When church doors closed at eight o’clock last Thursday evening, more than a hundred people were still kneeling before the image of Nuestra Señora. Del Rosario at Santo Domingo Church.
Lavishly attired, bejeweled, and high on a temporary templete above the main altar, Our Lady was transferred from her normal place at the left transept to get ready for her feast day, celebrated every second Sunday of October. In the adjoining convent corridor, carrozas were being lined up to receive the images joining the big day’s procession, La Nával de Manila.
The venerated image (Virgin holding the Infant Jesus) was carved in the 1590s by a Chinese and has survived a fire, an earthquake, an invasion (in 1762 when the church was ransacked by invading British troops during the Seven Years’ War), and a bombing (by the Japanese in December 1941).
Fact and legend surround the Virgin’s jewels. My Lola Trining used to relate that the carbunco (a large red stone) on the Virgin’s forehead—maybe lost to the Brits—was wrested from a python inhabiting the banks of the Pasig—a story also told in Nick Joaquin’s short story, “The Virgin’s Jewel.” The 1762 setback has been made up with gifts over 250 years since and La Navál is as glittery as ever.
The procession would consist of some 30 images escorting the Virgin: San José, San Lorenzo Ruiz (who served in the Dominicans’ Binondo church) and Dominican saints. Survivors of World War II from the Intramuros church are the ivory heads and hands of Sto. Domingo de Guzmán (founder of the Dominican Order); Sto. Tomás de Aquino and Sta. Catalina de Sena (Doctors of the Church); Sta. Rosa de Lima (secondary patroness of the Philippines); San Vicente Ferrér; San Pio Quinto (Pope Pius V) and Sta. Inés de Montepulciano (Dominican abbess).
The multitude of present-day devotees follow in the footsteps of their ancestors who, for 368 years, have been expressing gratitude or petitioning for the intercession of Our Lady of the Rosary. Most, however, are probably unaware that they also memorialize a 1646 Spanish victory.
Carrying their War of Independence against Spain to the Far East, the Dutch had hoped to cripple the galleon trade and take over Spain’s interests in the region. Outnumbered and with old and rotting ships, the Spanish entrusted their fate to Our Lady of the Rosary. The encounters were at sea—five cat-and-mouse battles from March to October 1646: in Lingayen Gulf near Bolináo; in the seas between Mindoro, Marinduque, and Romblón; off Cavite near Fortune Island; and around Lubang Island and Mindoro.
The Spanish won the final battle on Oct. 4 with “one rickety ship against three well-armed enemy ships.” Fulfilling a vow, the exultant sailors walked barefoot across Intramuros to give thanks to Nstra. Sra. del Rosario.
Thus began Manila’s grand October procession, held in Intramuros until 1941; in Sampaloc at UST where the Dominicans evacuated; and since 1954 in Quezon City when the present Sto. Domingo church was inaugurated. The tradition continues.