Jaro’s Nuestra Señora de la Candelaria: A Mother to all Ilonggos
One of Iloilo City’s cherished icons – the Jaro Metropolitan Cathedral had been the center of faith in the province for centuries. Better restored and preserved, this architectural beauty defined the landscape of Metro Iloilo with its unique triangular facade, and a separated belfry located right across the street. A visit to Iloilo City will never be complete without seeing this church and paying pilgrimage to the Our Lady of Candles or Nuestra Señora de la Candelaria, named as patroness of Western Visayas.
Nuestra Señora de la Candelaria:
A Mother to all Ilonggos
Housed inside the Jaro Metropolitan Cathedral complex is the stone image of Our Lady of Candles. The origin of the image itself had been said miraculous. Folk stories say that the image was found in the shores of Iloilo River by a fisherman, and was about only a foot tall. It was so heavy that nobody can carry it; only when the people decided to bring the image to Jaro Church did one person was able to successfully lift it.
Strange happenings surround the image and many believe that the Senora is miraculous. In the olden days, people say that the she has a habit of disappearing early in the morning and was spotted as a beautiful lady with long flowing hair bathing her son in a well found in the middle of the plaza. At the same time, a mist would cover her niche in the cathedral.
Another well known story is that before the Pacific War, the Senora’s place in the cathedral was engulfed in total darkness for days. When it dissipated, the image had miraculously grown larger. Today, the size of the image is already about 5 feet tall and many believe that it is still growing. Surely if faith can move mountains, it can make images grow bigger?
Even her own niche, the Senora, people say is very selective. Based on stories, she wants to be close and reachable to her children as much as possible. Back in the 1870s, upon the completion of the new cathedral, the statue of the Virgin refused to be taken from her place in the old church. The parishioners suspected that transferring to another shrine does appeal to the Virgin. So they, led by Archbishop Mariano Cuartero, prayed and said Masses to convince her, even when the sky thundered and flashed. Moved by their supplication, the Virgin consented and was installed in her new home at the cathedral after a solemn procession.
Another story with the same theme, this one in the 1990s, when the Virgin refused to transfer from her niche to the balcony in front of the church. The parishioners tried to move the image but the chains holding her broke several times. Remembering the old stories, they asked the late Archbishop Msgr. Alberto J. Piamonte to oversee the operation. Upon the direction of the late archbishop, dressed in full regalia, the image was safely placed in her present place – a pediment to the balcony especially constructed for the visit of late Pope John Paul II.
Both canonical coronation and the naming of the image as Patroness are official recognitions of what has already been a fact in the spiritual life not just of the people of Panay but also of the whole Western Visayas, and those who trace their roots to the locale.
The Jaro Metropolitan Cathedral
The Jaro Cathedral is among the churches in the Philippines that has its belfry separated from it, across the national highway and situated in Jaro Plaza. Historically used as a lookout tower for sea raiders, the tower is now a symbol of Jaro District. A strong earthquake after the War split the tower into two, but was later restored to its present state today.
The facade of the church is triangular, with two towers erected at its back. It has Romanesque revival influence seen at its intricate design and of course the red colored dome. Another feature of the church is its all-male saints paraded on its columns, an answer to Molo Church’s all-female theme. It is also important to note that the church is also dedicated to St. Elizabeth of Hungary.
Because of its importance to Iloilo’s religious and cultural heritage, the Jaro Cathedral was proclaimed by the National Historical Institute as a historical landmark in 1976. And as being the center for devotion to Our Lady of Candles, the cathedral would be named as National Shrine of Our Lady of Candles this coming February 2, 2012 during the feast of Candelaria. It would be the 2nd National Shrine here in the Visayas. The Jaro Cathedral is the first and only cathedral in the island of Panay.
The present cathedral was finished on 1874, and together with the Archbishop’s Palace, was inaugurated in January the same year. A four day festivity then ensued with climax celebrated on the Feast of Candelaria on February 2. It is reminiscent of Jaro’s splendor, pomp, and greatness.
Before the launching of this site, I personally visited the Virgin in her place at the Jaro Cathedral to ask for guidance on this endeavor. It was also my first time to meet the Our Lady of Candles; I will never forget my encounter with the Virgin when I first saw her. This is my salute, a sign of devotion, and thanksgiving to all the graces she interceded for me. This coming Feast of Candelaria on February 2, everyone is invited to join in the festivities and religious activities in the Jaro Cathedral.
Novena Masses will be celebrated daily in the Cathedral from January 24 to February 1 in preparation for the feast day of Our Lady.
On February 1 after the 5.30 p.m. Novena Mass, vespers will be celebrated to be followed by the Coronation of the image of Our Lady of Candles located in the balcony of the facade of the Cathedral.
On February 2, 11 Masses will be celebrated at the high altar of the Cathedral starting at 4.30 a.m., with two high Masses celebrated at 7 a.m. by Jaro Archbishop Angel Lagdameo and a 5.30 p.m. to be presided by Capiz Archbishop Jose Advincula.
The formal declaration of the Jaro Metropolitan Cathedral as the National Shrine of Our Lady of Candles will take place during the 7 a.m. Mass.