Friday, March 29, 2019

Guest Blogger: Our Lady of Peñafrancia by Ma. Teresita Herrera-Tan

Our Guest Blogger is Ma. Teresita Herrera-Tan who writes about our Our Lady of Peñafrancia. Her article is part of a book I edited, Magnificat: Mama Mary's Pilgrim Sites, a collection of personal stories by devotees of our Mother Mary. The book is available in Kindle form. ~ Cecilia


What they say about: MAGNIFICAT: MAMA MARY’S PILGRIM SITES (Anvil, 2012; Kindle)

This is another outstanding book by Cecilia Manguerra Brainard. Profoundly Marian and beautifully written by the contributors as these are their personal experiences! To our fellow devotees and would-be devotees of the Blessed Virgin Mary, you will surely fall in love with "Magnificat: Mama Mary's Pilgrim Sites" and love Our Blessed Mother even more. ~ +Leopoldo C. Jaucian, SVD, DD, Bishop of Bangued, Philippines

The devotion to Mama Mary is strong in the heart of every Filipino. ~ James B. Reuter, S.J., Author of the Mama Mary and His Children Series

The Magnificat has always been a testament to God’s paradoxical dealings with his people. This book assembles a tableau of witnesses to how a visit with Mary can turn into a life-changing introduction to her Son. Through their stories the authors offer their readers the distinct possibility of setting the stage for a personal, if vicarious, epiphany. ~ Fr. Dionisio M. Miranda, SVD, President , University of San Carlos

Running as a leitmotif in all the essays in this book is the writers’ palpable love for Mama Mary. Each writer has undergone a change in his or her life or outlook following a visit to a Marian site. Some may have experienced a “miracle,” or felt consoled and renewed; others a deepening of spirituality, or an epiphany, an insight into the divine. Although we know that Jesus is the only Way to the Father, it is our belief in the power of Mary’s intercession to her Son, borne out of the Bible’s Cana story, that makes us all turn to Her, whom Her divine Son will never refuse. Kudos to Cecilia Manguerra Brainard for putting together an engaging collection of stories that magnify the humble handmaid of the Lord. ~ Erlinda Enriquez Panlilio, Award-winning writer and editor


Our Lady of Peñafrancia

PHILIPPINES –Shrine of Our Lady of Peñafrancia, Naga City, Bicol

The venerated image of Our Lady of Peñafrancia is a replica of the Madonna of Peñafrancia in Spain. The feast of Our Lady of Peñafrancia is celebrated on the third Saturday and Sunday of September in Naga City, Bicol, Philippines. The official coronation of Our Lady of Peñafrancia as Patroness of Bicol took place in September 20, 1924.



by Ma. Teresita Herrera-Tan

MANY Catholics from all over the world have a special devotion to the Blessed Virgin and Filipinos are no exception. I, myself, have always been a Marian devotee and I believe that through her intercession, my family has been granted healing. She has always been good to me and my family.

So many titles of the Blessed Virgin Mary came to mind as I was about to write this article. To name a few, Our Lady of Fatima, Our Lady of Lourdes, Our Lady of the Rosary etc. In the Philippines, Filipinos in the vernacular, call her “Ina” (mother), “Inang Maawain” (merciful mother), Mama Mary and other titles referring to her as our mother. There are shrines dedicated in her honor, Our Lady of Peace and Good Voyage (in Antipolo), Our Lady of Manaoag (in Pangasinan), Our Lady of Peñafrancia (in Naga and in Manila). Marian devotees in search of miracles or in gratitude for answered prayers through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary flock to these shrines during her feast day, celebrated in grand “fiestas” in the Philippines.

For this article, allow me to write about the Blessed Virgin Mary as Our Lady of Peñafrancia. This is providential since the Parish Church of Our Lady of Peñafrancia (de Manila), built in 1951, is nestled among the homes in Burgos, Paco Manila. My parents then, had a home in Paco, Manila Philippines in the fifties to the sixties.

In my growing up years, my family and I used to attend mass and other church services in this Parish Church. On weekdays I would attend mass here before I went to school. After we left our Paco residence, it became my devotion to attend Mass during the “fiesta” of Our Lady of Peñafrancia at Paco, Manila, whenever, I could.

