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Later Religious Myths And Miracles






Category: IN THE PACIFIC

Source: Myths & Legends Of Our New Possessions & Protectorate

Among stories that date no farther back than the Spanish conquest we
find the usual tales of sacred springs, of visions, and of blessed
objects. The Church of the Holy Infant, in the city of Cebu, contains
an image of the Christ child, about fifteen inches in height, carved
in ebony, preserved in much state and loaded with a profusion of
ornament. The priests tell you that it was made in heaven, thrown
to the earth, and found in 1565 by a soldier who recovered from
an illness when he touched it. It was taken to the convent in Cebu,
where the clergy emplaced it with great ceremony, and where on the 20th
of January in every year it is dressed in a field marshal's regalia,
receives a field marshal's salute, and is worshipped by thousands of
pilgrims from all parts of the archipelago. So many women wrought
themselves into an insane frenzy during these January feasts that
their sacred dances, which were once a part of the ceremonies, had
to be stopped. When the town was burned this statue saved itself from
the flames, as did the bamboo cross near the church, which is said to
be the same that was erected by the monk, Martin de Rada, on the day
when the Spanish landed, more than three centuries ago. Matter-of-fact
historians allow that the figure of the child may have been left
there by Magellan. It worked miracles of a surprising character for
years after his death, and the first settlement in Cebu was called
The City of the Most Holy Name of Jesus in its honor. The customary
discrepancies between the piety and the practice of the conquerors
existed in the Philippines, as in the Antilles. They slew the natives
until the survivors threw up their hands and professed the right
religion; then they shot twenty-four thousand Chinese who had settled
in and about Cebu, thus reducing themselves to a wretched state, for
these Spaniards had depended on the Chinese as their servants, cooks,
farmers, laborers, shoemakers, and tailors. It is worthy of note that
other missionaries had shown activity, but with less result, for their
methods had been more conciliatory. The Mahometanism that had been
introduced by Moslem preachers from Arabia got no farther than Sulu,
and the Confucianism imported by Chinamen seems to have obtained no
permanent hold. Through all changes the Holy Child remained uninjured,
and he continues his good work to this day.

When the Sulu pirates had fallen upon a year of such bad business that
they reaped a profit of barely fifty per cent, on their investment
in ships and weapons, there was great discontent among them. Prizes
were few and defeats occasional. Looking back on their highest hill,
as they sailed away, and fearing that when they returned it might be
with but half a cargo of gold and rum and Christians, so many of them
wept for the misery of this thought that to this day the height is
known as Buat Timantangis, or Mount of Tears. In one dull season,
when the pirates were almost mutinous because of their continued
ill-fortune, it occurred to one of the captains that an image to
which the Christians prayed so earnestly and with such good effect
might do as much for him as for some other natives. In his barbarian
mind there was no absurdity in trying to persuade a gentle Virgin or
a pure-minded Saint to deliver into his hands the goods and persons
of those who knelt before their effigies. A sacred image was "good
medicine" for Spaniards and Tagalogs, and should, therefore, be
good medicine for Mahometans. Thus, he bethought him of the statue
now known as the Virgin of Antipolo, that came from Spain by way
of Mexico in charge of early missionaries. To think was to act. He
raided the village where it had been enshrined and attempted to carry
it off; but the statue had warned the faithful of its peril, and the
marauders were met and driven off by a powerful force. The Virgin of
Antipolo became one of the most influential of all the guardians of
the islands, and to this day is especially besought by mothers who
ask for her intercession on behalf of their sickly children. Holy
water taken from her shrine will cure the sufferer, and the mother
then performs a public penance in thankfulness. Before the American
arrival, with its sudden imposition of new ideas on an old society,
it was no uncommon thing to see on Good Friday a company of the
richest women in Manila, poorly attired and with bare feet, dragging
through the streets a heavy cross thirty feet in length. This was in
fulfilment of vows they had made at the shrine of Antipolo.

