Our Lady of Antipolo’s untold story

She grew up in Argentina and has traveled extensively in Spain and Latin America where there are statues and images of the Blessed Mother, Jesus Christ and the saints, not only in churches and homes but also in secular spaces. No wonder Prof. Cristina H. Lee, Phd,  had “simultaneous feelings of eerie familiarity and strangeness” during her first visit to the Philippines. That is probably why she “unveils aspects of veneration which have remained unseen” in her intriguing book: SAINTS OF RESISTANCE, Devotions in the Philippines under Early Spanish Rule. She did not burnish legends, but researched on the Santo Niño of Cebu, Our Lady of Caysasay (the Chinese goddess of the sea) and Our Lady of the Rosary or La Naval.  I zeroed in on “ Our Lady of Antipolo, Our Lady of the Tree” (Chapter 5). Dr. Lee’s book brought to mind  Dr. Rey Ileto’s pioneering work, PASYON and REBOLUSYON.
Dr. Cristina Lee describes her fascinating book as the first non-religious study focused on the dynamic life of saints and of the early devotees in Spanish Philippines from the 16th century to the early part of the 18th century. She does not burnish legends, but  analyzes the origins of the Santo Niño of Cebu, Our Lady of Caysasay, Our Lady of the Rosary  La Naval and Our Lady of Antipolo, a.k.a Our Lady of Peace and Good Voyage
According to Jesuit cartographer Pedro Murillo Velarde, in 1626, when Governor-General Juan de Tavera was about to leave for Manila, he saw a wooden statue of the Blessed Virgin in a church in Acapulco and asked the parish priest if he could have it.  He felt he needed protection for the reputedly perilous transpacific voyage, or he might never arrive at his new post. Nothing more was recorded about that image from Acapulco until 1654 when another Jesuit, Luis Espinelli, wrote his superior in Rome about the protection and favors granted by Our Lady of Good Voyage and Peace to the Jesuit mission, and people of Antipolo. After a decade,  the revered image was almost lost during the  Chinese rebellion of 1639. The  Sangleys in iconoclastic rage hacked and burned religious images in their path. Our Lady’s image was rescued,  dispatched to  Intramuros where it was kept in the Governor’s chapel.  While in the Ever Loyal City of Manila, Our Lady became the patroness of the galleon trade and the most-traveled deity in all Christendom.
Fr. Espinelli kept a record of  Our Lady’s trans pacific voyages aboard those galleons: She protected the “San Luis” in 1641, 1643 and 1645. Although she did not sail in 1647,   Our Lady protected 12 galleons anchored in Cavite against a Dutch invasion; in 1648, she was aboard the ”Nuestra Señora de la  Encarnación” and in the  “San Luis Francisco” from  1652 to 1653. In gratitude for her protection, Our Lady was returned to Antipolo accompanied by a grand procession and festivities that lasted two weeks. Spanish officials and priests walked from Manila to Antipolo bearing the image on their shoulders. However,from  1659 – 1662, she had to leave Antipolo once more, her last voyage abroad the  “San Juan”.
Apparently, in the 17th century, very few natives of Laguna, Cavite and Antipolo were devotees of Our Lady of Peace and Good Voyage because she was associated with the galleon trade that enriched the  Spanish colonial government,  but was a bane to the natives who rendered forced labor. They cut and hauled timber from the Sierra Madre mountains, transported logs on precarious vessels to the shipyards of Cavite where the galleons were built.  As a result, natives could not attend to their farms, causing their families to starve. The first recorded miracle of  Our Lady in favor of natives was when a group of wood cutters aboard a frail raft loaded with logs almost drowned during a typhoon that swept them to the shores of  Maragondon.  The patroness of the galleon trade became the salvation of galleon builders.
Once enthroned in Antipolo, Our Lady would disappear mysteriously only to be found atop  a tipolo tree near the church. . Father Chirino, a Jesuit missionary who arrived here in1590, recorded animistic practices: “There was no old tree that was not believed to be divine and it would have been a sacrilege to cut it down for any  reason.” Taglogs believed that trees,plants, mountains are but channels of divine power. Natives around the lakes in Laguna province worshiped old trees and believed these were inhabited by spirits like Guinoong Panay. While proselytizing missionaries would cut sacred trees, bamboo groves and burn their roots.
If our brand of  Catholicism is peculiar, it could be attributed to the way it was introduced: There were never enough missionaries for all these islands; language barriers had to be crossed; pre-colonial beliefs, practices had to be excised with the babaylanes and catalones. Asking for miracles from saints is a form of resistance to our inextricable woes.