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Fluvial rites this Saturday

By JUAN ESCANDOR JR.
Bicol Mail


Thousands are expected to join the procession from Naga Metropolitan Cathedral to the Naga River for the colorful fluvial procession going to Basilica Minore at the culmination of the 302nd year of the Feast of Our Lady of Peñafrancia Saturday.

But unlike the previous fiestas, the celebration this year is marked as the first in 38 years without Naga City’s popular son Jesse Robredo, who died in the plane crash off the coast of Masbate City on Aug. 18.

Also, after 28 years, a new bishop has been appointed as 76-year-old Msgr. Leonardo Z. Legaspi, O.P., finally turns over the leadership of the oldest and biggest diocese in Bicol.

The tradition that has been around since 16th century when the cross-section of the people of the old Ciudad de Nueva Caceres (now Naga City) embraced the Our Lady of Peñafrancia devotion originally introduced to the cimarrones by first ordained Spanish  priest in Naga City named Miguel Robles de Covarrubias, according to Bicol historian Danilo Gerona.

Gerona defined the cimarrones as the natives who trekked to the shoulders of Mt. Isarog and lived there to escape taxes and church dues being imposed by the Spanish colonizers.

Based on the research in the archives in Spain in the 1990s and a book “From Epic to History: A brief Introduction to Bicol History” he authored, Gerona related that Covarrubias was a devotee of Our Lady iof Peñafrancia and was healed by his belief while still a seminarian at the Universidad de Santo Tomas.

The  original  image  of  the  Our Lady  of Peñafrancia was found by Simon Vela in the mountains of Peña de Francia in the province of Salamanca in Spain, after five years of searching in the 1400s.

Vela was born to a rich couple in Paris, France, on Sept. 4, 1401. He gave up wealth and material possession and became a chamber boy in the convent of a Franciscan church in Paris. He was guided by a voice to search for the image until he saw an apparition of the Virgin Mother  with the Child, who directed him to dig on the hill to find the image of the Our Lady of Peñafrancia.

With  the original intention of giving back to the  Our  Lady of Peñafrancia for healing him with the virgin’s printed image that he had possessed, the Spanish priest promised to spread the devotion by building a chapel in its honor by the side of Pasig River in Manila.

But in the early 1700s Covarrubias was assigned in Ciudad de Nueva Caceres where he was ordained and begun spreading the devotion to the cimarrones at the shoulders of Mt. Isarog and eventually convinced them to come down the mountains and live at the town center with the Our Lady of Peñafrancia as their patroness, Gerona said.

Ciudad de Nueva Caceres was one of the five oldest cities established in the Philippines by Spanish colonizers in the 17th century, he said.

Going back to the town center to be under the mantle of the Catholic Church, the cimarrones built a chapel made of bamboos and nipa shingles by the side  of the Naga River upon order  of Covarrubias who also directed the artisans to carve the image of Our Lady of Peñafrancia.

The legend goes that the cimarrones painted the original 302-year old image  of Ina with the blood of a dog whose dead body was supposedly thrown into the Naga River but it resurrected and swam back to the riverbanks to become the first miracle of Ina.

According to the records of the Catholic Church here, the first celebration of the feast of the Our Lady of Peñafrancia was held in September 1710. From then on, miracles credited to the devotion to Ina were recorded.

In a letter to the Dominican Fathers of Salamanca, Spain, in 1712, Covarrubias reported many miracles through the intercession of the Ina. The devotees grew in number until they spread outside of Naga and to other countries.

Gerona said there is a dearth of information when the tradition of traslacion (transfer of Ina image  from   Basilica  Minore to Naga Metropolitan Cathedral) started, where barefoot voyadores, mostly reeking with liquor, hustled and bustled to carry and touch the image of Ina as a panata (a religious vow of worship).

On the ninth day of the novena, Sept. 15, Ina will be brought back to her permanent shrine at the Basilica Minore in a colorful fluvial procession along the Naga River to culminate the regional fiesta of the Bicol patroness.

With thousands of devotees expected to attend the feast of Our Lady of Peñafrancia, the Philippine National Police has augmented its over 200 regular forces with 514 police personnel from the regional office at the duration of the fiesta, according to Senior Supt. Antoni Gardiola, chief of the PNP Naga unit.