Notes on the Church of Boac and our “Mahal na Birhen ng Biglang Awa”

October 24, 2014

mahal na birhen ng biglang awa, marinduque, boac marinduque

From Sta. Cruz, I traveled to Boac. It was 7:00 pm when I reached the province’s capital. This is already late night by local standard. Most of the stores are closed. But the motel I checked in to have snacks and sodas. With ample sleep, the finger foods I ordered was enough to restock the body—I was ready the next morning.

I started my tour, as I always do, paying a visit to the oldest church in town.

I studied Boac church’s history in advance and was captivated by its past. It does have quite an intriguing story. One that’s a mix of mystic lore and zealous faith.

I find it difficult  separating church and town history — it’s a one-could-not-exist-without-the-other situation. From the founding of the town to its way of life, all is connected to the church. The biggest celebrations too, are religious commemorations!

The church sits on top of a hill. One of the highest location I’ve seen for a Spanish era church. The hill provides an authoritative view of the town and the seas that surrounds it. It also suggests an important strategic purpose. More than an edifice for Catholic instruction, it is an impressive fortress!

The Augustinians, those who took part in Legazpi’s expedition, were among the first Christians to reach Marinduque. The Franciscans succeeded them, then the seculars for a brief period of time. In the early 1600’s the Jesuits came to town. They were responsible for inculcating a deep devotion among the locals to our Lady of Immaculate Conception. Marinduqueños are considered as one of the most faithful Marian devotees in the country. Their history explains why:

“In the mid 1700’s, look out posted on the baluarte spied on a large expedition of sea crafts, identified as ladrones (Moro pirates) by their colors and design. Their course heading clearly defined that the flotilla was aiming for the shores of Laylay…”This was yet the largest attempt to pillage the town…” (Montales). It is theorized that earlier skirmishes gave the locals valuable knowledge and experience with the wayts of th bandits allowing the former to resort to pre-arrange strategies in dealing with future attacks. Alerted by the incessant pealing of the church bells, the women and children, the old and the weak, evacuated to the eastenr interiror barrios of Boac while the men prepared to make a stand at the church fortress of the the town joined by a handful of women volunteers tasked to feed them and tend to the wounded.”

For two days, the buccaneers repeatedly besieged the church, for two days the locals gallantly resisted with spears, bows and arrows, bolos and big stones, with hot oil and frantic prayers…”

The Moros, realizing that the Boakeños were still defensively strong, waited near the riverbed, near barrio Laylay. They knew that if they waitlong enough, the Christians would grew weary, hungry and tired. Another two days had passed, the locals are still inside, the enemies are waiting to pounce on them.

Then a fast and sudden subasko appeared, a white squall, a freak weather phenomena. It’s a terrifying windstorm that destroyed the brigands encampment and some of their sea vessels. The locals thought of this as divine intervention. But this was not the end, the invaders were patient, they were in for the kill. They stayed even after suffering  heavy losses.

Then, suddenly a mysterious apparition, the chronicler Montales writes, “the moor pirates… saw the apparition and were very frightened… fear struck them for they had never seen such a woman so brilliant and so dazzling like the rays of the sun. Because of this spectacle they witnessed they fled away with their vintas….”

Maybe, women fighter really do scare these crazy men away.

This event is commemorated as the miracle of the Lady of Biglang Awa. The locals made “a niche on top the wall where the Lady of Biglang Awa was seen walking and driving the moor pirates away. For more than two centuries, the original picture of the Immaculate Conception that the Spanish Jesuit missionaries brought to Marinduque in the 17th century was venerated.”

To this day, the town abounds of stories of miracles and apparition by their beloved Ina ng Biglang Awa.

The church, just like in any other old towns around the country, is an integral part of Boac’s history. It is one of the most storied churches I have ever visited. Like the church in Argao, this was once a fortress, a stronghold where Christians took up arms to fight invading forces. It is as if it was the most important possession they ever had– the church symbolizes not only their faith but their way of life, their identity!
This is the most impressive church wall I have ever seen in the country, it is, literally, a military fortress!
Details of the ceilings inside the church dedicated to Ina ng Biglang Awa.
The retablo is ornate and from the looks of it, very well maintained. The church counts local politicians as patrons. So funds are never lacking.
The buttresses that kept this church standing for more than 100 years!

The booklet, “Mahal na Birhen ng Biglang Awa,” which was my main source of information here, was handed to me by the provincial capitol’s tourism officer, Erwin Peñafiel. An accommodating young fella who works in promoting tourist destinations in the province.

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