I have long been curious as to the persons behind the already iconic murals of the Magellan’s Cross kiosk in downtown Cebu City. The octagon ceiling portrays two important scenes that happened on April 21, 1521. Half of the dome shows the baptism of Rajah Humabon and his household by Fr. Pedro Valderrama and the other half shows the erection of a wooden cross on the shores of Cebu. These events marked the seeds of Christianity and the beginning of more than three centuries of Spanish colonization in the Philippines.
It is said that the original cross was enclosed inside the existing cross which is made of Tindalo Wood. This was done since many people chipped away portions of the original cross for souvenir purposes or for the healing powers it was believed to possess. The authenticity of the historical relic is also doubted by many. On the other hand, the ceiling paintings done in 1970s, are genuine at the very least.
My intial guess was the ceilings was painted by the same man behind the various paintings inside the Basilica Minore del Santo Niño, a 16th century church located a few steps away from Magellan’s Cross. When I had the chance to visit Cebu last December, I dropped by the city’s famous tourist spot to find out if I missed a detail. And true enough, written at one small corner in the ceiling were the small names of Serry M. Josol and Jess Roa.
There is little information online about these two painters. Mr. Serry, has already passed away in 2006.. But there might be a chance for me to interview Mr. Jess on the other hand,who is a Cebu Normal University alumni. If given that opportunity, I would ask him these among many other questions: were the murals a separate effort or a collaboration with Josol and what were his inspirations in coming up with the scenes being depicted.
I many not have the answers to these yet but I am just glad that I found about Josol and Roa, the unrecognized painters of an artwork that is already immortalized in postcards and travel books. This also led me to look at a tourist landmark in Cebu in a way that I have never done before. There is after all, an interesting story hidden in a brick, a painting and a landmark in our cities which we may have grown overly familiar through the years. All we have to do then is to ask the right questions. The answers hopefully will teach us to never look at these already familiar structures the same way again.