The Basilica Minore del Sto. Niño de Cebu is the mater et caput (Mother and Head) of all churches in the Philippines bearing the name as the first church built in Philippine Islands. It is also one of the famous destinations of pilgrims and tourists in the country. The present church was built in 1735 through the leadership of Fr. Juan de Albarran, OSA. And, it went a major renovation before the 4th centennial anniversary of the Christianization of the Philippines in 1965. Continuous renovations, restorations and improvements had been made since then.
But in 2013, the Basilica was one of the many churches in Central Visayas that took a blow from one of mother earth’s natural disasters, the earthquake. The belfry crumbled to the ground in seconds leaving the coral stones turn into pieces and sand. Providentially nobody was hurt during the accident. Eventually, after three years, the belfry was restored through the help of the National Historical Commission of the Philippines and the Philippine government.
In early 2017 with the new Augustinians assigned headed by Rev. Fr. Pacifico Nohara, Jr., OSA, rector and prior, the Basilica was indeed in need to undergo some major renovations and restorations. The first improvement made was the re-roofing of the entire Basilica church that actually started last year and finished in June 2017. It took more than eight months since the lumbers supporting the roof had to be cured from termite infestation. The Basilica tapped the expertise of 401 Construction company as they are also commissioned by the National Historical Commission of the Philippines.
Meanwhile, in February 2017 two historical paintings started to be restored and were finished in July 2017. The first batch of painting restored was the St. Augustine conversion and baptism of Jesus Christ placed on ceiling of the vestibule. The other one is the 1868 painting of Severino Flavier Pablo called “The Augustinian Saints and Blessed Retablo”. Considered as a religious and cultural treasure of the country, this painting is located at the Grand Sala of the convent. The 149 year-old painting had providentially survived the Philippine revolution and the World War II and some natural calamities.
Lastly is the replacement of the brick pavement in between the pilgrim center and the basilica church. It was in 2002 that the bricks were layered over on the path walk. After more than ten years, the bricks had lost its thickness causing some pilgrims and tourists to slip especially when it rains. The layering of new bricks started in March. As of July 2017 the improvement project is on its final phase.
But from the previous year one major conservation effort was done. The 1965 Pipe Organ was restored after it was partially destroyed during devastating earthquake on October 15, 2013. Debris of the fallen belfry fell into the organ causing some of the pipes to bend and crack. Since then, the pipe organ had not been functioning until the restoration in 2016.
However, the restoration effort to the Basilica is not far from finished. Because too of the 2013 earthquake, some parts of the church and the convent were affected. Debris of stones was falling once in a while. The friars then had to cordoned some areas of the church being inaccessible to people.
To preserve the glory of this historical and cultural church takes some time, effort and expertise of certain professionals. The Augustinian fathers are taking essential and crucial steps in the restoration of the church.