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Looking Back

La Naval de Manila

/ 09:48 PM October 04, 2012

Dasmarinas is the name of: a town in Cavite, a posh gated community in Makati, and a busy street in Manila’s Chinatown. There were two Spanish governors-general by that name in Philippine history: Gomez Perez Dasmariñas, who served in 1590-1593, and who was murdered by Chinese rowers while on a military expedition, and his son Luis Perez Dasmariñas, who served in 1593-1596, and who commissioned the Chinese artisan who carved the ivory head and hands of the venerated Marian image known under the names La Naval de Manila, Nuestra Señora del Santissimo Rosario or “Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary.”

It is quite timely that an article in the October issue of National Geographic exposed the illicit trade in ivory in the Philippines and focused on a large collection of ivory images owned by a priest from Cebu who even gave the Nat Geo reporter tips on how to illegally export ivory images carved in the Philippines into the United States! As a matter of fact, the Inquirer published a photograph of an image of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary with ivory head and hands selling for P250,000 in a religious shop in downtown Manila. Ivory images and raw tusks will just go underground and wait till things cool down. An investigation should be completed to find out how confiscated ivory disappeared from government custody.

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The origin of the feast of La Naval de Manila and the veneration of the image of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary in Sto. Domingo Church in Quezon City goes back to the Battle of Lepanto in 1571, when the Christian Armada checked the spread of Islam. This naval victory was attributed to the Queen of the Most Holy Rosary, who also became the Patroness of Christian Navies.

Then a similar naval victory occurred in the Philippines from March to October 1646, when the Protestant Dutch armada was repelled by a small Spanish Catholic force. The Dutch had the edge with: 16 regular galleons, three fire ships and 16 launches, and 800 soldiers armed with close to 500 guns. The Spanish had only three ships, actually tired Manila galleons retrofitted for war and called “Encarnacion,” “Rosario,” and “San Diego,” and manned by 400 soldiers armed with only 68 guns.

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If natural phenomena were any omen, Spanish Manila received reports of numerous volcanic eruptions from 1633 to 1640 that were accompanied by other calamities like storms and earthquakes the most destructive of which occurred on the Feast of San Andres on Nov. 30, 1645. The earthquake destroyed buildings in Intramuros, Manila, caused flooding in the environs, and the appearance of large holes in open fields. The Spanish military was also busy keeping Muslims in Mindanao at bay. The Dutch were emboldened when they took Formosa from the Spanish in 1642 and hatched a plan to attack and take Manila in Dutch Batavia (now Jakarta, Indonesia). News of the armada sighted in northern Luzon was relayed to Manila, and the best news was that the Ilocanos and Pangasinenses refused the Dutch who requested their help in expelling the Spaniards from the archipelago.

There were five battles fought in 1646 between the Dutch and the Spanish forces: the first in October, the second and third in late July, the fourth in September, and the fifth in October. In the end, the Dutch suffered 500 casualties, with two ships sunk and three damaged beyond use. The Spanish side suffered only 15 casualties, and the worn Manila galleons emerged still serviceable after seeing much action. To thank the patroness of the galleons, the weary warriors walked barefoot to the Shrine of the Virgin of the Most Holy Rosary in Sto. Domingo Church in Intramuros. In 1652 (other sources say 1662), the Church fathers in Manila declared the victory miraculous and attributed it to the intercession of the Virgin of the Most Holy Rosary and thus gave us the annual feast of La Naval de Manila.

I will miss the fiesta this year and will be unable to see the venerated image resplendent in her 17th-century-style Spanish court dress, ornamented with various gems and jewels given as gifts over the centuries. For many years now I have been curious to see the legendary jewels of the Virgin: a large red gem on her head that allegedly came from the mouth of a giant serpent in the Pasig, and two jewels presented by Norodom I of Cambodia to Josefa and Ana Roxas of Bulacan during his Manila visit in 1872. These jewels were donated to the Virgin but have not been seen in decades.

Then there is the National Artist medallion presented to the Virgin by Nick Joaquin, he who wrote “The Ballad of the Five Battles” and the classic essay “La Naval de Manila” (1943), where he described the mood thus:

“Many an October evening while watching this procession of La Naval, and having divined, by a general excitement, the approach of the image, he has heard the cries and trumpets of the passing concourse. He has seen her blaze into vision against the skies of his city, born upon cloud of incense and music, her face on fire with jewels and mysterious with the veneration of centuries, with gleaming rainbows forming and falling all about her and silken doves bobbing whitely among her flowers of gold and silver—Oh, beautiful and radiant as an apparition!—the Presence at Lepanto, Lady and Queen and Mother of Manila, the Virgin of the Fifteen Mysteries.”

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Comments are welcome at aocampo@ateneo.edu

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TAGS: Ambeth R. Ocampo, Catholic Curch, Customs and Traditions, History, La Naval, Looking Back, Opinions, Religion
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