Wednesday, July 05, 2006

josef george kamel, s.j. drawing of a male antipolo leaf

Antipolo also atipolo, tipolo (Artocarpus blancoi (Elm.) Merr.). Except for shade and occasional use for lumber, this member of the breadfruit family bears fruit, which is not eaten—usually. The tree is dimorphic, the male recognized by its parted leaf and the female by its obovate leaf.

But the tree is the stuff of legend and gave its name to hilltop town now a city in the ‘burbs of Manila. Antipolo is the site of the shrine to the Virgin Mary under the title of Nuestra Señora de la Paz y Buenviaje. The name refers to a small ebony statue of the Immaculate Conception given as a gift to the Jesuits by Gov. Gen Juan Niño de Tabora in 1626. The Jesuits took the gift to a mission station they were running and enshrined it in the mission church.

Not long afterwards, the image was chosen as the patron of the galleon, which plied the Manila-Acapulco trade route. The voyages, where this image was carried and where the passengers and crew evoked the intercession of the Virgin Mary, did the round trip successfully. No violent storms, no dangerous shoals, no pirates or armadas of Spain’s enemies for a total of 14 voyages.

In gratitude, the image was returned to its mountain shrine in a fluvial procession through the Pasig River. Beginning in Manila, the procession wove through Pasig’s meandering stream until it reached Laguna de Ba-e and the lakeshore town of Taytay, whence the procession proceeded on foot for the rest of the journey. This processional route would be traced annually by pilgrims who went to visit the shrine during the month of May. In colonial times, it was de rigueur to visit the shrine for anyone about to embark on a long journey. For being patroness of successful ocean voyages, the image earned the title Our Lady of Peace and Good Voyage.

Oral tradition has it that the first Mass, and subsequently the first church of Antipolo, was at a site now called Pinagmisahan. But after the return of the image, the image would disappear from the altar time and again and after diligent search was found again and again on top of an antipolo or tipolo tree. This mysterious translation of the image, which generally happened at night, was read as a sign that the Virgin wanted a bigger church built on the spot where the image was found.

Heeding this divine missive, the townspeople built a sumptuous shrine at the new site in the 17th century. By 1715, the church was lavishly decorated, thanks to the donations of numerous patrons who believed that the image was miraculous.

The annual summer pilgrimage to Antipolo is vibrant as ever. But the old riverine processional route is no longer followed. Instead pilgrims go to Antipolo by car or by foot through two roads about 18 kilometers long, that lead up the hill. The volume of pilgrims has so increased that the official “pilgrimage month” begins in late March and extends to mid-July.


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