The first time I saw an image of a pregnant Mary was during the Grand Marian Procession held last December in Intramuros. During the procession, young boys and girls danced with a bandana as a reenactment of the day when the images were brought to their town. It is said that as soon as the images touched ground after sailing through a casco from Manila, it began to drizzle. The town’s people began to cover their heads with their handkerchiefs.
My second encounter with this non-traditional image of Mary was during our Visita Yglesia via the Lake Towns of Laguna. The stone church in the lakeshore town of Pangil was built in 1611 and was dedicated to the Virgin of Nativity. It was at one time the biggest church in Laguna. It was in this town that a Spanish monarch sent princely gifts to its people for the hospitality they showed to him during his stay.
These gifts are the images of Mary and Child Jesus, venerated by the townspeople of Pangil as the Virgen de la O, the Virgin pregnant with the Son of God and as the Santo Niño de la O, is depicted as yet unborn, cradled in his mother’s womb. The Virgen de la O is enshrined on the left side altar of Pangil Church. The image of the Virgen de la O shows Mary with her arms raised and spread out as if she has been amazed and her eyes seem to be staring in disbelief at something quite improbable.
Anita Feleo reveals two explanations about how the image of Mary acquired this extraordinary name. The first must have been taken from every line of the litany recited during her feast days with “O”: O Maria, O Magandang Birhen, O Aming Ina… and so on.
The second explanation was taken from the Bible. When the angel Gabriel announced about Mary that she would bear a child who would be the Son of Man, the angel also told her that her cousin Elizabeth would have a child in her old age, “Elizabeth who is barren is now in her sixth month.” Mary rush off to meet her cousin Elizabeth.
Feleo noted that folk imagination had embellished that biblical account of Mary’s visit. The folks claimed that despite knowing beforehand of Elizabeth’s condition, Mary was filled with wonder just the same at the sight of her aged and supposed barren cousin now heavy with child, she must have said “Oh!” to express her Divine Surprise.
A third explanation was revealed to me by a local who said that the “O” is a confirmation to a promise. In Tagalog we say “Oo” which means Yes. But where is the other “O” of the “Oo”?
First of four parts
To be concluded.