– A love story between a Queen and her people

October 5 1907 was, in the history of the Church in the Philippines, an important date. On that day the miraculous image of La Gran Señora de Filipinas – Nuestra Señora del Santísimo Rosario – La Naval de Manila was canonically crowned – a pontifical concession that was unprecedented in the annals of this Catholic country.

As early as October 1904, the people expressed their deep sentiment to have La Gran Señora crowned. In 1905, the Provincial of the Dominicans, the Rev. Fr. Santiago Paya, OP, presented in a papal audience, the formal petition. The letter noted among other things the hope “that the devotion of the Filipino people to the Virgin of the Rosary may increase day by day, that the Blessed Mother of God may be honored, and that the faith, piety and devotion of the Filipino people may flourish.” Pope Pius X (now a saint), upon reading the petition during the audience, got parchment and pen and himself wrote in Latin the papal decree for the first Pontifical Coronation in the Philippines.

The news was jubilantly received by the country in August. The proclamation was announced and Church authorities exhorted the faithful: “this Pontifical concession for the honor and glory of the Great Lady of the Philippines, while satisfying our legitimate aspirations, bids us as children of the Church, to surround the act of coronation with all the splendor possible and with that pomp and magnificence which great countries with deep religious sentiments have displayed whenever it is sought to honor her who is the ornament of our hearts, the august protectress of our ventures, and the happy safeguard of our uprightness and prosperity”.

Sparked by this religious sentiment and the appeal of the National Committee of the Canonical Coronation which counted some 60 distinguished individuals led by D. Benito Legarda, D. Cayetano Arellano, D. Felix Roxas, Da. Carmen Gavito de Alcuaz, Da. Felisa Camacho-Montera de Orozco, Da. Trinidad Ayala de Zobel and others, the Filipino people demonstrated their love for their Queen: more than 310,000 individuals from all over the country donated money and jewelry, gold and silver, precious gems, even their dearest heirlooms, for  the coronation jewels of the Santo Rosario – assayed as one of the most valuable of their kind in the world. Following the design of the D. Vicente Rivera y Mir of the Colegio de San Juan de Letrán, the goldsmiths of the famous La Estrella del Norte, Doroteo Macario and Pascual Macario under the direction of D. Gregorio Bartolome fashioned a masterpiece – two solid gold crowns weighing a total of 2,500 grams and encrusted with more than 1,700 diamonds, emeralds, sapphires, rubies and pearls – where the most precious of gems and the noblest of metals blended in a harmonious artistic whole, proclaiming the sum and substance of our people’s love for Mary and her Son.

The Santo Rosario is said to be the richest in the country because the fire of her devotees’ love for her made it so, and even made more resplendent by several generations unceasing faith and devotion. In the words of Quijano de Manila, “around her famous jewels – tribute of four grateful centuries – there hovers a brilliant cluster of legends, each rare stone having a romance behind it.” For offering her these gifts was the outlet of that true and unadulterated spirit of homage from loving hearts. Thus had the Santo Rosario been attired as “a royal lady of the court of the Felipes” – magnificently adorned with exquisitely gold embroidered vestments and glittering jewels befitting a queen.

But these tributes are pale in comparison to the various times she made her presence felt by her people, but the fact that they were engrossed all their lives doing this for her is, the gift that she treasures most dearly. Shown here unmistakably was the pure quality of our people’s sentiments for her, the strength of their faith and devotion. It is not the external glitter that counts but the ever more shining example of the undampened ardor that matters.

Was she not, after all, the Great Lady whom the Spanish and Filipino defenders invoked in 1646, the Virgin who saved the Philippines from the clutches of the Protestant Dutch? For more than 375 years the vow of La Naval promised by our forefathers has been kept. As our people raise their prayers of thanksgiving to her, that act of faith signifies, too, how they pledge themselves to offer her lasting praises in recognition of her loving intercession as they recall the two galleons emerging triumphant over the superior Dutch forces.

That victory, indeed, meant much to us. Were it not for the Virgin how could the defenders have triumphed over the enemy? But, because she was their Protectress, the Islands were saved from being overrun by the Dutch hordes. The battle cry of the defenders remained in the hearts of our people for in times of need, they would utter the prayers of the soldiers of La Naval de Manila invoking her intercession: “Long live the Faith of Christ and His Mother, the Virgin of the Rosary!”

And whenever one gazes on the face of the Santo Rosario, it brings back to mind her recorded miracles: the sick were made whole and the dying and the dead brought back to life with the touch of her mantle, or the holy water from her shrine or by praying before her the accounts of which are so voluminous.

5th of October 1907. On the day of her Coronation, more than a 100,000 came and emptied the nearby provinces to witness the ceremonies. As Providence would have it, the Governor General of the Islands, James Francis Smith was a Roman Catholic. He, therefore, could very well stand as a sponsor in representation of our people on that momentous occasion “replete with elaborate ceremonies of a regal function and yet somber with the solemn rituals of the Church.”

The heavens rejoiced with us and, therefore, wept. What started as a drizzle soon became a torrent. Yet the ceremonies went on as scheduled, with the Apostolic Delegate, Archbishop Ambrose Agius, OSB, after having received it from the hands of the Governor-General, placed the dazzling bejeweled crowns first on the Holy Child and then on his Blessed Mother while saying “As our hands crown you on earth, may we deserve to be crowned by you in heaven” and was followed was the deafening shouts and applause of the huge crowd, the tolling of the bells of Santo Domingo, the playing of the brass bands and the simultaneous appearance of the rainbow in the east, as if to voice out for all to hear the promise of our people to remain what they had always been throughout the years – her children and that of her Son.

This monumental story of love will continue to be told through the ensuing years as the faithful cease not to gather around her as they are held by the bond which ties together in harmony the children of but one Mother, the wards of but one Custodian. Such will be the unchanging relationship between a loving Queen and her faithful subjects. It is a love story which will continue to be told to generations more to come, but even when it may be told so often, never will it lose its flavor, ever enduring and always fresh. And, those who will relate them, as well as those to whom it will be told will not fail to feel that responsive chord in their hearts, so that, whenever any opportunity arises, there will be that urge to come and that willingness to render tribute due to an ever-solicitous Queen and devoted Mother.

As we reach the 114th Anniversary of the Pontifical Coronation of the Santísimo Rosario – La Naval de Manila, let us all take a second look at her coronation regalia. It is not the run-down version of a tiara or diadem. It is indeed more than just a set of crowns.

It is our people’s faith, our people’s love, and our people’s dream, all compounded into an external manifestation, as brightly dazzling and warm and palpitating and soaring as the Filipino devotion to Mary most holy, the Lady of the Rosary, Queen and Mother of the Philippines.

Written for the 90th year of the coronation of the Santo Rosario in 1997 and was published by the Manila Bulletin on the 8th of the same year.

About the author

Jason Perez, III

An alumnus of the University of Sto. Tomas, Manila and the Recamdero of San Juan de Capillas a Dominican Saint included in the roster of procession participants in the La Naval frestiviities annually. Jason is also the Founding President of the Hermandad y Cofradía de la Sagrada Pasión y María Santísima de la Esperanza Macarena of Santa María, Bulacán. Jason is a goof friend to many of the officers and members of the Sto. Niño de Malolos Foundation, Inc.

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