Where It All Started

Simon Vela (of French descent) belonged to an affluent family who sold all his inheritance, and donated the proceeds to the church and the needy, when his parents and only sister died. Thereafter, he became a chamber boy in a Franciscan convent. One day while in deep prayer he lost consciousness and Our Lady appeared to him and asked him to go to Peña de Francia and look for an image similar to Our Lady as she appeared to him. 

For five long years, he travelled in France, looking for Peña de Francia to no avail. He went to the University of Salamanca, Spain to do some “research”. One day while in a market place in Salamanca, he overheard two men talking of Peña de Francia, a mountain range, between France and Spain. He immediately set foot to find the place, which in the distant past was occupied by French people who valiantly resisted the vigorous attacks of the Moors, hence the name Peña de Francia or “Rock of France.”

At first he was alone digging in a cave. But when he was about to find the image, Our Lady appeared to him and told him to get companions (to serve as witnesses). With four other companions, Simon Vela went back to Peña de Francia. They dug at the place and on May 19, 1534, excavated the original image of the Nuestra Senora de Peñafrancia (Our Lady of Peñafrancia), so called because the image was excavated in “Peña de Francia.” Soon thereafter, the Virgin granted him and his companions special graces for the healing of their physical ailments. (The official document of these miracles and this discovery is preserved in the archives of San Martin de Castañar). That was the start of the devotion to Our Lady of Peñafrancia. She also became patroness of Salamanca, Spain.

Our Lady of Peñafrancia in the Philippines

In the Philippines, Our Lady of Peñafrancia, came around May 14, 1621 (others say 1697). There are two versions as to the origin of Our Lady of Peñafrancia.

According to legend, the image-painting was fished out of a riverlet in Paco which was then marshland. It was brought to the church of the La Candelaria, run by Franciscan religious at San Fernando Dilao, Paco (behind the present Manila City Hall). After its installation the image disappeared and was later found safe in a “bakawan” (mangrove) tree in the original site where it was found. The lady disappeared three more times and each time, she was returned to the church in San Fernando Dilao.

On the 4th time that she disappeared from the church, the residents kept her and built a small chapel made of nipa and bamboo. That chapel, where the original image painted on thick canvas is enshrined, is now the parish church of Our Lady of Peñafrancia de Manila in Paco and is located at the very spot where the image of our Lady was found. 

The image-painting shows the Madonna, sitting on a throne on top of a mountain, and the Child resting on its mother’s lap, holding a globe on its left hand while His right hand is raised in benediction. Simon Vela (who found the original image) with arms extended in prayer, kneels on the right of the Lady with the brown robe of the Franciscan order draped over his body. Before its restoration by Jun Gonzalez, specimens of the painting were examined at the Instituto Centrale Del Restauro and it was established that it was done in the 1600s by a Spanish artist. Today, the Parish of Our Lady of Peñafrancia de Manila serves the residents of and nearby locations and many pray and seek her intercession to ask for favors and she has not failed them. Our Lady of Peñafrancia was canonically crowned by Jaime Cardinal Sin on November 10, 1985. A cancer survivor gave the crown made of pure gold and studded with diamonds. Her feast day is celebrated on the Sunday nearest to May 14. 

Another version of the origin of the Nuestra Senora de Peñafrancia is that the painting of Our Lady was brought to the Philippines by the family of Covarrubias, a Spanish government official and a native of San Martin de Castanar. They lived near the small Spanish garrison which was located in the vicinity of the present church. 

One of the sons of the Covarrubias family, Miguel Robles de Covarrubias, was sickly and had a special devotion to Our Lady of Peñafrancia. Whenever he was sick or had troubles, he would hold a picture of the image and pray to her. He later became Parish priest of Nueva Caceres (Now Naga) and brought with him the devotion to Nuestra Senora de Peñafrancia to the place. In 1712, Fr. Miguel had an image made of Our Lady of Peñafrancia which was stained with animal blood to preserve it. Thus the dusky color of the image, similar to the complexion of the aetas who were the inhabitants of the place at the time. 

