The Philippines has always been described asun Pueblo Amante de Maria, a country in love with Mary. The filial devotion to the Blessed Mother has been propagated by the Spanish missionaries since the 16th century. As a result, one-fourth of all parishes in the country have the Virgin Mary as their titular patroness without counting innumerable barrio chapels, religious oratories or private shrines dedicated to her. But of all the marian images in the country, the image of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary under the titleLa Naval de Manilaholds the primordial place in antiquity and devotion:The veneration to Our Lady under the title of the Rosary goes back to 1587 when her image was brought to the Philippines. A confraternity was established in 1588. Nuestra Señora de la Naval occupies a place of honor among the national shrines dedicated to Mary in the Philippines.The Blessed Mother was referred to as theSeñora Grande de Filipinason account of the many favors attributed to her.SCULPTING THE IMAGE
In 1593, Gov-Gen Don Luis Pérez Dasmariñas (1593-1596) commissioned a gift for the Convento de Santo Domingo which had been his source of comfort in the throes of grief over the tragic death of his predecessor and father, Don Gómez (1590-1593). Capt. Hernando de los Rios Coronel carried out his specific order and found a pagan Chinese to sculpture an image of the Sto. Rosario. Unlike the other marian images, La Naval never crossed the oceans aboard a galleon from Europe to Mexico to Manila but was sculpted in our very own country by an anonymous Chinese who was later on converted to Christianity. Such conversion could be regarded as her first miracle. Although her Spanish court vestments might suggest otherwise, her oriental features reflect the distinctiveness of her position as a truly indigenous Queen of the Philippines,La Gran Señora de Filipinas.THE BATTLES OF LA NAVAL
The most spectacular miracles ascribed to the Sto. Rosario were the miraculousBattles of La Naval from March to October 1646. The timing itself for the Dutch threat of invasion of the Philippines was a strategic move following a number of destabilizing events. The Dutch took possession of Formosa (now Taiwan) in 1642 which was a former territory of the Philippines until Holland wrested it from Spain. Building momentum from such conquest, the Dutch prepared and built a number of warships in Indonesia. The opportune time came after Manila was devastated by an earthquake on November 30, 1645. Furthermore, the Mindanao conflict was heightened when the Muslim army led by Sultan Kudarat (1580-1671) and the government of Manila under Sebastian Hurtado de Corcuera (1635-1644) crossed the battle lines which took massive human casualties. Likewise, the Chinese Rebellion from 1639 to 1640 destabilized the government. And to top it all, the demise of the Archbishop-elect of Manila, Don Fernando Montero de Espinosa(1644-1645), who has not even seen his Cathedral, did not only leave a sede vacante but challenged the faith of the people all the more who deeply needs a visible head to unite them in times of chaos.Consequently, the Philippines had no naval force other than two commercial galleons. Many Filipinos and Spaniards were enlisted to take charge of the two galleons which were providentially named in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary:Nuestra Señora de la Encarnación and Nuestra Señora del Rosario. They were hastily converted into battleships despite the fact than an armada of two galleons would have been unreasonable against the Dutch armada of eighteen warships! At the nadir of doubts and hopelessness, Gen. Lorenzo de Orella y Ugalde, the commander of the Spanish-Filipino fleet, made a vow to the Blessed Mother enshrined at the Sto. Domingo Church in Intramuros that in the event they emerge victorious, all the crew would go barefoot to Sto. Domingo and pay homage to her in procession. It was also arranged that replicas of her image be placed in each galleon and the rosary be recited unceasingly. Four Dominican chaplains, two in each galleon, were initially tasked to attend to the spiritual needs of the soldiers namely Fr. Juan de Cuenca, OP, Fr. Placido de Angulo, OP, Fr. Pedro de Mesa, OP and Fr. Raymundo del Valle, OP. Admiral Sebastian Lopez, the second in command, promised the same vow without the knowledge of the commander himself.The shots from the cannons blended with shouts of ¡Viva la Virgen! as it echoed through the waters. Five battles were fought from Pangasinan to Mindoro to Masbate and each battle had the same outcome: the triumph of the marian armada of two. The crew went on procession barefoot to Sto. Domingo Church as a sign of a vow fulfilled and unending gratitude to God and to Mary. The five Battles of La Naval were later proclaimed as a victory of confirmed Divine and marian intercession on April 9, 1652 by the Cathedral Chapter of the Archdiocese of Manila. The Church declared the battles as“…granted by the Sovereign Lord through the intercession of the Most Holy Virgin and devotion to her Rosary, 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 of Our Most Blessed Virgin Mary and her Holy Rosary.”As ordered, these miracles have been preached and celebrated in solemn festivities for more than three centuries. There have been a number of political upheavals in the Philippines as time went on such as the Philippine Revolution of 1896, the two World Wars and the EDSA “People Power” Revolution of 1986, but the faithful have preserved the tradition of the solemn feast of La Naval de Manila highlighted by novena prayers, Eucharistic celebrations and the grand La Naval procession dubbed as “la procesión de las procesiónes”.