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The Great Earthquake


Source: Myths & Legends Of Our New Possessions & Protectorate

After months of fighting, Li Ma Hong, the Chinese pirate, and his six
thousand followers had been beaten out of Philippine waters. Manila
was celebrating the victory on this last night of November, 1645. The
church bells had been clanging and chiming, the windows had been
lighted, flags and pennants had streamed from the house-tops, sounds
of music and cries of rejoicing were heard, a thousand fairy lamps
starred the darkness and quivered in the Pasig. The flag of Spain had
been carried through the streets in solemn procession, the cathedral
altar had smoked with incense, the friars had chanted the "Te Deum,"
but now all was gayety and music and perfume. A ball was among the
festivities, and military and civic officers, pranked in the lace
and bullion so dear to the Latins, were going through the narrow
ways with their ladies on their arms. Taking no part in the joyous
hurly-burly, two men walked apart, near the cathedral, in talk. One
was a father in the church; the other, secretary and major-domo of the
governor. The calling of the one, the age and dignity of the other,
to say nothing of an old wound that gave a hitch and drag to his step,
forbade their mingling with the throng.

The secretary spoke: "No, father, I hardly agree with your view. That
heaven has been on our side I admit, since we have conquered the
infidels, seized their treasure, and strewn their corpses on our
shores. But that the blessed St. Francis interposes in our behalf,
I doubt."

"This is dangerous doctrine,--a reflection on our order. We have
prayed daily for the success of the Spanish arms, and although we
addressed the Virgin and all the saints, the statue of St. Francis
is the only one that moved while we were at prayer----"

"With your eyes on the ground?"

"The sacristan saw it. Furthermore, let me tell you that the figure
of the saint owned by the worthy Indian, Alonzo Cuyapit, at his house
in Dilao, was stirred to tears last night."

"Tears! For victory?"

"I fear, for some reason worthy of tears."

"And your imaginations have nothing to do with all this? Men who are
wasted with vigils and fasting"--here the secretary chuckled and made
as if he would nudge the churchman in his ample paunch--"are prone
to see what common men cannot. Though I protest that when I eat much
cheese before retiring I have visions, too. But not always holy ones."

The priest answered with gravity, "A life of devotion does clear the
vision. It opens the gates of heaven. I fear, senor, that too many in
this doubting age are affected like you,--that a study of philosophy
and ungodly sciences has harmed your respect for the saints and
the church."

"By no means, father. All I maintain is that the figure of St. Francis
was not seen in the thick of the battle, as some of the friars
allege. Good sooth! What do they know of battle? Our victories were
won by stout Spanish arms and good Toledo steel. All praise to Heaven
that we had the power."

The priest shook his head and sighed. Then he looked curiously into
the sky. The stars were shining, save in the south, where lightning
flickered in a bank of cloud, and there was no threat of storm. Yet
in the air was a curious stagnation that had fallen within the hour
and brooded over the city like a palpable thing. It was hot and close
and lifeless; stale smells from the streets reeked into the nostrils,
and from the Pasig came a heavy, sickish odor of river vegetation.

"Sometimes it fills me with a fear that Heaven has a punishment in
store for us," said the priest, stopping in his walk and looking
meditatively into the distance, where the lightning now played more
brightly. "We have grown worldly. We have thought less of serving God
by our wars than of increasing our power and importance in the eyes
of the nations. We have grown proud. We are in danger of losing our
piety. Pray that the wrath do not fall."

"With all my heart,--especially to-night. Your blessing, father. And
sound sleep."

It was the last time that these friends were to walk together. It was
the last time in many a day when Manila would be in gala. At midnight
the greasy calm that lay on the sea was broken by a breeze which
ruffled the water and made a pleasant stir in the trees ashore. It
eased the sultriness of the night and brought rest to many who had been
tossing on their beds, excited doubtless by the shows and dissipations
of the last few hours. Presently the sleepers were roused again, for
the wind was rising steadily; the trees were writhing and wringing
their branches in what was surely going to be a gale. The lightning
was near. A growl of thunder could be heard. The clock boomed the hour
of two. Out of an intense dark leaped a bolt of green fire, and the
air was filled with baying and cannonade. Almost at the moment the
earth began to rock. The city awoke. The rocking increased. Roofs
began to fall, walls to bulge, masonry to split and sway.

"The earthquake! The earthquake!" screamed a thousand voices, and
with cries and lamenting the people hurried into the streets and
fell on their knees or their faces, unable to stand on the waving,
trembling ground. It was an hour of terror. All lights were blown
out by the storm or extinguished in the fall of houses, save one or
two of baleful meaning that flickered above roofs which had caught
fire. The sea could be heard advancing toward the land with tremendous
roaring, driving up the channel of the Pasig and overspreading its
banks on either side, while far below, and most dreadful of all,
the fall could be heard of pieces of the earth's crust into pits
of fire and the vast rumble and groan of a world. Houses crumbled,
people were pressed to death and maimed in the blackness, streets
cracked asunder, trees were uprooted, chaos was come again.

In the morning the survivors looked upon a scene of ruin worse than
any wrought by the pirates. The sanctity of the cathedral had not saved
it. Of its imposing walls hardly anything remained. A heap of masonry
marked its place. Every public building was destroyed. Wretches hurt
to the death were pinned under fallen stones and timbers, and many,
willing enough to relieve them, were too dazed and agonized by their
own pains and misfortunes to pull their wits together. Spain had
enjoyed her triumphs. Now her calamities had begun.

On the night before the catastrophe, Alonzo Cuyapit, a rich Indian
of Dilao, a suburb of the city, and his friend, the chaplain of the
San Francisco Convent, were at prayers together before a statue of
St. Francis, that was the Indian's dearest pride. He had shrined it
fittingly in his home, with flowers and candles about it, and adored
it daily. The statue was of life-size, the work of an adept carver;
was brilliantly painted and gemmed, and had about the neck a rosary
from which hung a cross of polished gold. So many miracles of healing
had been performed by this figure that its renown had gone through
all Luzon.

While Cuyapit and the chaplain were on their knees a tremor shook
the floor. Slight earthquakes of this kind were not unusual. Though
the walls of the house rattled, the statue remained fixed and
still. Another jar was felt in the ground, and raising their hands
to the saint, the petitioners begged him fervently to intercede
against a dangerous shock. Presently they lifted their eyes, and were
struck dumb with amazement, for the statue had unclasped its hands,
the one pointing toward Manila, as if in warning; the other holding
the golden cross toward heaven, as if in an appeal for mercy. A
halo, so bright as to dazzle the beholders, played about the head,
the lips moved, and from the upturned eyes tears trickled down the
cheeks. Cuyapit and the priest arose and tried to stanch these tears,
but the cloth they used was soon as wet as if they had just taken it
from the river. Then the statue raised its arms high over its head,
as in a last appeal for mercy to the world, while the tears gushed
in such a stream that they made a continuous fall to the floor. A
look of horror wrung the face, as if the prayer had been refused;
and, extending its hands in benediction, the saint toppled from his
pedestal and was broken into fragments.

When these occurrences had been told by Cuyapit in the Church of San
Francisco, under an oath before the Virgin, the pieces were carried
in reverential procession to Manila, and the miracle of San Francisco
of the Tears is accepted there as history.

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