Thursday, May 20, 2010

Our Lady of Peñafrancia : A Brief History



Archdiocese of Caceres, Naga City, PHILIPPINES

A Brief History

One of the many Catholic traditions is the Marian devotion. We, the Filipinos, especially the Bicolanos, have that extraordinary, exceptional, and devoted love for Mother Mary -- the Mother of Jesus, and our Mother, too. We believe that she will intercede for us, and will lift our prayers up to God; thus, there is strong belief and unshakable faith that our prayers are answered through the intercession of the Blessed Mother.

She has been called many names in different regions of the Philippines. Some of them are the following: Nuestra Señora de Caridad to Ilocanos; Our Lady of Manaoag to the people of Pangasinan; Lady of Piat to Cagayanos; Nuestra Señora del Rosario de la Naval or Nuestra Señora de Antipolo to the Tagalogs, and many others. Perhaps, one of her most notable names is Our Lady of Peñafrancia, more warmly called INA or Mother, by the Bicolanos. This intense devotion to Mother Mary by the Bicolanos can be traced back in Spain.

The following is an excerpt from the Novena Prayers in Honor of Our Lady of Peñafrancia by Rev. Jeremias R. Rebanal, JCD, PH.D.

Near Salamanca, Spain, there is a village called San Martin de Castañar located at the foot of Peña de Francia hill. A man named Simon Vela and his companions found, on May 19, 1434, an image of Mary, now fondly called Our Lady of Peñafrancia. Details of this event are still contained in an official document duly notarized and kept in the archives of the village.

Around 1700, the Covarrubias family of San Martin de Castañar migrated to the Philippines, and settled in Cavite. One of their sons was named Miguel who became sickly while studying in the University of Sto Tomas in Manila. Miguel was a great devotee of Our Lady of Peñafrancia. He found a painting of the image found by Simon Vela, and would place the painting on whatever part of his body that greatly pained him. This gave him relief from his suffering. He said, “So many are the miracles that have happened that I cannot count them. All I could say is that I am the miracle of her miracles.”

Miguel de Covarrubias came to Naga upon the invitation of Bishop Andres Gonzales (1685-1709) to join him in his diocese of Nueva Caceres. There, Miguel became an ordained diocesan priest, and the Vicar General of the Diocese later on. A lot of miraculous events happened in Naga during that period. One of the most prominent stories was about a dog killed, its neck slashed, and its blood used to coat or paint the newly carved replica of the statue of Our Lady of Peñafrancia in Spain made by a local artisan. The dead dog was dumped into the river, but it swam alive once again, as witnessed by hundreds of people.

Many other miracles that happened were attributed to Our Lady, and its news spread like wildfire; thus, the devotees also increased in number. She became more popular not only to the natives, but also to the Chinese community. These were all documented in Father Miguel’s letters from 1710 to 1711. His letter to the Dominican Fathers of Salamanca, Spain in 1712 reported many miracles through the intercession of Our Lady. As the devotees grew in number, the devotion also spread outside the Diocese of Nueva Caceres, which before comprised not only the Bicol region, but also includes Tayabas (now Quezon), Marinduque, Laguna up to Palanan, Isabela along the Cordillera ranges.

Succeeding Bishops of Nueva Caceres also contributed in propagating the Marian devotion. Bishop Isidro Arrival (1740-1751) built the initial stone church, later called “Santuario de Peñafrancia”, on the banks of the Bicol River. Bishop Francisco Gainza (1862-1879) enlarged the sanctuary, wrote the history of Peñafrancia, and edited the Novena of Our Lady in Spanish, and in the Bicol dialect. Almost a century later, the English translation was done by Monsignor Florencio Yllana in 1945.

Like the biblical "mustard seed", the Peñafrancia devotion today is like a "giant tree" whose branches extend to other parts of the world like America, Europe, Australia, and Asia. The love story between our Lady of Peñafrancia, whom we lovingly call "Ina", and us, her children, is never ending.

Today, we have Bicol and Tagalog novena translations. Devotees from all over the world are enjoying the fruits of the Marian devotion, and the aid of Our Lady of Peñafrancia. On her feast day, pilgrims gather once more at her shrine to pay her homage for favors received.

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