Marks of Marian Zeal in Philippine Churches PDF Print E-mail

by Tess Z. Lopez

To a pilgrim going on a journey into the heart of Marian devotion, the Philip-pines is one country with a rich heritage expressing deep affinity between its people and the Blessed Virgin Mary. As one travels from the northern tip of Cagayan Valley to the southern curve of Zamboanga, he sees that popular Marian devotions have survived through centuries of change and modernization. These continue to be part of Filipino culture and way of life.

Colorful processions held in honor of the Blessed Virgin remain highlights of local fiestas in many towns and provinces. Churches around the archipelago stand as national shrines of the Blessed Virgin, each honoring her particular image. The popularity of Our Lady as patroness stems from her intercession and protection over the people in times of war, drought, famine, epidemics, and other calamities.

Bantay Church in Ilocos Sur houses the oldest Marian image, Our Lady of Charity, in that region. She is highly venerated there because her image is believed to be miraculous. The story goes that in 1945 three Japanese bombs hit the church and the convent where the image was enshrined. The bombs never exploded at all.

In Santa Maria, Ilocos Sur, the location of the church where the Virgin Mary is now enshrined was believed to have been her own choice. There is a legend that the Virgin’s image installed in the old church would frequently disappear from its niche only to be found on a guava tree on the hill. The townsfolk thought that this indicated her wish to build a church in this spot. In obedience to her, the church was built in 1890.

The dark Virgin of Santa Lucia, Ilocos Sur is perceived by the people of that area to be very miraculous in healing the sick, especially those with eye ailments. Those healed often return with silver plated metal pieces cast in the form of eyes to pin anywhere on the Virgin’s body corresponding to the parts that were healed These offerings are called exvotos.

The brown Our Lady of Piat is the patroness of the people in Cagayan Province. The Church of Manaoag in Pangasinan houses the famous Virgin of Manaoag also known as the Virgin of the Most Holy Rosary. The townspeople there have many stories to tell about the powerful intercessions and the miracles attributed to Nuestra Señora de Manaoag locally known as Apo Baket.

Tradition has it that the town got its name from the term “taoag,” meaning “to call.” It is said that a young man heard the voice of Our Lady then saw an apparition of the Virgin holding a rosary and child. The young man told the townsfolk about what he saw after which a church was built on the spot of the apparition. The town of Manaoag later flourished around it.

Amidst the ravaged areas of Mount Pinatubo, particularly in the Zambales area, the Aetas highly value the image of Inang Poong Bato. Legend has it that this dark image was found by this ethnic tribe on top of a rock. She has always been their protector through the centuries particularly during the recent eruption of the volcano. The original image is a prized possession of this cultural minority.

One of the more festive processions held in Laguna is the October festival of Our Lady of Turumba (also known as Nuestra Señora de los Dolores). She is Pakil’s patroness and her image was believed to have been found in the Laguna lake in 1640. As turumba means “jump with joy,” the procession involves a lot of gleeful shouts echoing the words “Turumba! Turumba!”, tapping of the face and back, dancing and somersaults. Later a cleansing bath in the lake is a must for healing.

The volcanic region of Bicol is home to the famous 264-year old dark image of Nuestra Señora de Peñafrancia, highly venerated by the Bicolanos. One may call it coincidence or faith but every year rains come at the start of the celebration of the patroness’ feast. This, the people believe, is the Virgin’s annual major blessing to them. No wonder they love her!

A most popular shrine in southern Luzon is the famous Carmelite Church in Lipa, Batangas where thousands go to honor Mary, Mediatrix of All Graces. It is believed that some years back, Our Lady appeared to a Carmelite nun who witnessed a shower of petals from heaven.

The Visayas region also has its share of various Marian shrines to be proud of. In Bohol, the colonial church of Loon is dedicated to Our Lady of the Light. There is also the Church of Our Lady of the Assumption in Dauis. In Jaro, Iloilo, the famous Our Lady of Candles is patroness of the Cathedral of Jaro.

From the Visayas, one goes down south to the city of Zamboanga where Fort Pilar is located. It was named after the miraculous Our Lady of the Pillar. The city folk relate how one night, a sleeping sentinel was awakened by a lady in a robe and veil, warning him of an impending attack of some Moro bandits. This warning alerted the soldiers and saved the fort. The lady, they say, looked like the image of Our Lady of the Pillar which guarded the fort.

In Manila, many churches have also become popular shrines of Our Lady. The Church in Baclaran receives thousands of devotees who come to honor Our Lady of Perpetual Help every Wednesday. The Church of Santo Domingo has become home to Our Lady of the Rosary whose intercession was believed to have brought the Spaniards to victory over the Dutch fleet in the famous battle of La Naval.

In more recent times, a shrine constructed in EDSA honors Our Lady, who is believed to have been instrumental in bringing about a peaceful revolution in 1986. She is Our Lady of Peace.

The oldest Marian devotion apart from Nuestra Señora de Guia is that of the Nuestra Señora de la Consolacion y Cinctura. Her statue is found in the oldest surviving Philippine church, San Agustin in Intramuros which withstood the ravages of World War II. She is also known as La Virgen de la Correa (Virgin of the Girdle) as she wears a black belt with a dangle that is part of the habit of the Augustinian friars.

Antipolo is a famous pilgrimage site to thousands of travelers who trek through winding roads to pay homage to the dark Virgin of Antipolo, also known as Our Lady of Peace and Good Voyage. The blessed image was carved from dark hard wood and brought to the Philippines from Mexico in 1626. According to tradition, the image was originally enthroned in an altar in Sta. Cruz. On two occasions, it disappeared and was always recovered from the branches of the tree called “tipulo.” The Jesuits then ordered a church built in the vicinity of the tree. She was acclaimed “la Virgen de la Paz y Buen Viaje” after her image made ten successful galleon trips usually ravaged by storms and piracy.

Near the Ninoy Aquino International Airport, The Church of Our Lady of the Airways is proof of Filipinos entrusting themselves to the care of the Blessed Mother during air travel.

Other Marian churches in the city include, to mention a few, Our Lady of the Abandoned in Sta. Ana, Mary Help of Christians in Parañaque, Mary the Queen in San Juan, and Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Broadway, Quezon City and Our Lady of Sorrows in Pasay City.

Truly “Pueblo Amante de Maria” is a fitting description of the Philippines which manifests a deep bond with Mary as a Mother, intercessor to Jesus, Protector and Mediatrix of healing graces.

Reference: Philippine Churches NMPC Books, Manila, 1980 9