Looking Back

Murillo-Bagay’s maps vs China’s 9-dash line

/ 05:05 AM September 18, 2020

Even interested historians find Pedro Murillo Velarde’s 1749 “History of the Jesuits in the Philippines (Second Part)” quite obscure. It is of limited interest, covering the years 1616-1716, and in many parts reads more like the lives of saints rather than history. The physical book is quite rare and inaccessible to curious students because of its age and the price that copies fetch at auction, like one on the block tomorrow at Leon Gallery. Digital copies are downloadable online for free but remain inaccessible until translated from the original Spanish into English or Filipino.

In 1768, two decades after Murillo Velarde’s book was published in Manila, the Jesuits were expelled from the Philippines by order of Carlos III. By then, the Jesuits had been in the islands for 187 years, establishing 80 missions and parishes that included Antipolo, Balayan, Bohol, Cebu, Leyte, Samar, Taytay, and Tibuan. They even went as far as Mindanao and the Marianas. The Jesuits today are better known for their educational apostolate, which was resumed after their return to the Philippines in 1859. The Ateneo de Manila, Ateneo de Davao, Ateneo de Naga, Ateneo de Zamboanga, Ateneo de Cagayan a.k.a. Xavier University, and the Xavier Schools in Greenhills and Nuvali, seen as schools for the elite, further obscure the Jesuits’ early missionary work and the establishment of parishes in new frontiers.


A pity that many library copies of the 1749 book lack the two elements that make the book collectible: the frontispiece and map. Lorenzo Atlas depicted two venerated images of the Virgin Mary in the frontispiece—the Our Lady of Peace and Good Voyage in Antipolo, and the Our Lady of the Rose in San Pedro, Makati. Both missions were established by the Jesuits. The latter image, according to Murillo Velarde, contained a precious reliquary with a strand of the Virgin Mary’s hair that is now lost.

The map folded and inserted in the book is signed on the lower right: “Nicolás Cruz de la Bagay, Manila, Año 1744.” It is a smaller version of Murillo Velarde’s celebrated 1734 map of the Philippines. Both editions support the Philippine claim to its exclusive economic zone (EEZ) as defined by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. The People’s Republic of China asserts its historic rights to much of the South China Sea based on a controversial 9-dash line it drew on a map. While China claims to have historical documents to prove discovery of these disputed areas way back in 200 B.C., it has not produced any map or document older than the 1734 and 1744 Murillo-Bagay maps that clearly identify two disputed areas as being part of the Philippines: the Spratlys (Los Bajos de Paragua) that resemble amoeba or paramecium under a microscope, and Scarborough Shoal, which got its present name from a shipwreck in 1748 but is identified in the 1734 and 1744 Murillo-Bagay maps as Panacot (Threat), the biggest of three shoals located to the left of Luzon. The other two shoals are aptly named Galit (Anger) and Lumbay (Sorrow).


To preserve the 1744 Murillo-Bagay map from too much handling, it is often detached from the book and either stored flat in a drawer or mounted on cloth and rolled, like the copy I was shown in the Olomouc Research Library in the Czech Republic. While the bigger 1734 Murillo-Velarde map has more embellishments like different sea vessels and a border full of illustrations depicting maps, peoples, and daily life in 18th-century Philippines, the smaller 1744 version has a decorative emblem (cartouche) indicating the title of the map and the name of the cartographer, ornamented with depictions of people—Chinese, armed Aeta, Cimarron, and Moro warriors—and even two vices—cockfighting and betel nut chewing.

Because it was then believed that St. Francis Xavier visited Mindanao, he is depicted on the lower left of the map as “Prince of the Sea,” riding on a conch shell held afloat by an angel, a merman, and a pair of horses. Before him is a crab that, according to legend, returned a crucifix he had thrown into the sea to miraculously quell a storm. Crabs that have a cross on their shell are found in the Visayas and Mindanao; sometimes called lambay, they are believed to be related to the crab that returned the saint’s crucifix.

Modern maps are simpler. Online ones merely provide directions and landmarks. Old maps, on the other hand, may be obsolete, but they remain artistic depictions of geography, history, and legend.


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TAGS: China, Murillo-Bagay map, Nine-Dash Line, Pedro Murillo Velarde, South China Sea, West Philippine Sea
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