Updated: Nov 11, 2020
Two statues of our Lady of the Rosary that have continued to strengthen the Filipino's devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary are the shrines of Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary (Nuesta Senora
del Santissimo Rosario -- La Naval de Manila) and Our Lady of Manaoag (Nuestra Senora del Santissimo Rosario de Manaoag). One venerated in the famous Sto. Domingo Church in Quezon City and the other in the Parish Church of our Lady of the Rosary in Manaoag, Pangasinan. Two gifts from Spain that have different stories, but one universal message, that FAITH REALLY WORKS.
According to Nick Joaquin, in his book "La Naval De Manila" published in 1964, the Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary or Our Lady of La Naval statue was a "native Virgin" having been sculpted in Manila in 1612. It was considered a joint masterpiece of a Chinese catechumen and an officer of the Spanish garrison. The work was commissioned by Don Luis Perez Dasmarinas, who was then Governor-General of Manila, and by whom the image was presented to the Manila Dominicans for their newly erected church and priory at the mouth of the Pasig river. The Our Lady of Manaoag statue, on the other hand, was brought to the Philippines from Spain via the Manila Galleon trade from Acapulco Mexico by the first Dominican friars led by Padre Juan de San Jacinto in the early 17th century.
Ironically, the devotion to Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary was an offshoot of a series of victories over at the South Asian seas, despite being
the only Virgin of the Philippines that was not seafaring and has never guided a galleon safe into Acapulco, or come sailing from some old shrine in Spain to occupy a new one in the Island. It is known that in 1646, naval forces of the Dutch Republic made several repeated attempts to conquer the Philippines in a bid to control trade in Asia. It was the same Dutch Armada that had already captured Formosa from the Spaniards and has been wanting to conquer the Philippines not only for the potential wealth of the country, but also to spread the Protestant faith after reeling from the Spanish Inquisition a few years before. The combined Spanish and Filipino forces who fought were said to have requested the intercession of the Virgin through the statue prior to battle. They were urged to place themselves under the protection of Our Lady of the Rosary and to pray the rosary repeatedly. They went on to rebuff the continued attacks by the much more superior Dutch fleet, engaging in five major battles at sea and losing only fifteen members of the Spanish Navy. After the Dutch retreat, in fulfilment of their vow, the survivors walked barefoot to the shrine in gratitude to the Virgin. Eventually, on 9 April 1662 the cathedral chapter of the Archdiocese of Manila declared the naval victory a miraculous event owed to the intercession of the Virgin Mary, declaring:
"Granted by the Sovereign Lord through the intercession of the Most Holy Virgin
and devotion to her Rosary, that the miracles be celebrated, preached and held in
festivities and to be recounted amongst the miracles wrought by the Lady of
the Rosary for the greater devotion of the faithful to Our Most Blessed Virgin Mary
and Her Holy Rosary."
While Our Lady of the Rosary was performing miracles over the sea, Our Lady of Manaoag had a different albeit more traditional story. Based on pious Catholic beliefs, and according to
documents dating back to 1608, the Blessed Virgin Mary was supposed to have appeared to a farmer, while on top of a tree. She was surrounded by a bright light, holding a rosary in her right hand and the Child Jesus on her left, she called out to the farmer to whom she revealed her wish to build a shrine on her chosen location. Although historically improbable, it is claimed by some locals that the wooden pedestal of clouds adorned with three cherubic angel heads, now in the middle of Museo de Nuestra Senora de Manaoag is a remnant of the tree upon which the Virgin Mary stood.
Over the years, The Parish of Our Lady of Manaoag was deemed worthy to be linked and given the title "affiliate" of one of the four papal basilicas -- The Saint Mary Major Basilica or the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome. This Roman Basilica holds the relics of the crib where our Lord lay when he was born from the Virgin Mary. It is one of the oldest Churches dedicated to the Holy Mother of God as a fruit of the council of Ephesus in the year 431. According to Catholic pious tradition, the site of the Basilica was personally chosen by the Blessed Virgin Mary, when, during a summer month in Rome, snow covered the hill where the present basilica now stands. It is this same Basilica that has now granted the "affiliate" title to the Church of Our Lady of Manaoag and it is important to emphasize that Our Lady of Manaoag has been deemed worthy to be linked to this rich history and immeasurable value of the Papal Basilica of the Mother of God.
But what does this "affiliation" of the Shrine of Manaoag with the Basilica of the Santa Maria Maggiore mean for us Filipinos?
It basically means that with "great power comes great responsiblity." That our Holy Father assures all the pilgrims who come to this revered sanctuary his apostolic blessings and the spiritual graces of the Church. That the affiliation with the Basilica of Saint Maria Maggiore speaks more of duties than privileges. It demands greater fidelity to the Lord and to the Church and even calls for heroic obedience to challenge us to be more vigilant against attacks to our faith; and to be more humble, to be more repentant, to be more zealous and most especially to be more loving. It is believed that one comes to Manaoag not for the blessings you can get or for the indulgences you can gain but to RENEW ONCE FAITH AND TO STRENGTHEN ONE'S HOPE AND TO INCREASE ONE'S LOVE.
I have never collected stampitas or vintage religious prints, but when I saw these two stampitas up for auction in Spain I was drawn to it, despite selling for more than $80 each, I did not hesitate. They were items I needed to bring back to the Philippines and I needed to get into my collection, not because of its historical value, but more so its Spiritual one. The beauty of the Blessed Virgin Mary as depicted on each stampita was something I couldn't ignore. It was the push I needed to understand more about these two shrines in the Philippines that has played a very big role in Philippine Marian Faith. Plus, I felt that the the Blessed Virgin Mary had a hand in making sure it reached Philippine soil safely, despite the delays in the post office deliveries during the pandemic lockdown. It took 2 months for both stampitas to arrive in Manila and when they both finally arrived I was not disappointed. I was drawn to the craftsmanship of each piece. Their cuts show how each one may have been handmade and the soft and delicate material used, that has survived more than 100 years already (each piece dates back to the late 19th century) is a miracle in itself! I have a funny feeling Mama Mary really wanted it to fall in my hands to be its caretaker. She has entrusted all of us the stewardship role of spreading the stories about the miracles of both our Ladies of the Rosary, and to spread an even bigger and more challenging message -- THAT FAITH REALLY WORKS.