Wednesday, October 6, 2010

VIVA LA VIRGEN! The Peñafrancia Festival (Meet the Bicolanos Indomitable Spirituality)


God must have spent a little more time on the place where the religiously coveted celebration is held annually. Naga City is considered as the heart of Bicol, not much maybe because of her geographical location but maybe because of the graciousness of Bicolano cultures flourishing on her breast. Specifically, the feast of Our Lady Of Peñafrancia as the flagship of all events coupled by few others such as Pastores De Naga, Miss Bicolandia and a lot more.

As a college student before who trod the peaceful plains of Naga City, this place left memories in me to fonder. I’ve been a collage slab in there taking up AB Major in Philosophy Minor in Religious Education for 4 years. And I guess I left some part of me there. Pulling back time, if there is anything I could reminiscent that would left my heart and mind cold-sweat but at the same time elated, that would be my Alma Matter and the Peñafrancia festival – and few other memories that keeps the willies in me!


Annually this holy and religious act of Bicolanos are shown and demonstrated in the face of Naga City. Although, we may say that the repetition of such event counts history after history, it would never seems to be a monotony – Bicolanos just gets more sublime every passing years with the faith to Ina (Our Lady Of Pañafrancia).

Just a bit from the ashes of time, Peñafrancia got its spark to a certain French kid Simon. He lived and was raised in a well-to-do family who could in fact grant his wish every time. When his parents and only sister died, Simon has all the family’s material possession given to him. Just to ward-off further trouble with his newly acquired material affluence, he donated them to the church and to some other charitable institutions and then entered in a church service as chamber boy.

He has an undying admiration for Mother Mary that in his deep contemplation of her beauty, it is said that he would lost consciousness and would wander on it while he was told by a voice that he would be named Simon Vela instead. He was then asked to go to Peña De Francia, west of his country.

He has searched for that place for no avail through caves, hills and mountains. All ready to give up his pursuit. He was once again quoted by the voice not to give up. This gives him another courage to go on for the search again.

The place doesn’t seem to exist not until he was hinted by two incidents that crossed over his way. One was when two brawling men spoke about the place Peña De Francia. One of the offender spoke about hiding in an unknown place called Peña De Francia which sparked his zeal once again.

Second, is when he met a man selling charcoal and asked him where he came from, the man answered that he came from Peña De Francia. This again give further light on his dim way towards his pursuit. But never availed their assistance whomever he asked to lead him. He reached a villa called Martin de Castañar. That was May 14, 1434 since when he started the search September of 1434. After he attended a Holy Mass in a church a man finally pointed him to a place, a rocky hill called Peña De Francia. He was so grateful about of all the complementing events in his journey upon arriving at the place.

Having exhausted his food provision, Simon is almost losing his physical strength. However, along his way to the hill he has picked a pouch full of bread and a piece of meat which sustained him for another journey tomorrow.

He almost fall on his knees for surrender, but the voice kept giving him the strength to vie some more. Until he finally saw a dazzling light from a distance that elated him emotionally and spiritually, that was Virgin Mary and the Child Jesus in her arms sitting in a throne. To console Simon with his undertakings just to see her the Lady replied, “Simon, rejoice! Your constancy will be rewarded. Your dream will be realized. Your labors are now ended. Take heed and keep in your heart what I wish you to do. Dig in this spot and take what you can see and place it on the summit of this rocky hill. Build on this hill a beautiful dwelling. You are to begin it and others will come to finish it. This must come to pass as it has been the wish of my child.” The lady disappeared after those words.

In the morning he began digging the place where the apparition took place together with some other men as instructed him later by the voice. The men thought they were digging for hidden treasure if not only that they’ve been told to dig something that worth more than what they think. May 19, 1434 was marks the summit of his search when they found the most coveted image of the Virgin with the Child in her arms. There came the glorious toil of Simon Vela that heralded the birth of Peñafrancia.


It seems to have coinciding names when it comes to naming the festival Peñafrancia, it’s perennial origins Peña De Francia and Peñafrancia, Spain. It was just told That Miguel Robles de Covarrubias, son of a government official from Peñafrancia, Spain who settled in Cavite in 1712, got ill while studying as a seminarian at the Universidad de Santo Tomas. He holds in his hand the image of Our Lady of Peñafrancia together with his contrite imploration for his healing coupled with a promise that if she would heal him he recompense by constructing a chapel by the riverbank of Pasig river.