This Virgin of Antipolo is likewise known as Our Lady of Good Voyage
and Peace. She arrived from Mexico in a state galleon in 1626. On
the voyage she calmed a storm so quickly that the priests proclaimed
her special sanctity, and ordered her to be received in Manila with
salutes of bells and guns. While the Jesuits were building a church
for her she would often descend from her temporary altar and stand
in an antipolo tree (Astocarpus incisa). People cut pieces from this
tree for charms against disease and misfortune, until Father Salazar
ordered that the trunk should be its pedestal. In an early rebellion
the Chinese insurgents threw the statue into the fire. Flames were
all about it, yet not a hair, not a thread of lace was singed, and
the body of brass was unmarked by smoke. Angered at this defiance
of their power, a Chinaman stabbed it in the face, and, curiously,
the wound remains to this day in protest against the savagery that
incited it. When for a second time the Virgin passed unscathed through
a conflagration the Spanish infantry bore her on their shoulders about
the streets, shouting in the joy of her protection. A galleon having
been endangered by rocks and bars in Manila Bay, the captain borrowed
this statue, prayed that it would secure the safety of his ship, and,
to the wonder of all, his vessel rode proudly up to the city gates, for
the Virgin had ordered that the rocks should sink deeper beneath the
sea. Twice afterward she did a like service to captains who borrowed
the figure as a safeguard on the long voyage to Mexico and back,
for each time she suppressed great storms. At the time of the assault
on Manila by the Dutch she assisted in the defeat of the strangers,
though St. Mark was associated with her in the victory. He had told
the governor in a dream that success should attend the Spanish arms
if his people would carry the Virgin into the fight. This was done,
and the Dutch lost three ships with their cargoes. She was finally
domiciled in the town of Antipolo, which, beside being famous as a
shrine, has been one of the most noted resorts for brigands in the
Philippines. The village of four thousand people subsists largely on
the money spent by pilgrims to her church.

Every family in the Christian communities has a little statue
of the Virgin or of a patron saint, to which prayers are
addressed. Occasionally as much as a thousand dollars will be paid
for one of these images, for some have more power than others. When
Tondo caught fire and was reduced to ashes, the houses of mat and
bamboo burning like paper, one thing alone survived the flames:
a wooden statue of Mary. This token of a special watch upon the
figure immediately raised its importance, and it was attired in the
dress and ornaments of gold in which it may now be seen. Not all the
domestic saints are brilliantly dressed or originally expensive. One
Filipino family worshipped a portrait of Garibaldi that adorned the
cover of a raisin box, while a native elsewhere was found on his
knees before a picture from an American comic paper that represented
President Cleveland attired as a monk and wearing a tin halo. Both
of these pictures had been placed on altars, and candles were burned
before them.

Another statue of great power is in the church at Majajay. It was sent
there from Spain in charge of the friars, and is especially besought
by invalids, for it is a general belief that whosoever will reach the
church with breath enough remaining in him to recite certain prayers
before this image shall have fresh lease of life; yea, though he were
at his last gasp.

Some of the attacks made on the friars in the Philippines have been
construed into attacks on the Church, but this is wrong. For the good
of the Church, no less than of the people, it is desired to purge the
islands of these ancient offenders. They have used religion as a cloak
for evil, have encouraged, in private, vices they preached against
in public, have availed themselves of famines and other distresses
to force money from the poor, and have fathered as many half-castes
as the Spanish soldiers have. As to their offspring, Filipino wives
have quieted jealous husbands by assuring them that the appearance of a
European complexion in a hitherto brown family was a special favor from
St. Peter,--a miracle ordered by the keeper of heaven as a reward for
piety and good works. Hence, one hears much of St. Peter's children
in the Philippines. Some of the white inhabitants have nevertheless
been conspicuous for virtue. Miguel Lopez de Legaspi, for example,
the first ruler of the islands, was so good that for years after his
death his body, now in the St. Augustine Monastery, Manila, underwent
no decay or change, but was like that of a man in sleep.

Alitagtag, north of Bauan, became in 1595 a resort of ghosts and
devils that congregated about a spring near the village, so that
the people were afraid to go there for water. A native headman took
wood from a deserted house, made a cross of it, and set it up near
the spring to spell away the fiends. As the people still feared,
a woman of courage ventured near the place to find that a stream of
cold, pure water was flowing from one of the arms of the cross. To
further assure the people that the evil spirits had been mastered the
cross arose from the earth and stalked about the fields, surrounded by
bright lights. Thereupon the clergy ordered that it should be adored,
and from that time it became an object of worship, healing diseases,
dispelling plagues, and killing locusts. When the priests at Bauan
announced that they intended to move the cross to Lake Bombon, the
priest of Taal, being jealous of his brothers in the other town,
hired some natives to steal it and take it to his house. No sooner
had the men assembled for this purpose than sheets of green fire fell
about the cross, defending it from their approach, and in a frenzy of
contrition they ran back, solemnly vowing that they would never make
a similar attempt again. The cross was, therefore, taken to Bauan,
where it did service for the people by terrorizing a band of pirates
and by stopping an eruption of the Taal volcano in 1611. This peak
of Taal had been a resort of devils from time immemorial, and it had
been a frequent duty of the Church to pray them into silence. In the
year just named Father Albuquerque headed a procession that ascended
the mountain for this purpose. Near the summit he paused and lifted
the cup containing the blood of Christ. Dreadful noises were heard,
like the laughter of ten thousand fiends, in vaults below. Then,
with a groan and crash, the earth split and two craters appeared,
one filled with boiling sulphur, the other with green water. The
cross was sent for. It was brought by four hundred natives. When it
was put into the priest's hands he lifted it toward the sky and all
united in prayer. During this petition, while every head was bent and
all eyes were shut, the craters softly closed and Taal was as it had
been before. Yet the demons still linger about the mountain. Not many
years ago an Englishman tunnelled the peak for sulphur. The fiends
of the volcano shook the roof down on his head and he perished. In
May it has been a custom to hold a feast in honor of this cross,
if the natives furnish the necessary candles and raise ten dollars
for the officiating priest.

