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[dispossession of the cimarrones]

[a spectacle of faith]


During Penafrancia celebrations shouts of "VIVA IA VIRGEN" and "VIVA EL DIVINO ROSTRO" reverberate all around. The voyadores easily identified with their headbands -now in different colors, form a human chain by interlocking their arms. A macho-type activity, all voyadores are barefooted, while devotees aligning the procession route wave to the Holy Images with their arms with their handkerchiefs, some with lighted candles on their knees and their lips murmuring in prayer.


from [http://www.penafrancia.net]


o thousands of devotees who come from different parts of the Bicol Region and the country to attend the annual pintakasi, the origin of the Holy Image is not altogether known. It is a mystery to a great many especially the youth.

Many believe that the Holy Image had its origin in a pineapple plant which since time immemorial grew abundantly in Francia, the place where the Sanctuary in her honor stands today. There is even a painting, purposely for commercial sale of the Holy Image, representing the Blessed Virgin as coming out of a pineapple fruit. The native word for pineapple is “piña”. Peña de Francia sounds very much like Piña de Francia hence many believe that the Blessed Virgin must have really come from the pineapple fruit of France.

Peña de Francia, Literally, is Rocky hill of France, where the Image of Our Lady of Peñafrancia is believed to have been discovered by a hermit named Simon Vela.

The discovery of the Holy Image is a wonderful story of providence whose retelling will never fail to evoke a sense of wonderment and mystery in the hearts and minds of believers and cynics alike.

On September 4, 1634, in the city of Paris, capital of France, a child was born to pious and religious parents, Rolan and Barbara. He was christened Simon.

They were quite well off; their property was more than sufficient to maintain a family of four. Early in youth, however, Simon despised wealth although his parents could well afford his wishes. He was rather of a religious turn of mind and was wont to kneel before the altar of the household shrine to pray. He was no ordinary boy who, instead of taking part in boyish games and pranks, found delight in things spiritual. Nothing the religious bent of their child, the parents sent him to school at the age of ten to study grammar and, later, philosophy to prepare him for the priesthood. Not being bright, however, he was not able to finish his studies and was not ordained therefore to the priesthood. When he was old enough, his parents advised him to marry, but marriage offered no allurement to him as he had made a vow to the Holy Virgin to devote his life to works of piety.

When his parents and his only sister died, Simon inherited all their property. To avoid trouble which he thought might ensue from his possession of such wealth, he sold his patrimony and donated the proceeds to the church, the poor and the destitute, and to charitable institutions. He then applied for a position as chamber boy in a convent of a Franciscan church in Paris.


Simon frequented the Church and would spend hours in prayer before the altar of the Virgin Mary. Many times, in his deep meditation, he would ask the Holy Virgin to inspire him with what he might do to please her. Once, while he was absorbed in the spiritual contemplation of the beauty of the Holy Mother, he lost consciousness. His prayer then found its answer for he heard a clear voice that tried to rouse him from his slumber: “Simon, wake up; be on the watch. . . From now on your name will be Simon Vela. Go to Peña de Francia west of this country, and there you will find the shrine of the Blessed Virgin Mary.”

On the morning of the next day, Simon confessed what he had heard the night before to Father Ortuño, guardia of the Convent. The wise father advised him not to divulge the secret to anyone for the priest feared that it might have been the voice of temptation or the effervescence of a fevered mind. Apparently, Father Ortuño learned of Simon Vela's losing consciousness, and may have thought that the voice and the message were but vapid figments of the imagination.

Several days after, Simon was praying as usual before the altar of the Holy Virgin, when he heard again the voice saying: “Simon, go to Peña de Francia and there you will find what you have been longing to see.” The next day he asked for the blessing of Father Ortuño and set out to search for the place called Peña de Francia.

For five years Simon Vela traveled far and wide among caves, hills and maountains, in search of Peña de Francia but he could not find the place. He wanted to give up the search, and was in fact already on his way back to Paris, when one night he heard the same voice once more saying: “Simon, do not give up the search; do not give up what you have begun. Persevere and your labors will be recompensed.” This suddenly buoyed up his spirits and so he resumed his search the next day.

Simon went to the church of Santiago de Galicia. And while he was passing the market place of Salamanca, he saw two men quarreling. One was seriously wounded and fell at Simon's side. The offender was caught by the crowd who milled around them and he brazenly remarked: “Had I killed my enemy, I would have escaped to Peña de Francia where no one, not even the king, could find me.” Simon was overjoyed when he heard this fro now he knew that such a place did actually exist.

Several hours afterwards he resumed his way to the church of San Martin. On his way he met a man selling charcoal. Simon asked the man where he came from and where be burned the charcoal. The man answered back that he came from a place called Peña de Francia. This was the second time the Simon heard the name of the place mentioned. He then begged the man to guide him to the place called Peña de Francia but for some reason the latter refused to do so.