Devotion to the Candelaria

Candlemas is the feast celebrated every 2nd of February to commemorate two major events in the New Testament – the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple and the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

It is written in the law of the Lord: “Consecrate all the first-born to Me, the first issue of every womb, among the sons of Israel” (Ex. 13:2).  So, Jesus was offered to God by the prophet Simeon who, for many years awaited His coming.  Then Jesus was redeemed by Mary and Joseph with a pair of turtle doves or two young pigeons (Lk. 2:22-38).  The prophetess Anna was also present to witness this first formal presentation of Jesus to the Father.

On this occasion, Mary had herself purified for it is also written in the Jewish Law that when a woman gives birth, she becomes unclean for a specified number of days (forty days for a male child and eighty days for a female).  She must not appear in public nor touch anything consecrated to God.  After complying with the precept, she must bring to the temple a lamb (as burnt offering) and a pigeon or turtle dove (as sin offering).  The priest will offer these to God and will pray for the atonement if the lamb is beyond her means, another pigeon or turtle dove can be offered instead (Lev. 12:1-8).

Based on the diary of a pilgrim named Etheria, Candlemas (then known as the 40th day of Epiphany) was already celebrated in Jerusalem as early as 400 A.D.  The feast spread to the known as the 40th day of “Epiphany) was already celebrated in Jerusalem as early as 400 A.D.  The feast spread to the Eastern Empire in Constantinople under the name of Hypapante (Occursus Domini or meeting of the Lord and Simeon).  It also spread to the West, first mentioned in the 7th century manuscript with the title of Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  The procession of lights believed to be pagan Roman origin was a permanent fixture of this feast but the blessing of the candles was only institutionalized later in the 11th Century.

From being a Christological celebration, the Candlemas evolved into a Marian-centered feast probably because “the procession in both East and West terminated at a Marian church”.  In later centuries, the creation of an icon showing Mary as the “bearer of the Light of Lights” has further solidified the Marian character of Candlemas.

The candles blessed on this day are believed to give protection during calamities particularly lightnings and thunderbolts.

The Nuestra Sra. de la Candelaria is said to have originated from Tenerife, one of the seven Canary Islands.  According to Alonso de Espino, a Dominican friar who wrote a book between 1580 and 1590, this image was mysteriously discovered a century before the Spaniards set food on the Canaries (1505).  Because of her miraculous powers, the Virgin’s fame spread to other islands and eventually to the mother country, Spain.

Greatly revered by the natives, she was moved from one place to another, carried in by thousands who joined the processions and adorned with the most elaborate gowns and precious gems.  On her right arm was the infant Jesus, carrying on both hands a green candle made of wood with a hole on top for additional candles.

About 3 ½ feet high, this Candelaria was carved of brownish wood.  Her face was “perfectly proportioned to the body” and her eyes seemed to fixedly gaze at the viewer wherever he or she was positioned.

Her ancient dress carved out of wood was entirely gilded in gold.  Undecipherable Latin letters painted in red were found on various parts of her dress.

In 1826 the statue of the Candelaria was forever lost to the sea because of a great flood and was replaced with an imitation blessed by the Pope and enshrined in the original site of the Candelaria’s apparition.

THE CANDELARIA IN THE PHILIPPINES

Accounts reveal that as early as 1600 an image of the Nuestra Sra. de la Candelaria was commissioned by Lt. Don Cristobal Mercado for the settlement in Dilao (now Paco).  For some unclear reason, the image was transferred to the church at Los Baños and in 1615, to Viling-viling, a visita of Siniloan.  As the population concentrated in this area, Viling-viling grew to become a separate town with the new name of Mabitac.  The accounts also mention of several attempts by missionary superiors to transfer the image to a more accessible site.  But the townsfolk of Mabitac, who were intensely devoted to the Candelaria, militantly prevented such attempts from taking place.

In 1904, there were nine pueblos or barrios having the Nuestra Señora de la Candelaria sa their advocate.  These are Morong, Bataan; Mabitac, Lagun; Silang Cavite; Candelaria, Zambales (now Quezon Province); Candelaria, Surigao; Paracale, Ambos;,Camarines; Sta. Maria, Mora; San Enrique, Negros Occidental and Jaro, Iloilo City.

Since then, now parishes have been formed and continue to be formed as the country’s population increases.  Certainly, the Candelaria is the advocate of more parishes at present.

The center of Candelaria devotion in the Philippines is the Metropolitan Cathedral of Jaro, Iloilo City.  Every 2nd of February devotees from all over the region (Iloilo, Antique, Capiz, Aklan, Negros Occidental and Guimaras Province) and even farther, make a pilgrimage to Jaro in honor of the Candelaria, Patroness of Western Visayas.

She was found hundreds of years back lying on a river bank by a fisherman who decided to bring her to another town.  The one foot statue, however, wouldn’t budge an inch.  She was heavy, too heavy even for ten men to carry.  Then one of them thought of bringing the statue to Jaro, and right there and then, before the dazzled eyes of nine strong fishermen, one of their number easily carried her in his arms.  The Señora, it was said, decided to go to Jaro and that decision had to be respected.  And that was how legend tells us why the Nuestra Señora de la Candelaria stands majestically on the church of her choosing, the now Metropolitan Cathedral of Jaro.

