuano Studies Center of the University of San Carlos)

Putting up of Magellan’s Cross

Antonio Pigafetta, chronicler of the Spanish armada led by Magellan, wrote that they put up the cross to mark the conversion of Cebuanos, led by ruler Rajah Humabon, to Christianity.

“A large cross was set up in the middle of the square. The Captain General told them that if they wished to become Christians as they had declared on the previous days, they must burn all their idols and set up a cross in their place. They were to adore that cross daily with clasped hands, and every morning after their custom, they were to make the sign of the cross (which the Captain General showed them how to make); and they ought to come hourly, at least in the morning, to that cross, and adore it kneeling,” Pigafetta wrote.

Magellan planting the cross. (Image from the New York Public Library)

National Artist and Cebuano historian Dr. Resil Mojares wrote in his book “The Feast of the Santo Niño: An Introduction to the History of a Cebuano Devotion” that it was the practice of Spaniards to plant crosses on land they “discover” to mark possession for the crown and signify divine presence.

But after Magellan’s death in the Battle of Mactan, which author Hugh Thomas described as “a gratuitous adventure that deserved to end badly,” the Cebuanos turned against the Spaniards, allegedly at the incitement of the explorer’s slave Enrique.

Humabon invited the surviving Spaniards to a feast on May 1. He promised them gifts and jewels to take with them to the King of Spain.

FERDINAND MAGELLAN. This portrait of the Portuguese explorer and captain of the Armada de Molucca is “believed to be one of the few accurate likenesses of Magellan,” wrote historian Laurence Bergreen in his book Over the Edge of the World.

FERDINAND MAGELLAN. This portrait of the Portuguese explorer and captain of the Armada de Molucca is “believed to be one of the few accurate likenesses of Magellan,” wrote historian Laurence Bergreen in his book Over the Edge of the World.

Pigafetta, who did not join because he was still nursing injuries from the battle in Mactan, said a quarter of the crew attended, including the two new co-commanders, Juan Serrano and Duarte Barbosa.

During the meal, the Spaniards were killed by Humabon’s men. The massacre culminated in a standoff at the shore where the Cebuanos held for ransom Juan Serrano, who pleaded with his compatriots to save him. After an initial negotiation on ransom when the Cebuanos kept asking for more, the armada decided to leave Cebu.

NO SUCH CLAIM. The official marker put up in 1941 by the then Philippines Historical Committee, which is now the National Historical Commission of the Philippines, never made the claim about the original cross being encased in the one now at the site.

NO SUCH CLAIM. The official marker put up in 1941 by the then Philippines Historical Committee, which is now the National Historical Commission of the Philippines, never made the claim about the original cross being encased in the one now at the site.

IS THIS ACCURATE? Thousands of tourists visiting Magellan’s Cross daily think, because of this panel, that part of the cross is still there and that it was planted at this very spot. Those claims don’t have historical support.

IS THIS ACCURATE? Thousands of tourists visiting Magellan’s Cross daily think, because of this panel, that part of the cross is still there and that it was planted at this very spot. Those claims don’t have historical support.

Tearing it down

“Only 115 men remained of the 260 who had left Spain, and as they fled to safety, their last sight of Cebu was of enraged islanders tearing down the cross on the mountaintop and smashing it to bits,” wrote American historian Laurence Bergreen in his book Over The Edge of The World Magellan’s Terrifying Circumnavigation of the Globe. (Emphasis mine. Note the reference on a mountaintop. I haven’t found a similar one but the Spaniards were reported to prefer to plant the cross on the highest point of a place.)

“Simultaneously, before the ships had cleared the harbour, amid cries of jubilation from the indigenes, another party of them was tearing down the great Cross which Magellan had erected. What the leader had achieved during weeks of careful and patient work came to naught in an hour,” wrote Stefan Zweig in his seminal book Magellan.

In her dissertation on the Santo Niño de Cebu for her doctorate in anthropology, Astrid Sala-Boza said “there is no archaeological or historical evidence that this cross is actually the original (or at least the site of the original) Magellan’s cross.”

