Remembering the old ‘La Naval’ | Inquirer Opinion
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Remembering the old ‘La Naval’

To me, October invariably brings memories of “La Naval de Manila”—a novena and procession celebrated to honor Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary at Santo Domingo Church. I’m not referring to the one in Quezon City but to the old Gothic Santo Domingo in Intramuros that was destroyed during the Liberation of Manila in 1945.

Once again I am clad in the long beige-and-red uniform of Santa Catalina College and attending the novena of La Naval. To Filipinos, especially of that time, October was La Naval and La Naval was the fiesta par excellence, at least as far as drawing power was concerned.

As early as four o’clock in the morning the huge bells would start tolling. But long before that there would be early Mass-goers waiting for the massive doors to open. Masses would continue nonstop at the main and side altars until almost 10. (Remember that we fasted from midnight. There were no afternoon Masses then.) High Mass was at eight. All these Masses were attended by thousands.

Afterwards the crowd would dwindle, only to return in the afternoon for the novena. Devotees came from all over. Out-of-town buses from Bulacan, Pampanga, Rizal, and Laguna crowded the patio; calesas transported people from nearby suburbs, and residents from Santa Ana, Malate and Tondo, riding on tranvias, alighted at Plaza Lawton and then crossed the Sunken Gardens and the Muralla to get to the church. From black limousines descended society matrons in their elegant ternos, and aristocratic gentlemen in their white de hilo suits. And all of them crowded the church, praying the rosary aloud, singing the hymns, reciting the novena prayers, and listening to the sermons which, to my recollection, were never shorter than 30 minutes. (For your information, all these prayers and songs were said in


Spanish and Latin. The sermon was likewise in Spanish, delivered in the florid manner of the times and from the pulpit without a microphone.)

The climax of the celebration was the procession in the afternoon of the second Sunday of October. One particular procession I will never forget was when I was 12.

We, the students of Santa Catalina, dressed in our white gala uniforms, with veils on our heads and lighted candles in our hands, headed the long procession. My schoolmates and I walked in front of and behind the image of St. Catherine of Siena. We recited the rosary, sang hymns, and marched self-consciously to the music played by the Letran band.

I cannot describe the pride and excitement I felt in being part of that retinue. Looking sideways I saw people lined three-deep on the pavements, reciting the rosary, lighted candles in hand. Glancing up I saw faces crowding the wide windows of entresuelos and second floors, all reciting the Ave Maria. The deep, abiding faith of the devotees I could almost taste in my mouth.


We arrived at the patio of the church way ahead of the others and stayed by the side to await the arrival of the image of Our Lady. I saw the carrozas of famous Dominican saints being pulled by sweating men, the decorated images swaying in the night whenever there was a rut underneath.

And then, at last, after a long time, I heard the music coming from the UST band signaling her imminent arrival. Finally I caught a glimpse of her statue soaring above the multitude of devotees. In front of her, beside her, behind her walked the Dominican priests in their white habits and black capes looking like the brave medieval knights of old, jealously protecting their Lady.


Before I knew it, the surge of humanity had carried me along with them inside the church where I knelt in one tiny corner trying to catch my breath. Incense assailed my nostrils; O Salutaris and Tantum Ergo throbbed in my ears. Tiny bells rang and I looked up to see the Holy Eucharist floating in a haze above me. I was overwhelmed by a spirit of devotion and reverence I had never felt before.

The Holy Eucharist was lowered and I saw the image of Our Lady, in all her splendor, regal, majestic, wearing her crown of jewels, holding her scepter, her rosary, scented by thousands of roses and illumined by hundreds of candles. In her arm she held her Divine Son, who wasn’t looking at her, however, but at us, as though saying, “I am not only hers, but yours as well.”

A strong feeling of joy gripped me, held me spellbound, and at that precise moment the plaintive strains of Adios, Reina del Cielo sung by the tiples filled the whole church. I was overcome and the tears fell unbidden. When I could see again I looked up, but the curtain had already been lowered, hiding her from view.

When the crowd thinned, I went out the door and was met by a cold blast of October air. I knew I had to hurry; it was late and my parents were waiting for me on Cabildo Street for dinner at the house of Don Paco Gonzalez, my father’s best friend.

I tarried in the patio, nevertheless, not wanting the spell to be broken. I lingered by the fruit stalls, smelled chestnuts roasting on the fire, heard the lanzones vendors chanting as they counted fruit by the hundreds, and from the corner of my eye caught sight of the Ferris wheel going round and round…

And then, once more, the huge bells started pealing and the sounds reverberated in my heart. A sense of wellbeing enveloped me and I felt protected, secure and happy. I felt that I loved everyone. I thought my people to be lovely people and my country the best place in the world.


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Lourdes Syquia Bautista, 90, is a retired professor of the University of Santo Tomas.

TAGS: FAITH, La Naval, news, Religion, Santo Domingo Church

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