Bicolanos call Our Lady of Peñafrancia “Ina” and every third Saturday of September, a fiesta to celebrate her feast day is held. The image is transferred from the Minor Basilica to the Naga Cathedral where she stays for the duration of the novena. It is also to accommodate the numerous devotees who participate in the fiesta. After the fiesta, a fluvial procession called “translacion” takes place where the image of Our Lady is returned from the Cathedral to the minor basilica. Last year, 2010, her 300th anniversary was celebrated with much festivities and fanfare. Thousands of pilgrims flocked to Naga to pay homage to Our Lady to whom numerous miracles are attributed. 

Miracles in Our Family

My family was also granted the favors we prayed for through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary. I believe these were miracles. Foremost are the healing of my daughter and my Dad.

Tessa Marie Kristinne (Pops, as we fondly call her) was born with Down syndrome and a congenital heart defect. From birth she was sickly and the hospital became a second home for us. I continued my devotion to Our Lady and prayed for special graces for the healing of our daughter. It was a roller-coaster ride for the family especially for the first eight years of her life. There were many times she was in the brink of life and death. When she was twenty-eight years old, her heart condition became worse and she even had to use a wheel chair when we went to church, the malls or when we travelled. She is fond of going out but there was a time she preferred to stay home. This worried us no end. She was confined for a heart operation and an angiogram was made in preparation. However, the results were not compatible with a heart operation. The doctor (though he hoped he was wrong) gave her not more than 3 years to live. Now, he is glad he was wrong! Family, relatives and friends stormed heaven with prayers and today, at thirty-three years old, she is 115 pounds (33 pounds lighter) and though not 100 % recovered from her heart disease, she is still our sweet angel. Just recently when she saw a ballet number on TV, she was dancing around the room and said she wants to dance again. When she was between nine and sixteen years old, she went to a ballet school and had five recitals at the Cultural Center of the Philippines, (CCP), Philamlife Auditorium and the Metropolitan Theater. I cried every time I watched her dance because even with a group she did not miss a step. We still continue to pray to Our Lady and believe that she would always hear our prayers for our daughter.

Another favor granted through the intercession of Our Lady was the recovery of my Dad from stroke in 1998 and the accident he had in 2002. He slipped and hit his head on the floor and had a two–inch cut on his forehead. A cut on the forehead really is bloody. Within the week of his accident he had to be rushed to the emergency room of Makati Medical Center and Asian Hospital four times because the bleeding would stop for a while then would bleed again a few hours after we got home. One night the cut again bled and I pressed the cut with my fingers at the same time we prayed the Hail Mary aloud. Then as I gazed around my Dad’s room, my eyes looked out of the window which opened directly in the direction of the grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes. As I continued pressing the cut for about half an hour, praying the Hail Mary and looking at Our Lady, the bleeding suddenly stopped. Thereafter, my dad was calm and slept soundly until morning. I believed that Our Lady granted our prayers for the bleeding to stop. Last September 2011, Dad celebrated his eighty-seventh birthday. 

Another miracle in the family is the love story of my brother, Jorge and his wife, Mina. Mina who comes from a religious family is a devotee of Our Lady of Peñafrancia. Back in 1978, Mina and Jorge were both legionaries of the Praesidium “Our Lady of Beautiful Love” which is an offspring of Our Lady of Peñafrancia Praesidium. They were partners in most of the legionary works, and group mates in other legionary activities. They believed that Our Lady played cupid in their relationship from friendship/courtship to marriage.

When they were planning their marriage, Jorge was retrenched from Philippine Airlines. It was a big setback but Jorge wanted to push through with their plans believing that the retrenchment was a blessing because it gave them more money to be used for the wedding. Of course, Mina’s Mom was apprehensive to see her daughter married to a jobless man at the beginning of their marriage. Her Mom told her that Jorge should first find a job even as a janitor before they got married. Mina prayed hard and asked for the intercession of Our Lady of Peñafrancia and continued with her daily rosary and masses at the parish church.

On November 30, 1982, a month before the “pamanhikan” (where the prospective groom’s parents would formally ask the girl’s parents for her hand in marriage), Jorge found a job which was even a higher position than his former job. They were married on March 4, 1982, the anniversary of their praesidium “Our Lady of Beautiful Love” offspring of the praesidium, Our Lady of Peñafrancia.

