Oldest Marian image in PH visits Ermita’s red light district

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MANILA, May 21, 2015—Other Marian statues in the Philippines may be more popular in terms of devotion, but the Nuestra Señora de Guía (Our Lady of Guidance) of Ermita enjoys the distinction of being the country’s oldest, marking its 444 years recently in a “defiant procession” around Manila’s seedy district.

A replica of the 16th-century image defiantly went in a procession, scouring each street and alley of the district notorious for sex tourism and other unwholesome entertainment.

Flowers rained as the Nuestra Señora de Guía (Our Lady of Guidance), the oldest Marian image in the Philippines, defiantly went in a procession around Manila's red-light district. (Photo: James Benedict Malabanan)

Devotees piously chanted Marian prayer-songs, while showering rose petals on the Black Madonna as she inched her way around Ermita.

Earlier, thousands packed the Archdiocesan Shrine to capacity for the Fiesta Mass presided over by no less than Manila Archbishop Emeritus Gaudencio B. Cardinal Rosales along with several priests of the Archdiocese of Manila (RCAM) during which he praised the Virgin for the graces she has received and invited the faithful to imitate her virtues.

Manila’s sworn patroness

According to records from the Manila Cathedral, Rajahs Sulaiman and Matanda ceded Manila to the Spanish Crown on May 19, 1571, with Miguel López de Legazpi consecrating the city to both Saint Pudentiana and Nuestra Señora de Guía.

In 1578, King Philip II decreed Our Lady of Guidance as “sworn patroness” of Manila, officially declaring her the city’s titular patroness.

Besides being the Philippines’ oldest Marian statue, the Virgin of Ermita is known for having “kept company” two recent pontiffs.

In 1995 the Blessed Lady was removed from her sanctuary in Ermita, remaining in the room of Pope John Paul II during his second apostolic trip to the country.

Papal guide

More recently, the De Guía reprised her role of “guiding” popes when it was Pope Francis’ turn to visit the Philippines from January 15 to 19, 2015, most memorably during the record-breaking Mass at Quirino Grandstand.

A historical marker posted outside the shrine reads: “The statue of Nuestra Señora de Guia (Our Lady of Guidance), which has been in the Manila Cathedral since the British Occupation (1762), was transferred here in 1918 … On May 16, 1971, Rufino Cardinal Santos crowned the Virgin. The gold crown was a gift from Pope Paul VI.”

Nuestra Señora de Guía (Our Lady of Guidance) of Ermita is recognized as the oldest Marian image in the Philippines. (Photo: James Benedict Malabanan)

Meanwhile, the same marker indicates that the Ermita church itself was first built in 1606 of bamboo, molave, and nipa shingles, and was destroyed many times by earthquakes.

Rebuilt in 1810, it was bombed in 1945 during the Battle for Manila.

The present building was erected in 1947, where many believe the image of the Virgin was found on May 19, 1571. (Raymond A. Sebastián/CBCP News)

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