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History of the Devotion

to Our Lady of Peñafrancia

On May 19, 1434, Simón Vela, after removing a huge rock in the mountains of Peña de Francia, found an image of the Blessed Mother carrying on her arms, the child Jesus. It was hidden together with other images and church bells to prevent them from falling into the hands of Moors/Saracens who were invading the south of Spain in the 12th Century.

 

Born in France on September 4, 1384 and christened Simón by his parents Rolan and Barbara, he heard a voice one night telling him to wake up: “Simón, vela y no duermas” (Vela, eventually, was attached to his name) and to go West in Peña de Francia to look for an image of the glorious Virgin Mary.

 

When miracles of healing happened immediately after the finding of the image, People started coming over to pay homage and pray to the Blessed Mother whom people began to address as the Lady of Peña de Francia. Simón built a chapel to house the image then later on, with the blessing of King Juan II of Spain and Pope Martin V, a bigger Church with a Convent was built on the plains at the top of the mountain of Peña de Francia that was given to the Dominicans for supervision and care.

 

On July 3, 1952, the image was solemnly crowned. Today, the Lady is enshrined at the Santuario de Nuestra Señora de la Peña de Francia located at the highest peak of Sierra de Francia in El Cabaco, Salamanca, Spain.

 

Around the year 1710, Rev. Fr. Miguel Robles de Covarrubias, upon the petition of the Cimarrones, built a Chapel and from a stampita he always had with him, had a replica of the Lady of Peña de Francia carved from wood then enshrined her at the said Chapel. Immediately, people came to visit, most especially, during the Saturday Novena and Mass at the Chapel. After a while, Fr. Miguel returned to Manila. But when his left eye became totally blind, he pledged to the Lady that he will return to Nueva Caceres and build the stone church he promised her.

 

After returning to Naga, he initiated the building of the stone church. In 1741, it was not known if Fr. Miguel was still alive or already dead by then, under Most Rev. Ysidro de Arevalo, DD, the stone church was erected.

 

A native of San Martin del Castañar where Peña de Francia is located, Fr. Miguel, who then was studying at the University of Santo Tomas, honored the invitation of the Bishop of Nueva Caceres, Most Rev. Andres Gonzalez, OP, DD to come to Nueva Caceres (Naga) where later on he was ordained and became Parish Priest of the Cathedral and Vicar General of the Diocese.

 

A recipient himself of many miracles of healing through his devotion to the Lady of Peñafrancia, while he was in Manila, he has pledged to our Lady that he will build her a stone church near the Pasig River. The pledge was fulfilled. Not in Manila, but in Naga. When Most Rev. Francisco Gainza, OP, DD arrived in Naga in 1863 to take possession of the See of Nueva Caceres, foremost among his priorities was the spread of the devotion.

 

In the dedication of the book he himself authored, he wrote that even before he set foot on the streets of the city, he has helped in the spread of the devotion by facilitating the imprimatur of the Novena to our Lady.

 

After seeing the sad state of the church and upon learning that the Image is temporarily housed at the Cathedral, he sought the renovation of the Church to be the permanent home of the Lady.

 

Through a decree he issued on September 1, 1864, Bishop Gainza institutionalized the Traslación Procession on the Friday before the Feast of the Holy Name of Mary, where the Image is brought to the Cathedral through a procession for the 9-day solemn Novena, then on the afternoon of the 9th day, Saturday, the image is brought back through the “Traslación por el rio”, now known as the Fluvial Procession, to her sanctuary for the celebration of Principal Feast day on the next day, Sunday.

 

In 1895, the Holy Father Leo XIII, acting on the petition of the Clergy and Faithful of the Diocese of Nueva Caceres led by Most Rev. Arsenio del Campo, DD coursed through the Sacred Congregation of Rites, issued a Rescript fixing the Feast day of Our Lady of Peñafrancia on the First Sunday of July and declaring the same as the Principal Patron of the City of Nueva Caceres dated June 4th and 10th respectively on the same year.

