It is during the month of May when Filipino devotees to the Blessed Virgin from different parts of the country throng on the hills of Antipolo to make a pilgrimage at the shrine of Nuestra Señora de la Paz y Buenviaje (Our Lady of Peace and Good Voyage).
Alejandro Roces defined “pilgrimages as journeys to sacred places undertaken as acts of religious devotion. They can be made for the plain purpose of venerating God or a saint, praying for some need, fulfilling a vow, making penance, or giving thanks. Contrary to popular notion, pilgrimages are not necessary penitential; they need not to be performed under hardships or great solemnity.”
The folk song Tayo na sa Antipolo vividly captures the festive air of this season in this rural town some decades ago “when the smell of suman and ripe mangoes competed with the fruiter smell of the Antipolo system; and you were always either praying in the church, or bathing at Hinulugang Taktak, or playing tres-siete and panguingue, or roasting kasuy nuts.”
National Artist Nick Joaquin gave us an idea of how a pilgrimage to Antipolo was like. “At the Puente Colgante in Quiapo the pilgrims boarded garlanded boats and sailed upriver to the music of a rondalla. The menfolk were in camisachino and neckerchief; the women in balintawak. At Cainta or Taytay, where the voyage end at noon, waited horses, wagons, carriages and hammocks, for the afternoon trek uphill.”
The most stereotyped Antipolo-pilgrimage scene was that of a woman lying comfortable in a hammock or duyan while in her Maria Clara dress. Alejandro revealed that both “sexes travelled by the duyan” and the “hammock was the Antipolo Transportation System. There were no roads to Antipolo –only footpaths. The most fashionable way to traverse the seven hills to Antipolo was in these primitive hammock-carriages. They were the original Philippine pedicabs.” However, the extinction of the hammock came when the railway transportation in the Philippines extended it line all the way to Antipolo in 1908.
Pilgrims reached Antipolo at nightfall and there, in rented houses, they were supposed to stay the full nine days of the novena. By the 1920s the trip could be made by car in a couple of hours, but he nine-day stay in Antipolo was still a de riguer. So the family took along supply of clothes, beddings, food and liquor; rented part of a house and crowded into one or two rooms.
The present church is a modern structure that replaced the old Antipolo Church. Architecturally, it is more functional than the old church but it has nothing of the old Antipolo spirit. The church of Antipolo began with a hundred peso contribution from the royal government, the parishioners did the rest. By 1604, the people of Antipolo erected a church of timber. The wooden structure was replaced with a stone and lime edifice.
The church became a shrine of a little treen image of the Blessed Virgin that Governor General Juan Niño de Tabora brought with him from Acapulco in 1626, it was the image that made Antipolo the most famous town in the Philippines.
Its cult began when the image mysteriously disappeared from the altar and just mysteriously found a top an antipolo tree. To commemorate the miracle, a pedestal was carved out of the trunk of the antipolo and it became known thereafter as the Virgin of Antipolo.
A major appeal of the Antipolo Virgin was her native complexion. Many artists created works of art inspired from the venerated image. In 1863 oil painting of the Antipolo virgin with her crowned jewels is by Justiniano Asuncion. According to legend, Asuncion could not capture the charisma of the Virgin on canvas until he heeded the suggestion of a pious person that he execute the painting on his knees.
The Virgin of Antipolo reputedly had jewels worth more than two million pesos. Later, the collection was evaluated at ten thousand pesos. Someone had either stolen or replaced the jewels during the turbulent times of the revolution.
Fiesta by Alejandro Roces
Almanac for Manileños by Nick Joaquin