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April 10, 1521 Rajah Humabon Agreed to Plant A Christian Cross in Cebu

On this day, April 10, 1521, 500 years ago, Rajah Humabon, the king of Cebu, agreed to plant a Christian cross in Cebu. This was to consecrate the grave site of one of Magellan’s men, apparently stricken by scurvy. Humabon witnessed a Christian funeral ceremony, “with much pomp as possible, in order to furnish a good example.” (Pigafetta) Scurvy was a disease contracted by several of Magellan’s men because of vitamin C deprivation. It is fatal as it causes blood infection. “In a time of warring empires and transoceanic voyages, sailors dreaded scurvy more than any other disease,” said Science journalist Catherine Price in her article “The Age of Scurvy” (2017) on Science History Institute.

A detail from the “Planting of the Cross” (1965) by National Artist Vicente S. Manansala, property of the National Museum of the Philippines. Phtopgraphed by Ryan Tan. (National Quincentennial Committee, Republic of the Philippines)

In the evening, another man died. He was buried at the same site consecrated earlier. After which, Magellan’s men unloaded merchandise and traded these wholesale to Humabon. “Those people live in accordance with justice, and have weights and measures, said Antonio Pigafetta, chronicler of the expedition. Pigafetta also took the opportunity to observe everything he could in Cebu–from musical instruments, houses, down to the decorative seashell chamber called laghan (Nautilus pompilius).

If not of the compassion shown by our ancestors–first in Homonhon, Guiuan, Eastern Samar, then in Limasawa, and then later in Cebu–Magellan and his men could have died or weakened of starvation, dehydration, fatigue, and lack of nutrients from almost four months of traversing the Pacific with no decent food and water.

Below is an excerpt from Antonio Pigafetta’s First Voyage Around the World:

On Wednesday morning, as one of our men had died during the previous night, the interpreter and I went to ask the king where we could bury him. We found the king surrounded by many men, of whom, after the due reverence was made, I asked it. He replied, “If I and my vassals all belong to your sovereign, how much more ought the land.” I told the king that we would like to consecrate the place, and to set up a cross there. He replied that he was quite satisfied, and that he wished to adore the cross as did we. The deceased was buried in the square with as much pomp as possible, in order to furnish a good example. Then we consecrated the place, and in the evening buried another man. We carried a quantity of merchandise ashore which we stored in a house. The king took it under his care as well as four men who were left to trade the goods by wholesale. Those people live in accordance with justice, and have weights and measures. They love peace, ease, and quiet. They have wooden balances, the bar of which has a cord in the middle by which it is held. At one end is a bit of lead, and at the other marks like quarter-libras, third-libras, and libras. When they wish to weigh they take the scales which has three wires like ours, and place it above the marks, and so weigh accurately. They have very large measures without any bottom. The youth play on pipes made like ours which they call subin. Their houses are constructed of wood, and are built of planks and bamboo, raised high from the ground on large logs, and one must enter them by means of ladders. They have rooms like ours; and under the house they keep their swine, goats, and fowls. Large sea snails [corniolli], beautiful to the sight, are found there which kill whales. For the whale swallows them alive, and when they are in the whale’s body, they come out of their shells and eat the whale’s heart. Those people afterward find them alive near the dead whale’s heart. Those creatures have black teeth and skin and a white shell, and the flesh is good to eat. They are called laghan. The Philippine Islands, Volume XXXIII


National Quincentennial Committee, Republic of the Philippines. The Philippine Islands, Volume XXXIII.

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