 

But in 1905, the Holy Father Pius X, through a Rescript dated April 8th of the same year, granted the wishes of the Faithful of Nueva Caceres led by Most Rev. Jorge I. Barlin, DD that the Solemnity of Our Lady of Peñafrancia be permanently assigned to the Sunday after the Octave of the Nativity of the same Blessed Virgin. This transfer of the Peñafrancia Festivities from July to September is the tradition that remains today.

 

In Spain, the celebration of the Feast of the Nuestra Señora de la Peña de Francia is fixed on September 8th as contained in the Santoral Romano Catolico Tradicional.

 

Thus, to determine the annual day of the Solemnity of Our Lady of Peñafrancia in Bicol, the point of departure is still the Nativity of Mary on September 8. The Solemnity is celebrated on the Sunday after the octave of the Nativity of Mary, that is, the Sunday after September 15. The Traslación which marks the start of the Novenary is held on the afternoon of the Friday ten days before and the Fluvial Procession on the Saturday, the eve of the Solemnity.

 

On September 20, 1924, the Image was canonically crowned as Queen and Patroness of Bicolandia by the Apostolic Delegate Most Rev. Guiglelmo Piani, DD at the Cathedral Grounds where the Quadricentennial Arch now stands. It was the American Bishop of Nueva Caceres, Most Rev. John Bernard McGinley, DD, with the help of the Asociacion de Peña de Francia (Now, the Our Lady of Peñafrancia Association, OLPA) who petitioned the Holy Father Benedict XV for the Canonical Coronation. Having fulfilled the two requirements of antiquity and miracles, a decree was issued by the Chapter of St. Peter’s Basilica that favorably approved the petition on May 13, 1920. Albeit, the coronation happened four years later. With Bishop McGinley already assigned in California, Most Rev. Franciso Reyes, DD, as Diocesan Administrator, spearheaded the celebrations.

 

Part of the preparations for the coronation was the Contest for Best Musical Composition. The winning piece “Himno a la Nuestra Señora de Peñafrancia” with the familiar first words “Resuene vibrante” composed by the Spanish priest Rev. Fr. Maximo Joguera, CM, became the Anthem of the Coronation and thereon, of every annual Fiesta.

 

The Bicol translation of the hymn was done by Most Rev. Teotimo Pacis, CM, DD with the help of Bicolano priests, Rev. Fathers. Jesus Esplana and Sohl Saez.

 

In the year 1960, the first Archbishop of Caceres, Most Rev. Pedro P. Santos, DD, dreamt of building a new and bigger Church to be a Basilica and permanent sanctuary of the Lady of Peñafrancia in Bicol. But he died in 1965 and so the task was assumed by his successor, Most Rev. Teopisto V. Alberto, DD.

 

Meanwhile, on October 30, 1973, the Shrine was created into a Parish with the Auxiliary Bishop of Caceres, Most Rev. Concordio Sarte, DD as the first Parish Priest.

 

Archbishop Alberto commissioned Bishop Sarte to commence the project of building the Basilica. In 1976, on a lot donated by the spouses Macario and Irene Mariano, the groundbreaking and laying of cornerstone was held. But in 1977, Bishop Sarte was appointed to the Diocese of Sorsogon. Most Rev. Sofio G. Balce, DD succeeded him as Parish Priest and supervised the construction of the new Church.

 

August 17, 1981 marked a fateful day in the history of the devotion in Bicol, as the Original Image of Inâ was stolen. Bicolanos awakened to this shocking news filled with disbelief. Unthinkable, but it was true. Rev. Fr. Juan Celzo, Parochial Vicar, confirmed the sad news and further related that the Manto used by Inâ at that time, was found in one of the empty tombs of the cemetery behind the Old Shrine.

 

Saddened but not disheartened, work continued. Through the laborious and extensive efforts of the devotees led by Bishop Balce, the construction of the new bigger Church was completed. And on the 22nd of May, 1982, His Eminence Jaime Cardinal Sin, Archbishop of Manila, with His Eminence Julio Cardinal Rosales, Archbishop of Cebu, presided over the Solemn Blessing and Dedication, respectively, of the new Church of Our Lady of Peñafrancia. But not as a Basilica, just yet.

 

More than a year after the image was stolen, on September 5, 1982, Msgr. Florencio Yllana, a former rector of the old shrine, received a box containing an image in pieces said to be of Inâ.

