The Lady in Blue Sash and the Cradle of Basketball in the Philippines

My parents’ house in Quezon City has a beautiful grotto surrounded by a lush tropical-themed garden. The grotto (with the Our Lady of Lourdes as central figure) has entered Philippine architecture as part of every Filipino garden and yard. Across the street from my parents’ home is the village clubhouse which played host to basketball tournaments held there every summer. Participating villages vied for the prestige of winning the basketball champion title.  

Both the Lourdes and Basketball has entered into our culture and can be considered as Filipino icons. This reminiscence brings me to write something about these two icons as today February 11 marks the feast of the apparition of Lourdes. 

The feast of apparition of Lourdes had become an annual event in Intramuros. The Capuchin church in Intramuros was the first local shrine of the Our Lady of Lourdes. The Capuchins were the last friar order to arrive in the Philippines during the Spanish period. Historian Nick Joaquin described the church to be “very small, hardly more than a chapel, whitout even a patio, but it had a modern look, polished woodwork, an excellent boys’ choir, and one of the loveliest Manila’s Marian images. Its fame in the 1930s was to turn Capuchinos into a popular church for society weddings.”  

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Joaquin noted that three decades passed since the building of the church before it became a center of intense devotion. This devotion to the Lady in blue sash developed during the 1930s, when every Filipino girl took to wearing the Lourdes habito: white frock and blue sash. 

The Capuchin church was a new church when Dewey invaded Manila Bay. It was originally dedicated to the Nuestra Senora de Divina Pastora or Our Lady of the Divine Sheperd before it was consecrated to the our Lady of Lourdes. Legend is that Manileños flocked to the Capuchin church, which faced Manila Bay, to implore the Virgin of Lourdes to save Manila from destruction by American guns. Joaquin narrated the events, “Dewey destroyed the Spanish armada but the Americans took Manila without firing a shot to hurt it, and the devout took this answer to their prayers at the Lourdes shrine.” 

Across the Church of Lourdes along General Luna Street was the armory of the Cuartel de Espana, which the American 31st Infantry had turned into a gym and in the wire net fence. According to Joaquin, “Filipinos of the Empire Days had had their first look at a fast moving game the Americans called basketball. In fact, that armory was the cradle of Basketball in the Philippines because the first Filipino cage leagues in the 1920s was played in the gym across the street from the Lourdes shrine.” Standing on what was then Cuartel de Espana is Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila while the on the old Lourdes shrine is El Amanecer Building.

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The national shrine of the Our Lady of Lourdes was transferred to Retiro in Quezon City which still enshrines the original image of the Virgin (the Virgin is a survivor of World War II. She was brought to the San Agustin Church before the Japs bombed the Capuchino church and killed all the friar members).  

The cult still continues to this day. Joaquin reminisced the days when “on the evening of February 11, at the Capuchinos in Intramuros, the tiples intoned the Magnificant and, like a miracle, the image of the Virgin slowly emerged from the grotto high up on the altar and rung by rung, descended the silvery stairway down the floor, for the Ceremonia de Besa-Pies. Through the strains of the Magnificant you heard the referee’s whistle at the basketball game across the street.” 

Source: Almanac for Manileños by Nick Joaquin

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