CEBU | Magellan’s Cross: Of History, Culture, and Proof of Travel

It was my first time in Cebu when I visited Camotes Islands—the island group situated east of Cebu, between the island province and the island of Leyte. It’s relatively far from Cebu City.

My friends, being jaded with our bustling life in Metro Manila, were firm in skipping a tour around Cebu’s prime capitol because, according them, the streets were just reminiscent to Manila’s busy districts. I must agree though after I experienced the nose to tail traffic first-hand. But my friend Saniel insisted that we hop on a jeep going downtown before heading back to Manila and pay a visit to a prominent landmark which he playfully referred to as every traveler’s “proof” of having been to Cebu—the Magellan’s Cross.

READ ALSO: Quick Guide: Camotes Islands, Cebu

Magellan's Cross' historical marker

History recounts that when Ferdinand Magellan arrived in Cebu in 1521, he befriended the local chieftains and converted them and hundreds of their constituents into Christianity. European explorers, under Magellan’s orders, erected a wooden cross on the same ground where today’s landmark stands to signify the natives' acceptance of Christian faith.

Magellan's cross is housed in a modest octagonal kiosk, which is a chapel, situated along the street named after the Portuguese explorer. The hallowed site was made of stone walls resembling that of the nearby Santo Niño Basilica, its eight faces were perforated by large grilled arched openings, and the roof was made of red interlocking tegula tiles.

Magellan's Cross chapel

While the historical marker mounted overhead—suspended at one of the wrought iron arches—narrates the site’s glorious moments through inscriptions, the chapel's ceiling provides a depiction of it. The circular mural above the wooden cross immortalizes the momentous events that laid the foundation of Christianity in the country—Magellan’s landing in Cebu island; Rajah Humabon, his wife, and his men’s conversion to Christianity; and the foreign explorers’ planting of the symbolic cross.

Mural ceiling of Magellan's Cross

On premise, some middle-aged ladies dressed in bright yellow top and red skirt were selling colored candlesticks, each color represents a prayer intention—green for success, yellow for health and peace, pink for happiness, blue for the devotionto Mary, and red for devotion to the Santo Niño. Payment for the candles comes with a traditional rite the lady vendors perform, characterized by forward and backward steps while waving the unlit candle and chanting indistinct prayer in a seemingly local dialect. The murmur and body movements were similar to the dance ritual performed during Sinulog festival.

After the rite, the candlesticks remain unlit; the lady said so to keep the shrine from getting fogged. Instead, candles were offered at the foot of the cross, or some tourists bring them home like I did. Witnessing the traditional ritual is immersing in a rich culture.

Colorful candlesticks at the foot of Magellan's cross

At the base of the cross, there was an inscription denoting that the smoothly stained wood amidst the pavilion was not the actual cross planted by Magellan and his men on April 21, 1521. In the past century, people chipped away pieces of the original cross in belief that it possess miraculous powers. To preserve the remains of the relic, splinters were encased in a cross-shaped tindalo wood that tourists see today.

Magellan's cross up close
PHOTO: Richard Capon

However, the authenticity of the cross has long been in question. Rumor has it that the outer casing confines only a replica, not the original cross. Accounts of Antonio Pigafetta, Magellan's chronicler of his expedition, mentioned that our pagan ancestors torn the cross down after the battle that lead to Magellan’s demise. Whether this side of the story is true or not, what matters today is that the identity which Magellan and his men unknowingly rooted hand in hand with the iconic cross had flourished and defined Filipino Catholics’ deeply assimilated faith and the country’s immense culture.

Trip Notes

  • Immerse in Filipino's rich culture by buying those colorful candles and witnessing the traditional Sinug ritual. You might not be a Catholic believer or some sort, but a crumb from your travel budget is of great help to the candle sellers whose income depend on the number of candlesticks sold for the day.
  • Magellan's Cross is located in Plaza Sugbo, in front of Cebu City Hall and one of& the Basilica's entry point. Address: Magallanes St., Brgy. Sto Nino, Cebu City; Entrance Fee: None

We're in Cebu!
We're in Cebu!

Magellan's Cross, if not lechon, is the first to pop up in mind when someone speaks of Cebu. So a quick visit to and a picture with this famous landmark would make a great souvenir. Something you might want to flex to your friends and relatives when they ask, “Have you been to Cebu?"


DJ Rivera is an I.T. professional, entrepreneur, travel blogger, writer and the online publisher of based in Rizal province, Philippines. Click here to know more.

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