Sunday, January 30, 2011

50. The Latest Concept in Holiday Greetings: ICONS ON PHILIPPINE CHRISTMAS CARDS

Originally published in ESSO SILANGAN, p. 12
1969 Christmas Number, Vol. XV, No. 2

Printed on the front cover of this issue of Esso Silangan is a picture showing the wooden images of the “Three Wise Men”, Melchior, Gaspar and Balthazar, who worshipped the Christ Child twelve days after his birth.

On the following pages are more pictures of native icons, “Niño Dormido”, “Blessed Virgin”, “Madonna and Child”, “Kneeling Angel,” and “St. Anne and the Blessed Virgin as a Child”. All were used on Christmas Cards by business establishments in the Philippines to express their holiday sentiments.

No one can dispute the fact that icons are valued not only as precious work of art but also as a focal point of religious adoration. It must be this singular harmony between art and religion that prompted many individuals and business concerns to feature them on Christmas cards to promote the artistic spirit and contribute to the Christmas celebration.

Friday, January 28, 2011


by Michael P. delos Reyes


Fr. Giovanni Antonio Genovesi, SJ was born in Sicily on 4 March 1684, and became a novice of the Compania de Jesus (Society of Jesus/ Jesuits) on 2 March 1703. As a missionary, he went around Sicily for twenty years. Through his preaching, he was able to bring people to Jesus through the Blessed Virgin Mary, whom he would always call upon for guidance in his missionary work. The last part of his life served as a fitting culmination of his life of service. Fr. Genovesi was then the Superior of the Novices and the Rector of the college in Messina when a fatal plague broke out in 1743. The college was turned into a hospital where the Jesuits untiringly served those who were stricken by the plague. As time went on, the novices were inflicted by the plague one by one. On 6 July 1743, Fr. Genovesi died after being struck by the plague.

During the first quarter of the 18th century (1722), Fr. Genovesi desired to have a representation of the Virgin Mary painted to take with him and display as he preached missions throughout the island of Sicily. He asked the help of a devout lady in a neighboring village who had the reputation of having frequent visitations from the Virgin Mary and asked her to request guidance. The Virgin Mary granted the request and she described exactly how she wished to be represented. She showed herself to the lady in the Church of S. Stanislao al Noviziato.

The Virgin appeared in a glorious light, surrounded by a troop of seraphims and was extremely beautiful. She wore an imperial crown and had a girdle adorned with jewels that surpassed the beauty of the stars. On her shoulders was a blue mantle. On her left arm, she carried the Child Jesus. With her right hand, she lifted a sinful soul from the horrible throat of Hell, keeping him from falling back in. On the other side, a kneeling angel held up a basket filled with hearts, which he presented to the Divine Child in His mother’s arms. He took the hearts one at a time and enflamed them with his love. The Virgin Mary said she wished to be called Maria Madre Santissima del Lume (Mary Most Holy Mother of Light), and repeated it three times, and said not to forget that.

The pious lady returned to Fr. Genovesi and recounted all that the Virgin had said, and he quickly found a painter and gave him the instructions. The lady did not go to the painter’s studio out of modesty, and the priest did not supervise the work, and the result was not satisfactory. The choir of angels was lacking, there was a crescent moon beneath her feet, and her robe was red rather than white. As a result, the Virgin Mary did not give a promised sign of approval.

Fr. Genovesi asked the woman to go to the painter, but she was extremely busy with family matters in Bagheria, which is some distance from Palermo, and couldn’t get away. The Virgin, however, appeared to her again and said she needed her in Palermo. The woman, in turn, protested that since the Virgin had all the resources of Paradise, how could such a vile worm as she carry out such an important task, and, anyway, there was no way she could get away. The Virgin responded that whether or not she felt she could go to Palermo she would, in no uncertain terms. As a result, the woman was hit with a terrible pain in her chest and lost her voice. There seemed to be no cure, and she was taken to Palermo where the air was more temperate and healthy. In fact, after she arrived she was soon healed.

Once the woman was in Palermo, and healed, she was visited again by the Virgin. The lady said both she and the priest were very disappointed that the painting didn’t turn out right and asked if a new one should be made. The Virgin responded positively, and this notice was taken to Fr. Genovesi who arranged for a new painting to be done. It was the custom of the Virgin to send a guardian angel to her “servant” the evening before to warn that she would appear after the woman had received communion. The woman, following instructions, then went to the painter’s studio where she found him ready to begin work. The Virgin had said that she would meet her there, but only she would have the vision. The woman was to instruct the painter, but the Virgin would guide his brush. This in fact, happened, and the work was accomplished to the satisfaction of the Virgin. Although numerous copies were subsequently made, none approached the perfection of the original. Even the painter himself could not duplicate exactly his first work.

