22 June 2009

The Sleeping Santo Niño

The Sleeping Sto Niño (There are many versions)

This is the actual Santo Niño given by Magellan to Rajah Humabon (Carlos) and Hara Amihan (Juana) in 1521.

Yesterday I quoted from a reflection by Simeon Dumdum, Jr, on the gospel of the day, the storm on the Sea of Galilee. Jun/s wife Gingging in the comment box mentioned that he had another article relating to the same theme in yesterday's Cebu Daily News. Since the article isn't online, Gingging kindly sent it to me.
I tried, unsuccessfully, to upload an image of a carving of the Sleeping Santo Niño but you can find a photo here. 'Santo Niño' is the Spanish for 'Holy Child' and is closely linked with the history of the Catholic faith in the Philippines.


by Simeon Dumdum, Jr.

Not too long ago, a couple gifted us with a wood carving of the Child Jesus. It has the size, curls and royal garments of the Santo Niño of Cebu, as well as its crown, globe and scepter. Except that the globe lies on a seat and the figure reclines on it, sleeping – the scepter resting on a leg.

The statue, which has apparently gained popularity, goes by the name Sleeping Santo Niño.

In the house we give pride of place to a copy of the standard, the official representation enshrined in the basilica. It occupies the center of a table that serves as altar, together with the crucifix and the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe. But I am unsure as to where to put the Sleeping Santo Niño. My decision on the matter would almost certainly depend on whether it is a holy object or a mere artistic item – an objet d’art. I have since been inclined to the latter, having dragged my feet towards having it blessed (terrified of the priest’s refusal or ridicule), and for the moment having installed the statue above a console together with a paper weight portraying the head of a plumpish baby angel.

How did the first Sleeping Santo Niño come about? Did the one who carved it, true to his restless, artistic soul, make it purely for the purpose of creating something different, just as others have come up with their own different versions of the Holy Child, many of them clearly out of character, such as a Santo Niño holding a saw, a sight that would have terrified good St. Joseph himself.

Did the carver want to make such a statement? By the way, the official statement of the official representation of the Santo Niño is of the universal Kingship of Jesus, who is God, who became man, and is shown as a child to stress the need in the kingdom for the childlike virtues –dependence, trust, simplicity.

Someone, who apparently was losing in his grapple with faith, wrote about the Sleeping Santo Niño being a revelation of the “real” character of God – detached, indifferent, unconcerned with human problems.

This was exactly what the disciples felt when, while aboard a boat on the lake, a storm arose and the waves began swamping them, and Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. Mark tells us that they woke Jesus up, saying, “Teacher, don’t you care that we are about to die?”

Jesus got up and rebuked the wind, commanded it to stop, and then turned towards the disciples to chide them, “Why are you cowardly? Do you still not have faith?”

I doubt that the originator of the Sleeping Santo Niño had this episode in mind when applying chisel to wood. Likely as not, he thought of a tender human scene – Baby Jesus, like any infant elaborately dressed up by its parents for a pageant and unmindful of adult concerns, succumbing to sleep, the thing that infants most need and yield to no matter the occasion.

But subconsciously the carver has conveyed to me the message that Mark gives in the incident about the storm on the lake. It was not accidental that Jesus slept on a cushion at the stern (neither was it inconceivable – it was evening, and as usual Jesus must have had a full day). His rebuke being proof, he gave the disciples a lesson on faith – of reliance on the protection of the Father so complete that like him they should have slept the storm away, as well as that his mere presence among them should have been assurance enough of safety. After all, he had power at any time to tell off the wind and the waves.

People who complain that God does not intervene enough in human affairs really want Him to do the work for them. But really with full faith in God they should first act, carry out their roles, let the play of their lives unfold, and not always whine for the Author to appear. Incidentally, C. S. Lewis tells us, “When the author walks on the stage, the play is over.”

Perhaps the Sleeping Santo Niño deserves a second look. It does no more than remind, not of a divine pastime, but of the proper human attitude – trust. The God who appears to sleep is really an unsleeping God – as watchful as a parent is of an infant that is learning to walk, and coming to its aid only when necessary.


I love Jun's reference to the sight of the Child Jesus holding a saw as something that 'would have terrified good St Joseph'! As the son of a carpenter named Joseph myself I felt embarrassed the first time I tried to use a saw and didn't have a clue. I still don't!

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