“Instead, because of its proximity to the Basilica, the site of the finding of the Holy Image during Legazpi’s expedition, there is the possibility that the cross could be “Legazpi’s cross” (now encased in wood),” Sala-Boza wrote. She also pointed out that the Legazpi expedition did not mention finding a cross.

NO TEXT OF CLAIM. This photo after a restoration of the kiosk by the Knights of Columbus several decades ago (we’re still looking into date) does not show at the base of the cross the panel that contains the claims about the original cross and its site.

NO TEXT OF CLAIM. This photo after a restoration of the kiosk by the Knights of Columbus several decades ago (we’re still looking into date) does not show at the base of the cross the panel that contains the claims about the original cross and its site.

Rada cross

In 1565, the Spaniards returned to the Philippines under the leadership of Miguel Lopez de Legazpi. They planted another cross, made of bamboo and measuring five fathoms.

“It is credited to the Augustinian Martin de Rada and has been called the cross of Rada,” wrote Mojares. He said Rada was known as the Apostle of Cebu because of his evangelization work here.

The cross of Rada was reputed to be miraculous because it “did not suffer the least lesion” in a fire that destroyed houses around the cross on November 2, 1565.

MAJOR TOURIST SPOT. Magellan’s Cross is a top tourist attraction in Cebu. It’s part of the tour circuit that includes the Basilica Minore del Sto. Niño, Cebu Metropolitan Cathedral, Fort San Pedro, and Plaza Independencia. (Photo provided by the Basilica Minore del Sto. Niño de Cebu)

MAJOR TOURIST SPOT. Magellan’s Cross is a top tourist attraction in Cebu. It’s part of the tour circuit that includes the Basilica Minore del Sto. Niño, Cebu Metropolitan Cathedral, Fort San Pedro, and Plaza Independencia. (Photo provided by the Basilica Minore del Sto. Niño de Cebu)

“Augustinian prior Juan de Albarran, during the construction of the current church complex in 1735-40, built an enclosure around the cross. In 1834, Santos Gomez Marañon, the Augustinian bishop of Cebu (1829-40), had an octagonal temple built to protect the cross from the weather and devotees who, regarding it as miraculous, were accustomed to chip away splinters from it as relics,” Mojares wrote. “The “original” cross is now contained in another hollow hardwood cross set in the middle of a stone altar inside the kiosk.

Sala-Boza said the cross was once referred to as “the cross on Magallanes street” and became eventually known as Magellan’s Cross.

Magellan's Cross in 1965. ({Photo provided by the Basilica Minore del Sto.  Niño.

Magellan’s Cross in 1965. ({Photo provided by the Basilica Minore del Sto. Niño.

“The lack of definitive documentary evidence on the identification of this cross obliges us to admit that it is a relic from the expedition of Legazpi, and not from that of Magellan,” Sala-Boza wrote in her study, quoting Villanueva’s 1969 work.

Did you know?

Until our research for the interactive marker that will be installed at the site, I did not know that it was granted an indulgence. To Catholics, an indulgence is “a remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven.”

Bishop Santos Gomez Marañon granted the Magellan’s Cross plenary indulgence who those who pray before it every Feast of the Triumph of the Cross on September 14. The indulgence is gained by praying one Our Father, one Hail Mary, and one Glory to the Father for the intention of the pope in Rome.

PLENARY INDULGENCE. This framed document found in the basilica library is the actual plenary indulgence granted by Cebu Bishop Santos Gomez Marañon for the Magellan’s Cross.

PLENARY INDULGENCE. This framed document found in the basilica library is the actual plenary indulgence granted by Cebu Bishop Santos Gomez Marañon for the Magellan’s Cross.

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Feature

Magellan’s cross symbolizes conversion

This small octagonal structure in downtown Cebu City may appear unimpressive, but it houses a valuable relic and marks an important spot for Cebuanos.

Enclosed in tindalo wood inside the octagonal kiosk is what is left of the original cross that Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan planted in Sugbu (now Cebu) some 490 years ago.

The cross, or what remains of it, had to be preserved inside another wooden encasement after Catholics, believing it had miraculous powers, chipped away parts as souvenirs.