Monday, October 12, 2009

Our Lady of the Holy Rosary

The Catholic Church commemorates the Feast of the Holy Rosary on October 7. Saint Pius V established the Marian Feast on the anniversary of the naval victory won by the Christian fleet at Lepanto on the said date in 1571. The victory was attributed to the help of the holy Mother of God whose aid was invoked through praying the Rosary.

The celebration of this day invites all to mediate upon the mysteries of Christ, following the example of the Blessed Virgin Mary who was so singularly associated with the incarnation, passion and glorious resurrection of the Son of God.

The statue of Our Lady of the Rosary, also know as Nuestra Señora de la Naval, in the Philippines was sculpted by a non-Catholic Chinese artist who was later converted through the intercession of the Blessed Mother. The image of Our Lady of the Rosary was commissioned in 1593 by the Spanish Governor of the Philippines, Luis Perez Dasmariñas, who wanted the statue to memorialize both his deceased father and his own regime. The statue was entrusted to the Dominicans in Manila and was enshrined in Santo Domingo Church, where it received an outpouring of love and devotion.

Fifty-three years later, in March 1646, while Spanish invaders were still governing the islands and were outright enemies of the Dutch, the people were shocked to learn that a fleet of five Dutch war ships was bearing down on Manila. Carrying the triple threat of conquest, pillage and Dutch Protestantism, the enemy had chosen a time when Spanish warships were unavailable for defense.

Two commercial galleons, "The Rosary" and "The Incarnation," were donated by their owners and were quickly outfitted in preparation for battle. While sailing into position for the confrontation, the men prayed the Rosary and dedicated themselves to La Naval, Our Lady of the Holy Rosary.

The five Dutch ships were well-equipped with canons, firearms and trained seamen; the two Spanish-Filipino cargo sips were poorly fitted with a few guns. At the end of the day it seemed unbelievable that the Dutch fled the area while the defenders of the city returned home in glory, praising Our Lady for her protection.

For the next four months, the two cargo ships patrolled the waters; then, in July, they discovered they had been trapped in a narrow strait by not five, but seven Dutch ships. Since their position did not afford a proper angle for battle, they prayed and waited. Fearful that they would be attacked, they vowed that if they were victorious they would pilgrimage barefoot to the Church of Santo Domingo to thank Our Lady of the Rosary. Through the intercession of La Naval, the two cargo ships were apparently unseen in the fading sunset since the Dutch ships turned toward Manila without firing on them. The two cargo ships then gave chase and closed in. At sunrise the next day, the Dutch retreated in disgrace. As soon as the victors arrived home, they gratefully fulfilled their vow.

After the next battle the people of Manila began to call the cargo ships "the galleons of the miracle." After the fourth confrontation and victory the name was confirmed. Yet a fifth time the Dutch fleet appeared for battle. Anxious to defend their honor and restore their pride, the Dutch resolved to win at any cost. The advantage was definitely theirs when they found the two cargo ships anchored with the wind against them. Unable to move, the two cargo ships fought where they were and defeated the enemy so badly that they limped away, never to return.

Our Lady of the Rosary and the men of her two cargo ships defeated 15 well-equipped warships. This victory at Manila is similar in many respects to the great naval victory at Lepanto, which was also credited to the intervention of Our Lady and the power of her Holy Rosary. In both instances Our Lady miraculously defended and granted victory to the seamen who place their trust in her.

Sixteen years after the successful defense of Manila, an Ecclesiastical Council was convened in Cavite to study the unusual aspects of the five naval victories. The Council consisted of theologians, canonists, and prominent religious. On April 9, 1662, after studying all the written and oral testimonies of the participants and eyewitnesses, the Council declared that the victories were:

  • granted by the Sovereign Lord through the intercession of the Most Holy Virgin and devotion to her Rosary; and
  • that the miracles be celebrated, preached and held in festivities and to be recounted among the miracles wrought by the Lady of the Rosary for the greater devotion of the faithful to Our Most Blessed Virgin Mary and Her Holy Rosary.
This decree was signed by all eight members of the Ecclesiastical Council.

Before the victories, but more especially since then, the people of the Philippines have lavished La Naval with their most loving devotion and reverence. The greatest tribute was paid Our Lady when the statue was canonically crowned in October 1907 by the Apostolic Delegate to the Philippines, Msgr. Ambrose Agius. When the church of Santo Domingo was bombed in 1941, the statue was hidden for its protection and was later transferred to the chapel of the University of Santo Tomas. It was here that thousands of Our Lady's devotees visited the miraculous statue in observance of the third centennial in 1946. When the shrine at the new Santo Domingo church in Quezon City was completed in 1954, La Naval was carried there in a boat-shaped carriage during a solemn procession attended by the Philippine hierarchy, public officials, priests, nuns and thousands of La Naval's faithful children. During the Marian year of 1954, the Philippine bishops declared the Church of Santo Domingo in Quezon City to be the National Shrine of Our Lady of the Rosary. Yet another honor was conferred on Our Lady when she was acknowledged as the patroness of the capital city of the Philippines.

The statue that is so dearly loved by the Filipino people stands 4'8" tall and is made of hardwood, but ivory covers the faces and the hands of Mother and Child. With the Christ Child on her left side, gently supported by the Virgin's left hand, Our Lady's right hand holds a scepter and a 15-decade gold rosary that is draped in such a fashion that it wraps around the hands of Mother and Child. Both figures are clothed in exquisite golden dresses and mantles that are heavily embroidered with golden thread.

An unusual ornament adorns the figure of the Mother of God. Against the lace that encircles the head is a golden, gem-studded circle. The bottom of this circle rests against the chest of the Madonna. Resembling a golden aura, both small and large rays, richly enhanced with jewels, extend from the circle. Atop the head of the Madonna rests a magnificent crown that matches the one worn by her Child. To further display the love that the Filipinos have for the Mother of God, they have encircled the golden aura, and the crown of the Madonna with an even larger halo of gold, with jewels sparkling at the tips of 24 large rays and 24 small rays.

The Blessed Mother has slightly Oriental features and is quite lovely. The Christ Child is exceptionally appealing with a beautiful face, fat cheeks and a plump little hand raised in blessing.

The Church of Santo Domingo was damaged several times by fire and earthquakes and was finally destroyed in 1941 by bombs, yet the statue has never been damaged. La Naval is presently treasured by the Filipino people in the new Santo Domingo Church in Quezon City, a few miles from Manila. During the Marian year of 1954 the church was designated as the national shrine of Our Lady of the Rosary.

The anniversary of the vow made by the defenders of Manila during the second naval battle is still observed each year on the second Sunday in October by the people of the Philippines who pilgrimage to the miraculous statue to demonstrate their love for Our Lady of the Rosary and their gratitude for the miracles of protection that took place almost 350 years ago.

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