There is an image of Sta. Filomena (St. Philomena) enshrined in the tomb of a namesake from Biñan, Filomena Almarines. The two have nothing in common except a common name, but for the people of Laguna, their Filomena is also worthy of veneration as a saint.
Filomena Almarines was born on 6 July 1913 in San Antonio, a barrio of Biñan, Laguna, the daughter of farmers. She was said to be a saintly young woman, prone to introspection. At age 25, she died on 13 August 1938, some say, of emotional stress. She was buried at the Biñan Municipal cemetery.
When her own father died in 1947, Filomena’s tomb was opened with the intent of gathering her bones to give way to her father’s body. But great to everyone’s surprise when, upon opening her coffin, the workers found her body undecayed, her face as fresh as the day she was buried, and even her burial dress intact.
People immediately proclaimed her a saint, owing to her incorruptibility. Devotees trooped to her tomb, miracles were supposedly wrought (e.g. candles melted on her tomb to form the face of Jesus), and Filomena’s wonder-working powers were reported in American newspapers. Holy cards of “Sta. Filomena” were produced and sold as souvenirs to pilgrims from all over the Philippines who came to Laguna to visit the “milagrosa”.
A local cult quickly developed and persisted till the early 50s. A childhood friend of Filomena caused an image of Sta. Filomena to be carved, which was subsequently installed in her tomb.
Sta. Filomena’s own life story is clouded with mystery, starting with the discovery of the remains of a young girl in the catacombs of Priscilla in Rome, on 24 May 1802. The tomb bore the Latin inscription, “Filu mena”, translated as ‘daughter of light’.
Over the years, Filomena’s life story was pieced through the 1833 visions received by Mother Maria Luisa de Gesu, a Dominican tertiary. Filomena came from a noble family; her father had been a prince. Converted into Christianity, the family went to Rome. There, she attracted the attention of Diocletian, whose advances she spurned. This resulted in her martyrdom.
Her image depicts that of a young girl, no more than 15 years old. She holds the instruments of her martyrdom: an anchor which was used to drown her to no avail, a pair of arrows pointing downwards, and a javelin. Sta. Filomena is the patron of young girls and is also invoked by those in desperate situations.
As for the Filipina “Sta. Filomena”, she continues to rest at the Biñan cemetery, now renamed as Sta. Filomena Cemetery.
Oldtimers and tourists intrigued by her story continue to pay a visit to the tomb of this “marilag na paraluman at milagrosang santa ng Biñan, Laguna: Bb. Filomena Almarines”.