Today, they still continue their devotion to Our Lady, who gave them a beautiful love and an intelligent, beautiful, God-fearing daughter, Martha Joyce. 

Other Miracles 

Through interviews with Rev. Fr. Alexander O. Thomas, Parish Priest of Our Lady of Peñafrancia de Manila and some parishioners in Burgos, Paco Manila, particularly Ms. Nora Aglibata, Mrs. Tess Murillo and her daughter Pie, Mrs. Ruth Jalocon, and a few others, I have also been told of the origin of Our Lady’s image, the church and some answered prayers through the intercession of Our Lady of Peñafrancia de Manila. My eternal thanks to them for helping me in this article.

One devotee tells of how she prayed to the Our Lady of Peñafrancia for almost a decade to have their own home and specifically in Little Baguio, San Juan to be close to her and her spouse’s work and school of their only child. After three years of house-hunting they found their home where else, but in little Baguio, through our lady’s intercession. To this day, the devotee says they are forever indebted to Our Lady.

Another tells of how their house was saved in a fire that razed Burgos, Paco. She prayed to our lady and resigned herself that their house would be the next one to be burned. Lo and behold the firemen came and their house and belongings, though drenched in water was saved.

A devotee’s house was burned twice without any casualty in their family and has now has re built their house through her prayers to Our Lady.

Another mother devotee prayed for her son’s (who had 4 children) second life and her prayers were answered.

My first trip to Naga City was also providential. I was there on an official business and I was glad that I could go there since I have always wanted to go to the basilica of Our Lady of Peñafrancia. However, I seemed not to find the time due to work but it was my work which brought me there! Finally I went to the shrine (a minor basilica) located at the slope of Mt. Isarog, about two kilometers from the municipal building. It was beautiful and the place where it was located was quiet. It has been described as “that first chapel made of nipa and bamboo is now a minor basilica evolving from a series of changes in its architecture and structure, from Chinese influence to baroque style to the neoclassical design that it is today.”

I distinctly remember it was a Wednesday. There were a few people inside the church as I was early for evening Mass for Our Lady of Perpetual Help. The church was beautiful and I felt that kind of indescribable “feeling” when you enter a church for the first time. The Image of Our Lady of Peñafrancia was at the center of the main altar. The image was beautiful as if calling you to pray. I came nearer and prayed a prayer of thanksgiving for all my blessings. After the mass and praying to our lady, my heart felt lighter. A feeling of peace enveloped me which lingered for a long while, after I left the church.

Today, I still continue my devotion to Our Lady who seemed to be always there when things go wrong and I pray for her intercession not only to ask favors but also in gratitude for the many favors and blessings granted to me. Hail Our Lady! Hail Our Lady of Lourdes! Hail Our Lady of Fatima! Hail Our Lady of Peñafrancia! Whichever way I call you, you are still my Mama Mary and the mother of all mankind, our intercessor “to Jesus, through Mary”.


1. Barcelona, Mary Anne. Ynang Maria: A Celebration of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Philippines. Edited by Consuelo B. Estepa, P.D. Pasig City: Anvil Publishing, Inc., 2004.

2. Hail, Our Lady of the Poor by Ching M. Alano, Weekend, May 12, 1985.

3. Totus Tuus, Maria Foundation, Inc. “Our Lady of Peñafrancia, Celebrating 300 years of devotion in the Philippines by Dr. Virginia Guzman-Manzo,M.D. (2009)


BIOMA. TERESITA HERRERA-TAN: Daughter of Jose and Rosita Herrera, mother of Tessa Marie Kristinne “Pops” and wife to Rosendo, Jr., Tessa has been in the field of Human Resources Management and is a practicing lawyer in labor laws and intellectual property rights. Schooled in catholic institutions, St. Theresa’s college, UST and San Beda College, she is a staunch Marian devotee.
Tessa is one of the founders of the Down Syndrome Association of the Philippines, pioneer support group for parents and families of down syndrome children. She dabbles in writing every now and then and enjoys reading poetry and non-fiction.  

Read also Raquel Balagtas' Article "Thank You" which is part of Finding God: True Stories of Spiritual Encounters

Tags: #Catholic #Christianity #MamaMary #Marian #Mary #religion #Magnificat

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