The Pasig River has three legendary landmarks: the malapad na bato (broad stone), the cave of Doña Jeronima and the Buayang Bato (petrified crocodile), a natural rock formation that lay on the bank of what is now Mandaluyong.
This legend of Buayang Bato was related by Padre Salvi, a character in Jose Rizal’s novel El Filibusterismo: “the river as well as the lake, was infested with caimans, so huge and voracious that they attacked bancas and upset them with a slap of the tail. Our chronicles relate that one day a Chinaman, who up to that time had refused to be converted, was passing in front of the church, when suddenly the devil presented himself to him in form of a caiman and upset the banca, in order to devour him a carry him off to hell. Inspired by God, the Chinaman at that moment cried out San Nicholasi! San Nicholasi! And instantly the caiman was turned into a stone.”
As the sequel to the legend goes, the heathen Chinese becomes a convert. Near the petrified crocodile, a chapel (ermita) and parsonage was built on the riverbank of Guadalupe to honor San Nicholas’ miracle.
French traveler Jean Paul Gironiere described in his memoirs that pagodas (palaces of several stories high) were constructed on cascos in the Chinese district of Manila (Binondo) then towed up the Pasig to the shrine of San Nicholas during the spectacular fluvial festivities. Augustinian historian Joaquin Martinez de Zuñiga noted that more than a thousand kilos of candles were offered during these devotions.
However, fiesta expert Alejandro Roces revealed that the festivities thought to be dedicated for San Nicholas were just a cover-up for the Chinese Mid-Autumn celebrations so frowned upon by the Spanish friars that the Chinese had to invent the preposterous story of the stone crocodile and use the September 10 feast of San Nicholas.
Fr. de Zuñiga recorded that the archbishop ordered the demolition of Ermita de San Nicholas de Tolentino and the transfer of its image to the Augustinian Sanctuary in Guadalupe. The newly-restored 300-year old hermitage of San Nicholas de Tolentino is located on what was known as the Estancia de Meysapang along the Pasig River.
Today, hardly anything remains of the San Nicholas cult. The stone crocodile, the oldest historical landmark in Mandaluyong (formerly known as San Felipe Neri) was cemented over during the Pasig Beautification Project and the restored Ermita de San Nicholas de Tolentino is close for viewing most of the time.
Click Part I – Church of Nuestra Señora de Gratia, Part II – Guadalupe’s San Nicholasi, Part III –Sampiro de Makati, Part IV –Old Makati’s Bailes de los Arcos, Part VI – Nielson Tower, Part VII –The Manila American Cemetery, Part VIII – Reposo Street Makati