 

Bishop Balce with Fr. Celzo rushed to Manila to authenticate and confirm the genuineness of the image. Three days later, on September 8th, the glorious announcement was made on the return of the image. In the evening of the same day, the caravan from Manila arrived at the Cathedral jubilantly welcomed by throngs of devotees even amidst the onslaught of Typhoon Ruping.

 

When Most Rev. Leonardo Z. Legaspi, OP, DD took possession of the Archdiocese of Caceres in 1984, he immediately manifested his devotion and concern to the Lady of Peñafrancia when he petitioned Rome that the new Church be declared a Basilica. The following year, on the 3rd Anniversary of the Dedication on May 22, 1985, the Holy Father John Paul II granted the privileges of a Minor Basilica to the Church dedicated to Our Lady. The Elevation Ceremonies happened on September 22, 1985 presided over by the Apostolic Nuncio, Most Rev. Bruno Torpigliani, DD. Much later on, the Basilica was granted the privileges and title of a National Shrine.

 

Archbishop Legaspi appointed Msgr. Juan Buentiempo to the Basilica to help Bishop Balce. With this triumvirate, a huge building was constructed at the back of the Church that houses the Altersheim (home for retired priests), Daughters of Mary (DM) Convent, and the Catechetical Center, now the Lay Formation Institute.

 

1999 ushered a new milestone for the devotion: the 75th Jubilee Anniversary of the Coronation of Our Lady of Peñafrancia. Reforms were made to prevent abuses like what happened in the 1996 Traslacion when the Manto of Inâ was stripped off the image. The Confraternity of St. Joseph was organized for the formation of voyadores that will ensure the solemnity of the Traslación and Fluvial Procession.

 

The Apostolic Nuncio to the Philippines, Most Rev. Antonio Franco, DD presided over the Pontifical Mass at the Quaricentennial Arch of the Naga Metropolitan Cathedral, and re-enacted the coronation done by the Apostolic Delegate Piani in 1924. Archbishop Legazpi also led the Consecration of the Bicol Region to Our Lady of Peñafrancia. At the Basilica, the Diamond Pavilion was constructed under the rectorship of Msgr. Alberto Nero, HP as a monument marking the Jubilee.

 

2010 ushered in a new era in the history of the devotion.

 

What the Basilica is at the present is a product of the renovation done under Msgr. Romulo Vergara, the 5th Rector of the Basilica, as part of the preparations for the Tercentenary Jubilee. The Fabrication of new and formidable “andas” for Inâ and the Divino Rostro, spiritual formation of the voyadores and reorganization of the Cofradia de San Jose and Guardias de Maria, creation of the Joint Organizing Committee (JOC) with the partnership with the Local Government of Naga and other pertinent government agencies for the peaceful and orderly conduct of Fiesta celebrations and disaster prevention to avoid a repeat of the “Colgante Bridge Tragedy” in 1972, the making of a movie and a book about the history of the devotion, the compilation into a book of the accounts of the miracles of Inâ, these and many others, to safeguard and promote the devotion.

 

As a lasting tribute to the Blessed Mother on the occasion of 300 years of love and patronage to Bicolandia, the colossal Porta Mariae was erected as a testament of love and honor to Inâ by the Pueblo Amante de Maria! All these were done under the term of the Illustrious Archbishop Legaspi, Vanguard Extraordinaire of the devotion.

 

Under the current Episcopacy of Most Rev. Rolando J. Tria Tirona, OCD, DD, and the Rectorship of the Rev. Msgr. Rodel M. Cajot, PC, VG, we bring to new heights the growth of the devotion as we endeavor the completion of the majestic Museum where the treasures of history shall be immortalized for generations to receive, cherish, protect, and share.

The devotion to Inâ cannot but grow and live on. Thus, we look forward to 2022, Ruby Anniversary of the Dedication of the Basilica; 2024, Centenary of the Canonical Coronation; 2032, Golden Anniversary of the Dedication. And further on to 2034, the 600th year of the Finding of the Image at Peña de Francia.

 

Viva la Virgen!

Viva Nuestra Señora de Peñafrancia!

Gloria a nuestra excelsa Protectora!

The Roman Catholic

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