Bangi, in Ilocos Norte, had a shrine in which was the image of a child
with a lamb. Herbs pressed against it would cure all diseases. For
years a dispute was carried on between clerical factions as to whether
it represented St. John the Baptist or Christ. Bishop Miguel Garcia,
having undressed it and examined it thoroughly, decided it to be a
Chinese idol. Thereupon it was broken and burned as a thing unholy.

Our Lady of Casaysay, in Batangas, is so esteemed that ships salute her
in passing. She was found by a fisherman in his net. He took her to
a cave, not knowing what to make of his strange find, and intending
to keep her there probably as a treasure not to be shared by his
neighbors. She astonished and disappointed him by proclaiming herself
with flashing lights of beautiful color and with loud music. As these
demonstrations frightened the peaceable rustics, the Virgin left her
cave, visited a native woman, spoke kindly to her, and was thereupon
provided with a shrine, where she might be adored with proper ceremony.

The statue of St. Joaquin at Gusi is remarkable because every year
it runs away and spends two weeks with its wooden wife, the figure
of St. Ann, at Molo.

Manila once had a saint that wagged its head approvingly at certain
points in the sermon. This conduct drove so many women into hysterics,
and crowded the church so dangerously with people who went to see
the miracle, that the archbishop discountenanced its action, and
ordered that it should be quiet thereafter. Quiet was easily secured
by cutting the string attached to the saint's neck. The padre was
accustomed to pull this during his discourse whenever he wished his
congregation to believe that the saints approved his eloquence or
endorsed his doctrine.

Holy water from the Conception district of Panay saves life, and San
Pascual Bailon cures barrenness. A Manila milkman who was punished
for selling watered milk expressed surprise at the complaints of his
customers, because no wrong had been committed, inasmuch as he had
used nothing but holy water, which was far superior to milk. Water
from the prison well at Iloilo was held at so high a value that the
prison-keeper made a fortune from it, as it was given out that Christ
and the Virgin had been seen bathing in the well. Our Lady of the Holy
Waters presides over the hot springs below Maquiling Mountain, an old
crater. Another popular place of pilgrimage is the shrine at Tagbauang,
near Iloilo, where illnesses are cured at a high mass in January.

One of the last recorded appearances of the Virgin was in 1884, when
a band of robbers in Tayabas killed a plantation manager, wounded
several laborers, and ransacked the house of the owner. While in one
of the bedrooms tying clothes, jewelry, and other loot into parcels
for removal, the Virgin appeared, and standing in the door looked
with severity and distress on the bandits. They immediately left
their plunder and ran pell-mell from the building. Some of these
robbers were arrested, but the Virgin had compassion on them for
leaving the proceeds of their raid, so none was garroted or even
sentenced. Some go so far as to say that the Virgin had nothing to do
with their escape from punishment, alleging that the officers of the
law had conspired with them, and that the Spanish courts were even
worse than those of a land that shall be nameless in respect of their
slowness and the facilities they offered for adjournments, retrials,
and appeals on grounds that if presented in any other cause than that
of a breaker of the law would be laughed to scorn. Filipino bandits
often wear medals of the Virgin and saints to protect them from harm,
and some are made bold by confidence in their protection. It is a
belief of theirs that they will never be punished for any crime they
may commit in Easter week, for the rather obscure reason that Christ
pardoned the thief on the cross on Good Friday.

A curious chapel on a bluff near Pasig, overlooking the river of that
name, has the form of a pagoda. It was built as a thank-offering by
a Chinaman who, having been endangered by a crocodile, and having
called on men and joss without receiving an answer, prayed volubly
to the Christians' God as he swam toward the shore, and promised to
erect a chapel in return for his life. His prayer was answered, for
the crocodile was turned to stone, and may now be seen in the bed of
the stream, while the grateful Mongol kept his word, and also joined
the church.





Next: Bankiva The Philippine Pied Piper

Previous: Filipinos Animal Myths



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