The Miracle did happened. He was finally ordained as priest in of Nueva Caceres (now Naga City) instead of Manila. Perhaps, further research will tell us why it was in Naga City rather than in Manila.

Father Miguel did build a chapel along Bicol River by mobilizing natives of that place. Second, and perhaps the most controversial act done is the carving of the image of the Lady of Peñafrancia which spawns various miracles since then.

It was said that a dog was killed for its blood to paint the newly carved image, but when the dog was thrown into the river, it regained its life back and swam towards the bank. Hundreds have witnessed this hair spellbinding miracle. With that hundreds of miracles have been attributed to Our Lady of Peñafrancia then.

As devotes grew in number unstoppably, the Lady took her rightful place in the hearts of Bicolanos as well as in their land. In September 20, 1924, the Lady was official crowned as Patroness of Bicolandia by Rt. Rev. Msgr. Guillermo Piani, an apostolic delegate.

The image has been dated to be more than 300 years old, therefore becoming an apple of the eye for antique lovers. Corollary to this, the image was looted in August 15, 1981. This has been a devastating upshot for the faithfuls not only because the image was stolen but a life was lost in a massive search for the image – a policeman was killed and a police lieutenant was wounded while they were en route for a lead somewhere for Bolo Sur, Sipocot, Camarines Sur.

The upcoming festivity of the Lady of Peñafrancia necessitated the church to create a replica during the traslacion – the literal transfer of the image from one enshrined place to the other.

Over a year later, with great disbelief the Bicolanos were shocked by the return of the original image to Rt. Rev. Msgr. Florencio Yllana of the CBCP. On September 8, 1982 feast of our Lady’s festivity; a motorcade was done from Manila to Naga City despite the storm Ruping. The storm doesn’t get even with Bicolanos burning faith when at 10:00 pm the image safely arrived in Naga Metropolitan Cathedral where a pontifical concelebrated mass was offered in thanksgiving for the arrival of the image.

Basilica Minore at Calle Balatas Naga City is instrumental for her safekeeping and enshrinement. The Basilica is the point of departure of the image during the traslacion and the point of arrival is the Metropolitan Cathedral, then the image is enshrined back to the Basilica by way of fluvial procession.


Every third Saturday of September is a religious red alert in every Bicolano calendar since this is when the Peñafrancia Festival occurs. The festivity is celebrated with joy and thanksgiving of course, but religiously it was a 9-day novena to our Lady. The big sea of crowd drowns the city upon the culminating day highlighted by the event called traslacion that said started in 1885. The image of the Lady of Peñafrancia stays at the Cathedral for 9 feast days where Bicolanos themselves populate the perimeter day or night, rain or shine and 24/7.

The ever religiously endearing shout out of the Bicolanos to the Virgin Mary “Viva La Virgen!” and to the Holy Face of Jesus “Viva El Devino Rostro!” have been the signature of their indomitable faith. You see them basking under the heat of the sun, the congestion of the crowds and the stink that doesn’t seem to matter and to match their searing faith.

The celebration has a lot of subsidiary highlights such as the annual Search for Binibining Bicolandia. The coveted military parade is held with-in the 9-day celebration. The parade showcases the beauty of Bicolanas in their best bib and tucker sexy suits and military esteem. Naga City is flooded with different events big or small such as concerts, carnivals, fund raising, promotions and motorcades.

Bicol has been so blessed with Her. It is so overflowing and far reaching. Her miraculous aroma had gathered souls all over the Philippines. In fact, few other balik bayans abroad spare days ahead just to be with this event. I guess you’d never see devotion as impenetrable as this, dedicated to Virgin Mary.

Words are short to describe how would you actually feel being in the midst of this event, perhaps teary – eyed for even just an emotionally overwhelmed spectator. But what is more flattering feel penetrating to the bones is the Bicolano's love and respect towards the Lady. With her ever imbuing gaze and charisma even a brawler on the street would vow and salute her passing in their midst while uttering the word “Ina” – mother!

Truly, a deep utterance of a Bicolano's indomitable spirituality that gives it an indelible mark on the sands to time.

Thanks and for further readings:



  1. Hello Roldan, please allow me to use this picture for my story on Peñafrancia.


  2. Ha ha ha. Eplanet, I don't know. Those pictures weren't mine either. I just borrowed them. :-)