The idyll coastal poblacion in Romblon Island, Romblon becomes festive beginning the 2nd Friday of January as revelers flock at the 400-year old St Joseph Cathedral. Devotees gather in front of the church to observe the spiritual practice of the Tonton ng Sto Niño de Romblon. The Tonton, a Romblomanon word meaning to lower the image of the Sto Niño down the pedestal. This practice usher’s the official opening of Biniray Festival which last for a week.
Señor Sto Niño de Romblon
The Señor Sto Niño de Romblon is considered as one of the treasures of Romblon province. It was believed to be the replica carved from the original image of Sto Niño de Cebu commissioned by the Augustinian Friar in 1582. The replica was ready to be shipped to Madrid but the galleon was stopped by a Typhoon when did the ship stopped in Romblon. After a holy mass, the image could not be moved from its place. Believing it has found its home, the galleon left the Sto Niño.
Since then, the people believed that the Sto Niño de Romblom made some miracles possible, which includes covering the island with thick clouds to avoid being spotted by bombers in WWII. Typhoons changing course to avoid the island. Some personal favors from individuals like healing and favors.
For a while the images was stolen and got lost but was miraculously recovered after 22 years.
Saint Joseph Cathedral
The cathedral where the Sto Niño de Romblon is housed is also worth noting. The Saint Joseph Cathedral was one of the 26 colonial churches declared as a National Cultural treasure declared in 2001. It is considered as the oldest Roman Catholic Church in Romblon.
The mass leading to the Tonton usually starts at 3PM. The crowd already congregated by the church when we came. We waited until the mass finished. At first we were positioned by the choir loft. But I decided to move outside to get a different vantage point. It was already getting dark, which would be hard for photography. I thank one of our hosts Benjie of Seaport Restaurant for accompanying me on some good vantage points.
When the Señor Sto Niño finally came out, everything happened so fast. The crowd flooded and followed the procession as it went around the plaza. Benjie suggested we go back inside the church to watch out for its return.
I noticed one of the side altars was filled with different images of the Sto Niño. Some devotees would bring their own images to be left here and be blessed.
When the Sto Niño de Romblon returned, the energy in the room shifted. I could see the people, had different kind of excitement and deep devotion. As a non-catholic, it was a very interesting practice to observe. I could really feel the energy flowing and the atmosphere in the air. Fascinating.
This is the start of the Biniray Festival that would continue for the next seven days.
Ferdz Decena is an award-winning travel photographer, writer and blogger. His works has found print in publications such as Singapore Airlines’s Silver Kris, Philippine Airlines’ Mabuhay, Cebu Pacific’s Smile and Seair InFlight. He has also lent his expertise to various organizations like the Oceana Philippines, Lopez Group Foundation, Save the Children and World Vision, contributing quality images for their marketing materials.