Lest you look for a one foot statue in the cathedral, however, you won’t find any.  It has grown to more than 7 feet and sits on top of the balcony at the façade of the cathedral, and it is said that her statue keeps on growing.  Very hard to believe, isn’t it?  But when your love for the Candelaria grows in leaps and bounds as the love of Jarenos for her does, she will grow – she will grow 7 feet, 10 feet higher.  That is the simple, explainable, and believable arithmetic of love.

That is why when the then Servant of God, Pope John Paul II came here in 1981 to Jaro to crown La Virgen de la Candelaria as patroness of Western Visayas, it was merely a formal recognition of what has been a reality for more than two hundred years.  Pilgrims flock to Jaro on her fiesta on February 2 to pray to the Virgin, to pay her homage and to bring home the tangible gift of her presence – the perdon, the candle of Nuestra Señora de la Candelaria.  The perdon, the candle, is not just an ordinary candle.  It is lighted only during special prayers, for special needs – prayers to ask God’s protection during calamities and in times of great danger.  It is lighted to pray for the dying and to commend his or her soul to God.  It is lighted to pray for special petitions, for a petition too important to be left on one’s own ability to pray.

The candle is Mary, the light it gives is Christ.  It is a very meaningful symbol of what it takes to be a Christian.  We are givers of light, givers of Christ and as we illuminate and beautify, as we restore the capacity of people to see what was left in the dark, as we give back to people the ability to see shining silver behind the muck and dust of ages past, we slowly vanish, we slowly fade away, for the candle diminishes as its light increases.  That is Mary, the Mary whom Jarenos refer lovingly as the Nuestra Senora de la Candelaria.

The only reference to the origins of the stone statue of the Nuestra Señora de la Candelaria is the legend well known to JAREÑOS.

The legend says that a long longtime ago the image was discovered by a fisherman on the banks of the Iloilo river.  Although it was only a foot high, the statue was very heavy.  Many attempted to lift it but failed.  Only when the people finally agreed to bring this image to Jaro did one person succeed in lifting the statue.

Strange happenings surround this image and many believed that the Señora has miraculous powers.  People say that in the olden days, she had the habit of disappearing very early in the morning.  A mist would shroud her niche in the pediment of the cathedral.  At around this time, a beautiful lady with long flowing hair could be seen bathing her child at the artesian well at the plaza.

Another story circulates among the old folks of Jaro.  They say that some years before World War II, the Candelaria’s abode was engulfed in total darkness for several days.  The next time her sanctuary became visible, the candelaria had miraculously grown larger. (Devotees are convinced that the Candelaria is still growing up to this day)

One Jareño narrated how the Candelaria had supposedly saved her parents during World War II as Japanese bombs were hitting air raid shelters in Jaro.  Her mother called out to the Candelaria, saying, “Nuestra Señora de la Candelaria, tabuni sang imo capa ang amon napanaguan.” (Our Lady of Candles, shield our hiding place with your cape)

The concept of the Candelaria as a kind mother who conscientiously guides her children and grants them their supplications is well ingrained in the minds and hearts of her devotees.  No longer is she an abstract idea; instead, she is a real “feeling” being represented in her sculpted stone image.

Human interests stories attest to this “feeling” nature of the image.  Back in 1870’s as the Jaro Cathedral was about to be finished, a serious problem arose.  The statue of the Virgin repeatedly refused to be taken down from her niche in the old church.  So the parishioners suspected that the idea of transferring to another shrine did not appeal to the Candelaria.  In the old church, she was positioned relatively closer to her people.  In the new, she will have to stay long way up the façade’s pediment.

Faced with this predicament, Bishop Mariano Cuartero, together with his parishioners resorted to prayer.  While the sky grumbled and flashed, they fervently prayed to convince the Candelaria to transfer.  Moved by their intense supplication, the Virgin consented.  On February 1, 1874, she was carried to her new abode in solemn procession that passed through the main streets of Jaro, the same streets where the procession takes place to this day.

The late Archbishop of Jaro, Msgr. Alberto Piamonte, narrates a mysterious event very similar to the one presented.  This time, the statue of the Candelaria had to be transferred from her niche at the pediment to the balcony specifically constructed for the Pope’s visit.

A group headed by Engr. Tantoy Locsin (a native Jareño and a dedicated parishioner of Jaro) was tasked with bringing down the stone statue.  As the workers tried to do it, the chains broke several times.  An insight suddenly dawned on Tyo Tantoy.  Perhaps, the Señora would like this transfer to be witnessed by the archbishop.  So he called Msgr. Piamonte and said, “Dapat siguro tambungan mo ang pagpana-ug sang Mahal na Birhen”. (You should supervise the taking down of the Image of the Blessed Virgen)  Without any hesitation, the late archbishop dressed up in his full regalia and personally directed the operation.  The chains did not break this time and the image of the Candelaria reached the balcony safely.

At present, she is near her children and as the story says, she became bigger reaching the peak of the shrine.