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Peñafrancia Devotion

Short History of the Devotion to our Lady of Peñafrancia

Born in France on September 4, 1384, to Rolan and Barbara, Simón was awakened by a voice one night telling him: “Simón, vela y no duermas!” “Wake up and do not sleep. Go West to Peña de Francia and look for an image of the glorious Virgin Mary. “Vela” was eventually attached to his name, thus, Simon Vela.

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 in 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.

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 “Señora de 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 canonically 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.

In Bicol, the devotion to our Lady of Peñafrancia was born during the episcopacy of Bishop Andres Gonzalez, OP, (1685-1709). During his tenure, the Bishop invited Don Miguel Robles de Covarrubias, who was studying in then Colegio de Santo Tomas, to come to Nueva Cáceres. Don Miguel was later ordained priest at the Cathedral by Bishop Gonzalez and was assigned to a small parish. After six months, the Bishop assigned him to the Cathedral and was appointed Provisor and Vicar General of the entire diocese.

Towards the end of the 17th century, Fr. Miguel Robles de Covarrubias, upon the petition of the Cimarrones, built a Chapel made of cogon, and from a stampita he always had with him, had a statue of the Lady of Peña de Francia carved from wood, and 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 would return to Nueva Câceres and build the stone church he promised her. Immediately, his eye was healed.

Arriving back in Nueva Câceres, he began the building of the new church. He personally supervised its construction and even stayed at the construction site for almost five months, as contained in his letter dated May 1, 1710. In the testimony of Fr. Domingo Sena, the priest who brought Fr. Miguel’s letter to the convent of Peña de Francia in Spain in the year 1712, he said that he personally gave Fr. Miguel the personal contribution of Bishop Gonzalez of Five Hundred pesos for the construction of the church and in addition, one hundred fifty ounces of silver, a chalice, cruets, and thurible, among other things, for use in the new church.

After Bishop Andres Gonzalez died, Fr. Miguel stayed at Nueva Câceres well into the episcopacy of Bishop Domingo de Valencia. Bishop Valencia died in 1719 and before Bishop Felipe de Molina took possession of the diocese in 1723, Fr. Miguel returned to Manila where it is believed, he died.

During his incumbency (1723-1738), Bishop Molina ordered the transfer of the sanctuary of our Lady of Peñafrancia to a new site and began building a new church for her. It was however his nephew Bishop Ysidro de Arevalo, his successor, who was able to complete the construction of the new sanctuary in 1750.

When Bishop Francisco Gainza, OP, took possession of the diocese of Nueva Cáceres in 1863, he found the sanctuary dilapidated and abandoned, and the Virgin was temporarily housed at the Cathedral. Immediately, he undertook the renovation of the Sanctuary. In September of 1877, the works were finished and the fiesta that year was extraordinarily celebrated in the grand and magnificent church. To this day, the sanctuary, as renovated by Bishop Gainza, stands.

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 Asociación 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.

For the solemn occasion of the canonical coronation, Fr. Maximo Joguera, CM, composed the “Himno a la Nuestra Señora de Peñafrancia” with the familiar opening words “Resuene vibrante” that 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 the 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 Venerable 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 Sanctuary of Our Lady of Peñafrancia. The Homily was delivered by Archbishop Jose Sanchez who later was elevated as a Cardinal – the first and only Bicolano Cardinal, so far.

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.

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 of the image. The Confraternity of St. Joseph was organized for the formation of voyadores that will ensure the solemnity of the Traslación and Fluvial Processions.

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 Legaspi 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. Noe P. Badiola, PC, VG, we bring to new heights the growth of the devotion as we endeavor the completion of the majestic Museum, begun by the former Rector Msgr. Rodel M. Cajot, where the treasures of history shall be immortalized for generations to receive, cherish, protect, and share.

Finally, as the preparation for the Centenary of the Canonical Coronation of Inâ (1924-2024) is set into full gear, we heed the clarion call of Inâ, “Do whatever Jesus tells you”. That as one people under her patronage, we be audacious in rendering her fitting tribute, for Inâ indeed is our “siempre la Reina!”

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