The picture of the Madre Santissima del Lume was always carried by Fr. Genovesi in his mission. Each time the people of a certain place would know that he and the picture were coming, they would wholeheartedly prepare their chapel or church, and the altar on which the holy picture will be enshrined. The arrival of the priest and the picture was always met by many people holding flowers or lighted candles. According to tradition, the visitation of the picture would always result to great love and devotion to the Virgin, thereby making it very difficult for the people to part with the picture. This started the practice of leaving a faithful copy of the picture in the chapel or church of the place visited by Fr. Genovesi.

The devotion to Our Lady rapidly spread to the community of the faithful in Noviziato al Capo, where in 1736 a group was formed which became the Confraternita della Madonna del Lume al Noviziato. On 6 February 1736, Pope Clement XXII authorized through an apostolic letter the veneration of the Virgin Mary under this title. Moreover, through the same document, the feast of the Virgin was established on the Second Sunday of September, and granted plenary indulgence to those who will participate in the Mass on the feast day. In Palermo, the Virgin is the patroness of carpenters, while in Porticello, also in Sicily, she is the patroness of fishermen. It is unfortunate that the original picture painted in 1722 got destroyed with the church of Casa Professa when it suffered bombardment during the war in 1943.


A few years after the birth of the devotion to the Mother of Light in Palermo, the devotion was introduced in Cainta by the Jesuits in 1727. The Jesuit missionary ministering in Cainta during that time, Fr. Bartolommeo Cavanti (al Gavanti), SJ, may have been instrumental in introducing the devotion, since he comes from Ferrara, Italy. The devotion to Our Lady in Cainta preceded by some years the same devotion introduced by the Jesuits in Guanajuato, Mexico (1732); Loon, Bohol (1753); and to the Nuestra Señora de Salvacion introduced by the Franciscans in Horoan, Tiwi, Albay (1776). The devotion also spread in Italy, Equador, Venezuela, and Peru. Since then, Our Lady has been called by various titles, e.g. Nuestra Señora de la Luz/ Lumen, Our Lady of Light, Kabanal-banalang Ina ng Kaliwanagan, or Inang Santisima ng Kaliwanagan.

The holy picture of the Our Lady of Light brought by the Jesuits has a gilded frame and crest, and was enshrined in one of the colaterales (side altars) of the church of Cainta. Before 1853, the holy picture was transferred to the retablo mayor (main altar). Above it was the image of St. Andrew the Apostle, the patron principal, and on both sides were the images of St. Anthony of Padua, and St. Aloysius Gonzaga. Unfortunately, the original picture of Our Lady was burned with the church in March 1899. Nevertheless, there are two existing faithful copies of the original picture.

The first is an 1801 print that has a description at the bottom which would read like this when written fully: “Verdadero retrato de Nuestra Señora Reina del Universo Maria Santisima Madre de Lumen que se venera en la Iglesia de Cainta en su propria capilla a solicitud y expensa de ciertos devotos de esta gran Señora en el año de 1801” (Real image of Our Lady Queen of the Universe Mary Most Holy Mother of Light, which is venerated in the church of Cainta in her own chapel, upon the commission and expense of certain devotees of this great Lady, in the year 1801). Copies of this print were usually given to those who would give donations to Our Lady, and until the present, there are a few homes in Cainta where such a copy is enshrined. The second faithful copy of the original picture is a charcoal painting by Mariano Javier of Cainta, which he did in 1857. The picture has certain similarities to the 1801 print. Its care has been handed down to the descendants of Mariano, from Pablo Javier to Guadalupe Javier. At present, it is under the care of Mrs. Flora Javier Buenviaje. In this painting, Our Lady was identified as “Ma. Sma. Madre de la Luz.”

The devotion to Our Lady has also been manifested in two of the three antique bells of the church which are still used at present. A small campana de vuelo or esquila was named after “Nuestra Señora de la Luz” in 1835. A huge bell recasted in 15 November 1883 by Fundicion de Hilario Sunico was named after the “Nuestra Señora de la Lumen.” As the devotion to Our Lady became widespread, she became the segunda patrona of Cainta.

The first Tagalog novena to Our Lady of Light, entitled Casantasantahang Virgen ng Caliuanagan, was prepared by Don Luis Remedios, secretary of the Archbishop of Manila, Fray Pedro Payo, O.P., upon the request of the parish priest of Cainta during that time, Don Mariano (de) San Juan. The permission to publish it was given by the Archbishop in 16 September 1884. By this time, Our Lady was considered as titular of the Church of Cainta. It was explained in the same novena booklet why the title “Ina nang Caliuanagan” is more appropriate than Pag dedevocion at Pag sisiam sa“Ina nang Ilao.” It says that, “bucal sa tila di wastong pangungusap ay wala tayong naririnig na nagsasalita nang gayon.”

Inasmuch as the original picture of Our Lady of Light perished with the church in 1899, it was deemed proper to have a new picture commissioned in 1950 from no less than Mr. Fernando Amorsolo, a National Artist. The parish priest of Cainta during this time was Fr. Joseph Flameygh, C.I.C.M.

