Wednesday, October 6, 2010

34. RETRO-SANTO: Nstra. Sñra. De la Paz y Buen Viaje

One of the most popular and ancient images of the Blessed Virgin venerated in the Philippines resides in Antipolo and is known as Our Lady of Peace and Good Voyage. For some, the image is simply called Birhen ng Antipolo or Buenviaje.

The santo is of Mexican origin, brought to the Philippines on 25 March 1625 (another date is 29 June 1626) by the then newly-appointed Governor General Juan Nino de Tabora to insure the safe voyage of the galleons against pirates and typhoons. Hence, the Virgin’s title.

The carved image itself is of dark hard wood and was a creation of unidentified Mexican artists. Crowned and haloed, the dark-skinned Virgin holds a scepter and with hands on her chest, the tips of her middle fingers almost touching. Her long, black wavy hair fall loosely on her back.

With Juan Nino’s demise in 1632, the image was turned over to the Jesuits for their church in Antipolo, once an isolated village accessible only by cascos or boats via the Pasig River. Seven years later, the Chinese rebelled against Spain and stormed the church, seized the image and threw it into a fire. The image remained unscathed and thus acquired its dark color. Noticeable is a shallow gash on her cheek, caused by the desecration.

The Buenviaje Virgin stayed in Cavite for 14 years and in the years between 1648 to 1748, the Virgin made a total of ten successful Pacific crossings, thus remaining true to her name. Pilgrimages to the Virgin of Antipolo became very popular as devotion increased.

In those days, the journeys to Antipolo were very hazardous--pilgrims had to hike the slippery trails of the region or cross the difficult terrain in man-borne hammocks. In the years to come, the pilgrimages were made more festive by the bright parasols, colorful balintawaks and camisas de chino worn by the pilgrims.

Today, the practice has all but disappeared; Antipolo is easy to reach via paved highways and modern-day pilgrims make the Maytime trek in buses or drive down the 28 km. road to Antipolo in snazzy cars.

In 1926, she was canonically crowned and the honored at the 1937 International Eucharistic Congress held in Manila.

At the height of World War II, when the Japanese took over the old Antipolo Church to be used as their garrison, devotees spirited the image away (local lore says that it was concealed in a drum, but the image was actually too large to fit) and, with 500 people accompanying her, began a journey through perilous mountain trails. In Pasig, she was kept in the home of the Ocampo family, and then transported to the Quiapo Church where it was enshrined.

When the country was liberated, the Virgin was returned to Antipolo on 15 October 1945. A national drive was begun in 1948 to construct a church which was successfully completed and which has since become her home .

Every May 1st, by tradition, the Virgin is borne in a solemn procession to an improvised altar atop Pinagmisahan where a Mass is said to commemorate the 1st Mass celebrated by the early Spanish missionaries on the same hill.

Devotees also mark the feast of the Antipolo Virgin every 1st Tuesday of May. Today, Antipolo is easy to reach via paved highways and modern-day pilgrims make the Maytime trek in buses or drive down the 28 km. road to Antipolo in their SUVs and fast cars.

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