Later Religious Myths And Miracles

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.

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