This painting of Our Lady is noteworthy in some aspects. The faces of the Virgin and the Child Jesus have Filipino features. The Holy Child, which appears to be holding only one heart with his left hand, is actually holding another one with his left hand. It did not become noticeable since the color of the heart seems to blend with the red tunic of the Holy Child. A closer look, however, reveals that the Christ Child is really holding close to his heart a soul that has not yet been inflamed by his love. It is flesh in color with traces of vein-like lines. The painting was initially enshrined in the semi-concrete chapel that served as a temporary church. After the reconstruction and solemn blessing of the church of Cainta in 1968, the Virgin was enshrined in her own chapel inside the church, together with a smaller version of the painting of the Madonna and Child, and an image of St. Andrew.

The feast of Our Lady of Light is celebrated in Cainta since 1853 or even earlier, on December 1, after the feast of St. Andrew. The Virgin has a secondary feast which is observed on Thursday after Pentecost Sunday. For her primary feast, the novena begins on November 21, while for the secondary feast, the novena commences on Tuesday before Pentecost Sunday. There are also other forms of devotion to Our Lady such as the daily prayer to her in the morning and before going to bed, the prayer to the Holy Spirit and to Our Lady, and the Siete Sabados or Seven Saturdays preceding her feast day. All of these can be found in the revised prayerbook entitled Pagdedebosyon at Pagsisiyam sa Kabanal-banalang Ina ng Kaliwanagan: Patrona ng Cainta (1727-2007). In Cainta, the Virgin is recognized as the patroness of reconciliation and those seeking conversion.

May the devotion to Our Lady of Light lead to Jesus who said, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life" (John 8:12).

Cassidy, Joseph L. Mexico: Land of Mary’s Wonders. Paterson: St. Anthony Guild Press,
delos Reyes, Michael P. Virgen ng Caliuanagan: Patron ng Cainta. 2006.

Neuerburg, Norman. “La Madre Santisima de la Luz,” The Journal of San Diego History
vol. 41 (Spring 1995), no. 2: 74-86.
Remedios, Luis. Pagdedevocion at Pagsisiyam sa Cabanal-banalang Virgen nang
Caliuanagan. Manila: J. Martinez, 1927.
Vengco, Sabino. “La Madre de la Luz, Our Lady of Salvation,” Avenues, vol. 13, no. 2
(Second Semester 2006): 1-16. Ympresion en tagalo – titulado Pagdedevocion at Pagsisiam sa Casantasantahang Virgen Caliuanagan, 1884.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

48. RETRO-SANTO: Nstra. Sñra. de Los Desamparados of Sta. Ana

The other image of Our Lady of the Abandoned rests in a shrine along Pedro Gil in Sta. Ana, Manila. It is an ivory image, browned with antiquity, brought to our Islands in 1719 by R. P. Vicente Ingles O.F.M, who touched it to the original in Valencia, Spain.

This image was reputedly the miraculous handiwork of 3 men who mysteriously disappeared after finishing the statuary in 1410. She became the patroness of the mentally ill and the abandoned after Fr. Juan Jofre said his homily in the La Merced Cathedral in Spain, calling people’s attention to the plight of the deranged and feeble-minded. A hospital was thus erected and dedicated to Mary, Our Lady of the Innocents.

The image in Sta. Ana holds a Child Jesus and a golden scepter of authority in her other hand, a donation of the Archbishop of Manila, Most Rev. Francisco de la Cuesta, also the Governor-General of the colonized islands. The Virgin is depicted ina protecting attitude, shielding two children under her embroidered mantle.

Her Divine head, with gems encrusting her long hair, is circumscribed with a golden aureole and a fabulous bejeweled crown. The image is kept in the ancient beautifully preserved Sta. Ana Church, where devotees can climb a short flight of stairs to touch the Virgin’s vestments at the back.

Her shrine, at the Sta. Ana Church within Plaza Calderon is visited on her feast day, on May 12.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

47. Santos de Marfil: WINGED SAINTS

From the workshop of Dr. Raffy Lopez comes these ivory santos, mostly antique ivory pieces, recovered and restored into new images--complete with silver wings! From San Vicente Ferrer, the Archangels to seraphims, these santos are ready to fly high again!

SAN RAFAEL ARCANGEL (from Raphael, "God has healed") is depicted holding a fish in reference to his instruction to his young travelling companion, Tobias, to use the liver of a fish to cure his father's blindness. He is also depicted with a pilgrim's staff.

SAN VICENTE FERRER, was a famous Dominican preacher who converted thousands to Christianity in Spain due to his impassioned sermons. His attributes include a book, a trumpet and a flame on his head. As he emphasized penance to prepare men for judgment, he was also known as the "Angel of the Apocalypse", hence is shown winged.

ANGEL CUSTODIO, the Guardian Angel, a concept known as early as the 5th century, is traditionally depicted holding the hand of a child as a gesture of protection.