Cebu Archdiocese History
In the history books, Cebu is only as old as the times surrounding the discovery of the islands that would later be known as the Philippines. However, time had given it the distinction of being the Cradle of Christianity in the country. The waters of Christian baptism flowed first on the heads of primitive Cebuanos in 1521 when Fray Valderrama, the chaplain of Ferdinand Magellan’s fleet, baptized the first Christians in this part of the globe. But what would have been the first flowering of the faith was nipped in the bud when Magellan lost his life at the hands of Lapulapu, the chieftain of the neighboring island of Mactan.
There were subsequent Spanish expeditions – one led by Francisco Garcia de Loaisa in 1525 from Coruna, Spain; another by Alvaro de Saavedra in 1528 from the port of Zaguatanejo, Mexico; and a third by Ruy Lopez de Villalobos in 1542 from the port town of Juan Gallego, also in Mexico. All these failed to establish a Spanish base on the islands. It would only be on the 27th of April, 1565 – forty four years after Magellan’s aborted stay – that the formal colonization and Christianization of the Philippines would begin. On that date the expedition of Miguel Lopez de Legazpi arrived at the port of Cebu. The memory of Magellan and his failure must have been fresh in the minds of the older natives for, sure enough, Legazpi was not welcome. The superiority of the Spanish arms and the persistence of the colonizers however prevailed. In time rapport between native and foreigner was established.
The seed of the Christian faith was planted as the missionaries went about preaching the gospel. In 1568 the local chieftain, Rajah Tupas, would be baptized and given the Christian name of Felipe. By January 1, 1571 his little village-kingdom of Zugbu, now peopled by natives and colonizers, would be officially declared as the Villa del Santo Niňo. The City of Cebu was born, the first city in the Philippines. The City of Manila would follow on June 24, 1571 and this would be designated as the capital of all the Philippine-Spanish settlements. In 1579, the “Distinguished and Ever Loyal City of Manila” was made a diocese with Fray Domingo Salazar, O.P. as the first Bishop of the Philippines. Then by the Bull of Clement VIII on August 14, 1595 Manila became an Archdiocese together with the erection of three suffragan dioceses – Nueva Segovia, Nueva Caceres, and Cebu. The title seed had become a sapling tree.
The pious mind would find it significant to remember that the young Christ went with His parents to Jerusalem at a tender age, was lost, and days later found by the mother and father; His word came to this islands in the image of the Santo Niňo, was lost with Magellan’s death, but would be found years later. One imagines how the little icon must have become a folk idol in those intervening years until its discovery among the ruins of the besieged town would restore it to right practice and orthodox ritual. The more philosophic mind instead harks back only to the Scripture line: He grew in wisdom, in stature and in favor with God and men.” For His Church in the Philippines had, indeed, began to grow.
When Legazpi’s expedition left the port of Navidad (Mexico) on the 21st of November, it had among its company two secular priests – Juan de Vivero and Juan de Villanueva, and the five notable Agustinian friars, Fathers Martin de Rada, Diego de Herrera, Pedro Gamboa, Andres Aguirre, and the head of the missionary group Father Andres de Urdaneta. They were the first missionaries to establish work in the country. From Cebu these friars and others who came later carried the Christian faith to the other islands: Panay in 1569, then to Masbate, Burias and Ticao, to Albay (then known as Ybalom), and finally in 1571 Fr. Diego de Herrera would accompany Legazpi to Manila.
Back in Cebu, Catholicism spread along the stretch of the island as the first parishes and mission posts were established. The first parish on record, interestingly enough, was not in the midst nor neighborhood of the city. It was in an island way up in the northern tip of Cebu: Bantayan became a parish in 1580. Four years later, in 1584, San Nicolas received the title. The Cathedral parish was erected only in 1598. However, it is certain that there were many mission posts in the island, enough to have made Cebu ready to become a diocese in 1595. Its first bishop was the Agustinian Bishop Pedro Agurto, OSA.
From the time Cebu was made a diocese at the close of the sixteenth century, 339 years passed before it became an archdiocese. But then its territorial jurisdiction was extensive – from Samar and Leyte to Panay, the northern coass of Mindanao, Caraga, Calamianes and the Marianas Islands. As some of these territories became independent and separated from the see of Cebu, the island itself multiplied the local communities of faithful. Cebu had started in the 1500’s with only four formally established parishes. By and by the number grew as mission villages became parochial units. Even as happens today, a community usually becomes a parish first before it takes on the status of a civil municipality. So now we have such places as Ilihan, Ocaňa, Putat and several others that are still, in civil status, barrios of a town.
From 1600 to 1700 only three (3) new parishes were added. Five (5) more were added by the year 1800. From that year until 1900 there were forty-three (43) new parishes erected in the island of Cebu. From 1901 to 1950 ten (10) more were established.
Thus when the young Bishop Julio R. Rosales of Tagbilaran diocese was transferred as the new Archbishop of Cebu on February 19, 1950, there were sixty-five (65) parishes accredited to the see. From that year on the nurtured that growth of God’s church, adding thirty-one (31) more parishes and bringing the number to a total of ninety-six (96) parishes in Cebu by 1975.