The Great Earthquake

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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