Friday, January 29, 2016

239. The Untouchable: STA. INES of BULACAN, BULACAN

TOUCH HER NOT: The revered antique ivory Sta. Ines of Bulacan, Bulacan.

In a chapel in Bulacan, Bulacan can be found a small, ivory image of the young virgin-martyr, Sta. Ines (St. Agnes of Rome)—venerated by pious Bulakenyos and pilgrims from all over. But with the ardent devotion comes a warning—that the image must never be touched by menfolk in deference to her purity which she kept intact after being subjected to all sorts of torments and abuse. Even priests are no exceptions.

 The ancient ivory image was found by a fisherman from Pariahan who was out looking for a good catch in the sea. The sea was soon enveloped by a thick mist followed by claps of thunder, lightning and a heavy downpour. In the midst of this tempest, the fisherman saw a mysterious glow at the far end of his boat.

When he came nearer to inspect the light, the fisherman was surprised to see the image on a floating basin. He tied the basin to his boat and towed it for home. Upon sighting land, the fisherman attempted to lift the basin with the image and bring it ashore, but he could not even lift it. Other fishermen came to help him, but the basin would not budge. But when the women came to their succor, they handily and easily lifted the image safely to the shore.

 Considering the event as miraculous, the barrio people constructed a “visita” and put it under the patronage of Sta. Ines—a name that was on the book held by her left hand. Eventually, the saint’s name replaced “Pariahan” as the name of the barrio.

 Then and now, the feast of Sta. Ines every 21st of January is marked with days of prayer capped by a procession. In the course of the 9-day novena, the petite Sta. Ines image is dressed indifferent vestments every day.

Twice the image is processioned—in the morning and in the evening—borne on a decorated anda by women, who also heap tributes of songs and poems to their beloved patron in a tradition called “Luante”. 

 To remind uninformed men, signs bearing the warning “Paunawa: Bawal Humawak Ang Mga Lalaki” are placed strategically on the anda, lest misfortune comes—in the form of floods, storms, lightning strikes and other natural calamities.

 The antiquity of the Sta. Ines image can be seen in the fine lines on the ivory face. On her right hand, she holds an olive palm, a symbol of her martyrdom.

The other hand holds a book topped by a primitive lamb, which stands for purity. The story of the saint could be read at the “visita” where she is enshrined.



“Gunita”, by Naning Santos. 
Alfonso, Ian Christopher B. at Rodrigo, Jose Antonio M. 2013, Bulakan: Pag-alaala sa biyaya ng nakaraan -- ikalawang tomo: sining, kalinangan, at mga natatanging anak ng Bulakan, Bulacan. Malolos, Bulacan, Center for Bulacan Studies, Bulacan State University.


  1. Such a discriminatory / sexist religious tradition. I hope it reforms itself soon.

  2. Tradition dies hard, you know. Maybe in due time. Look at the Nazareno tradition in Quiapo--women are allowed now to clamber up the carroza to touch the image. That was unthinkable half-a century ago.