‘IN this city one finds many very important pious and charitable works. However, there is one great need, and that is a hospital or a house where the innocent, the poor and the mad can be cared for. There are many such people wandering this city.”
This was the challenge of Fr. Joan Gilabert Jofre during his sermon on February 24, 1409, in Saint Catherine Church in Valencia, Spain. He narrated how he stopped on his way to church to save the life of a mentally ill man from a fellow who wanted to lynch him, according to Manuel Calvo in Manuscripts (12-22-1848).
Made by angels
Three handsome young men appeared in the oratory of a hospital and offered to make an image of the Virgin in three days, in exchange for lodging. But they should not be disturbed.
After four days of silence, the brothers forced open the room where the three men worked. The men have left, and at the middle of the room was a beautiful image that exuded “majesty and protection.”
Prof. Plinio Correa de Oliveira, in Our Lady of Abandoned Ones, implied that the three youth were “probably three angels who enveloped what they would do in mystery and expectation.
400 years old
Nuestra Señora de los Desamparados (Our Lady of the Abandoned, or Forsaken), the patroness of Santa Ana Church in Manila, is one of the oldest images of the Blessed Mother in the Philippines.
Exuding an aura of elegance and serenity, the image journeyed with missionaries aboard the galleon Santo Cristo de Burgos from Vera Cruz to Acapulco across the Pacific Ocean. It arrived in the Philippines in 1717.
Fr. Vicente Ingles, OFM, when he was in Valencia had it carved and touched the original image made by the three angels.
The image was earlier called Our Lady of the Innocents, patroness of a hospital in Valencia, Spain, which took care of the mentally ill, prisoners condemned to the gallows, oppressed and abandoned people.
The Lady carries the Baby Jesus and an exquisite ceremonial golden cane or baston de mando. It is a ceremonial cane given by Gov. General Francisco de la Cuesta and Archbishop of Manila to honor the Virgin on January 23, 1720. He proclaimed her Gobernadora de la Ciudad de Manila.
His Eminence Jaime Cardinal Sin and Fr. Agustin Cuenca, OFM, parish priest of the church, canonically crowned the image on May 12, 1991, with Vatican approval.
The Camarin de la Virgen was declared a National Cultural Heritage on August 1, 1973, by President Ferdinand Marcos by virtue of Presidential Decree 260.
The camarin was also declared a National Treasure by the National Museum of the Philippines in November 2008.
The camarin is the dressing room of the Blessed Mother at the back of the altar. The room, which is also a prayer room, is a unique natural treasure of cultural value. The ceiling of the camarin has the “only existing paintings belonging to the Estampita Age of Filipino-Spanish Period.”
At the back of the altar is the umacilla, an octagonal glass compartment where Our Lady of Desamparados stands, her whole countenance facing the devotees who hear Mass.
Her face is distinctly reflected on two oval mirrors, which can be seen in the camarin. Her long cascading hair flows and settles on a cushion in the camarin altar.
The hair is touched gently or kissed by devotees in a simple ritual called pahalik (kissing) while saying a prayer of thanksgiving or supplication.
The ceiling of the camarin is the “oldest datable—Philippine paintings of religious scenes” that portray different scenes in the lives of Jesus and Mary in full color.
The Atavio de la Virgen de los Desamparados (Robing of the Statue of Our Lady of the Forsaken or Abandoned) is held twice a year in the camarin. The two-hour solemn ritual when the Lady’s vestments are changed are watched by devotees prayerfully.
The baroque church itself was declared a historical building in 1936 with a historical marker, as the first Franciscan mission established outside Manila.
Damo-Santiago is a former regional director of the Department of Education National Capital Region. She is currently a faculty member of Mater Redemptoris Collegium in Calauan, Laguna, and of Mater Redemptoris College in San Jose City, Nueva Ecija.