A Brief History
One of the many Catholic traditions is the Marian devotion. We, the Filipinos, especially the Bicolanos, have that extraordinary, exceptional, and devoted love for Mother Mary — the Mother of Jesus and our Mother, too. We believe that she will intercede for us and will lift our prayers up to God. Thus, there is strong belief and unshakable faith that our prayers are answered through the intercession of the Blessed Mother.
She has been called many names in different regions of the Philippines. Some of them are the following: Nuestra Señora de Caridad to Ilocanos; Our Lady of Manaoag to the people of Pangasinan; Lady of Piat to Cagayanos; Nuestra Señora del Rosario de la Naval or Nuestra Señora de Antipolo to the Tagalogs and many others. Perhaps, one of her most notable names is Our Lady of Peñafrancia, more warmly called INA or Mother, to the Bicolanos. This intense devotion to Mother Mary by the Bicolanos can be traced back in Spain.
Near Salamanca, Spain, there is a village called San Martin de Castañar located at the foot of Peña de Francia hill. A man named Simon Vela and his companions found on May 19, 1434 an image of Mary, now fondly called Our Lady of Peñafrancia. Details of this event are still contained in an official document duly notarized and kept in the archives of the village.
Around 1700, the Covarruibias family of San Martin de Castañar migrated to the Philippines, and settled in Cavite. One of their sons was named Miguel who became sickly while studying in the University of Sto Tomas in Manila. Miguel was a great devotee of Our Lady of Peñafrancia. He found a painting of the image found by Simon Vela, and would place the painting on whatever part of his body that greatly pained him. This gave him relief from his suffering. “So many are the miracles that have happened that I cannot count them. All I could say is that I am the miracle of her miracles.” Miguel said.
Miguel de Covarruibias came to Naga upon the invitation of Bishop Andres Gonzales (1685-1709) to join him in his diocese of Nueva Caceres. There, Miguel became an ordained diocesan priest and later on, the Vicar General of the Diocese.
A lot of miraculous events happened in Naga during this period. One of the most prominent story is about a dog killed, its neck slashed and its blood used to coat or paint the newly carved replica of the statue of Our Lady of Peñafrancia in Spain made by a local artisan. The dead dog was dumped into the river, but it swam alive once again, as witnessed by hundreds of people. Many other miracles that happened were attributed to Our Lady, and its news spread like wildfire. Thus, the devotees also increased in number. She became more popular not only to the natives, but also to the Chinese community. These were all documented in Father Miguel’s letters of 1710 and 1711. His letter to the Dominican Fathers of Salamanca, Spain in 1712 reported many miracles through the intercession of Our Lady. As the devotees grew in number, the devotion also spread outside the Diocese of Nueva Caceres, which before comprised not only the Bicol region, but also includes Tayabas (now Quezon), Marinduque, Laguna up to Palanan, Isabela along the Cordillera ranges.
Succeeding Bishops of Nueva Caceres also contributed in propagating this devotion. Bishop Isidro Arrival (1740-1751) built the initial stone church, later called “Sanctuaries de Peñafrancia”, on the banks of the Bicol River. Bishop Francisco Gainza (1862-1879) enlarged the sanctuary, wrote the history of Peñafrancia, and edited the Novena of Our Lady in Spanish, and in the Bicol dialect. Almost a century later, the English translation was done by Monseigneur Florencio Yllana in 1945.
Like the biblical “mustard seed” , the Peñafrancia devotion today is like a “giant tree”, whose branches extend to other parts of the world like America, Europe, Australia, and Asia. The love story between our Lady of Peñafrancia, whom we lovingly call “Ina”, and us, her children, is never ending.
Today, we have Bicol and Tagalog novena translations. Devotees from all over the world are enjoying the fruits of this Marian devotion, and the aid of Our Lady of Peñafrancia. On her feast day, pilgrims gather once more at her shrine to pay her homage for favors received.
BIG CELEBRATION this SEPTEMBER 2010 IN NAGA CITY
“300 YEARS OF DEVOTION”
“GROWING IN HOLINESS UNDER THE MANTLE OF INA”
The Feast of Our Lady of Peñafrancia is a one-week affair that starts on the second Friday of September when the miraculous Ina is transferred from her shrine to the centuries-old Naga Metropolitan Cathedral. This procession is locally called traslacion where the miraculous images of Our Lady of Peñafrancia and of the Divino Rostro journey to the Metropolitan Cathedral of Naga City for a Novena and Holy Masses. This began in 1885 and ushers in the week long festivities in the locality. A nine-day novena and prayers are held in her honor. This event is considered as the biggest and most popular religious event in the Philippines.
The feast begins with the Virgin’s image (which is a copy of the Madonna in Spain) being brought to the Naga Cathedral, where millions of Bicolanos, devotees, and pilgrims are holding a novena. Showing to the whole Christian world their unshakable faith and loyalty to the Lady, their Divine Mother, the people kneel on the ground and bow their heads, as the Virgin passes through downtown Naga atop a colorful pagoda, which also carries her various images and icons.
During the traslacion, which passes through the main streets of Naga, the miraculous Ina of the Bicolanos is borne on the rugged, muscular shoulders of barefooted voyadores, who form a human barricade to protect the Virgin from the unruly crowd.
Devotees adhere to the towering pagoda, mindless of the scorching sun, in an impressive display of faith. Novena and prayers for nine consecutive days are held. High ranking officials and other powerful people vie for the honor of sponsoring a certain night’s novena. Bicolanos also visit their relatives and friends for merriment, sharing food, drinks, and prayers. On the last day, the Virgin is returned to her shrine, crossing the Naga River.
The evening procession is flanked by thousands of devotees and pilgrims in boats carrying thousands of lit candles, while kneeling and bowing their heads in prayer. When the image reaches her destination, the followers joyfully shout “Viva la Virgin” (Long Live the Virgin!) to the heavens.
A multicolored pagoda carrying the images/icons of the Virgin of Peñafrancia and the Divino Rostro will pass through the Bicol River. The fluvial procession marks the return of the Virgin from the Naga Metropolitan Cathedral to her home shrine at the Basilica.
Millions of Bicolanos will once again show to the whole Christian world their strong faith and loyalty to their Heavenly Mother. Again, we will hear the triumphant sounding shouts of VIVA LA VIRGEN! VIVA! VIVA EL DIVINO ROSTRO! VIVA!
See you in Naga City this September 2010: 300 Years Celebration!