By Fray Francis Musni
(Source: Originally published in "Singsing", the official magazine of the Center for Kapampangan Studies, Holy Angel University, Angeles City. Adapted and abridged for this blog.)
The image of the dead Christ is a very popular icon in the Philippines. It seems that the Filipinos identify with the suffering of the dead Christ because of poverty and other socio-economic difficulties they experience. Angeles City, in Pampanga has its own, widely revered patron under the advocation of Apung Mamacalulu (The Lord of Mercy).
It appears that sometime between 1828-1838, P. Macario Paras, parish priest of Angeles, had this venerated image sculpted by a well-known sculptor of that day, named Buenaventura. It was first installed in the sanctuary built by P. Paras on his own premises, located possibly in the Paras-Dizon estates of today’s Brgy. Lourdes Sur. Aside from the image, it had a carriage and other adornments donated by the good father to the church.
The image and its carriage were transferred to the church in 1872, remaining there until 1896-97, when, owing to the Revolution in the country, the image and carriage were transported for safekeeping either in San Fernando or Mabalacat. Then it was kept for the duration of the war in Sapangbato, until it was taken back to the church in 1904. The image was put out in procession on Good Friday and during the October fiesta of Angeles town.
When the image was carried out in procession on Good Friday of 1928, its camarero (caretaker) Eriberto Navarro, acting for his aunt Alvara Fajarda, an heiress to the Paras estate, and with assistance from policemen and the town mayor, forcibly took the image from the church when the procession ended. The santo-snatching resulted not only from an ownership dispute but also from a long-standing political quarrel between the then Nacionalistas and Democratas. The incident gave rise to a 1929 suit between the Catholic Archbishop of Manila vs. Alvara Fajardo and Eriberto Navarro.
Alvara Fajardo claimed that after P. Paras’s death in 1876, the image was inherited by heir Mariano V. Henson, who transferred his ownership to Fernanda Sanchez, who willed it to her son –and Alvara’s husband, Crispulo Bundoc. But church records show that before his death, P. Paras had given the image to the church as a gift.
Moreover, the transfer of property from Henson to Sanchez was not proved. What was proved was that, after the priest’s death, Fernanda Sanchez took it upon herself to exercise the office of recamadera, which was passed on to Alvara. Being a recamadera however, did not carry with it the ownership of the image, and so the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Church and ordered the Fajardos to return the Apung Mamacalulu image.
While the original image was apparently returned to the church, an identical image surfaced at the chapel of the Dayrit estate about the same time. The issue of the two images became the source of friction between the Dayrits and the Angeles parish priests for many years. Devotees remained with the Dayrits’ image , in fact, increasing in number until the shrine’s popularity reached cult proportions. The two images were taken out in separate processions, and on two occasions, even simultaneously. But the Dayrit’s processions enjoyed more following.
Requests for masses by Don Clemente Dayrit in the Apu chapel were always denied by the Archbishop of Manila. Later, it was the matter of accounting the donations to Apu that became the major issue. The persistent talk then was that the Church was interested in Apu because it was drawing a big crowd on Fridays and that the chapel was receiving huge amount of alms. The money issue became more serious when the Dayrits began leasing their lands to transient vendors who started making good business on the Apu premises in the 1970s.
Through the years, the Dayrits managed to have Masses said in the santuario without permit, by priests from faraway stations and even by non-Catholic priests. Angeles parish priest Fr. Aquilino Ordonez tried to remedy the situation by asking the Dayrits to sell the their Chapel to the Church so that it may be canonically recognized, but talks failed and no agreement was reached.
Long after the sensational Supreme Court case. The story about the second image refused to die. The authenticity of the image surrendered to the Angeles Church began to be doubted when rumors spread that, right after the 1929 decision, the image was sent to Paete, Laguna, presumably to have a copy made. Many believe that neither the image in the big church nor the one in the Dayrit chapel is the original Apu.
If so, where is the real image snatched by Navarro and company way back in 1928? This remains a mystery. The only extant pre-1928 picture is an old print of the Apu lying in the altar in the church’s side chapel, taken from the old house of the recamadero, Eriberto Navarro, who died in the 1950s without any offspring.
His descendants relate several stories about the Apu and its miraculous powers. There were times, they said, that it refused to be carried, that even six men could not move it. But when Eriberto came, he could carry the image by himself. Before his death, he passed on the office of recamadero to nephew Santiago Julian who performed his duties until his death in the late 1970s.
Other stories abound about the original image being kept in an underground room of the old Dayrit mansion. A witness reports that the image kept there was much darker than the one in the Dayrit chapel. Some also maintain that the image had already been spirited away to the U.S. by one of the Dayrit daughters.
Apu today is known by Angelenos as more of a bargain shopping place than as a miraculous, controversial image. Over the years, Apu has acquired the hustle and bustle of Quiapo with its own motley crowd of hawkers, bargain hunters and petty thieves. It has evolved from a shrine for the pious and desperate to a mecca for mad shoppers, wheelers and dealers.