This week, we celebrate the birthday of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It’s amazing how so many Filipinos have developed such an intimate relationship with her through prayers and devotion. Perhaps it is because we live in a matriarchal society, and the image of a protective and loving mother is one we can relate to easily.
There is also something very comforting about having a mother we can all run to, regardless of our age. In honor of our dear Mother’s special day, here are some of her different titles and images that we hold closest to our hearts.
Our Lady of Guadalupe
It is only in the last year that I have gotten to know Our Lady of Guadalupe through a monthly devotion encouraged by my daughter’s school. Many are familiar with the famous story of Juan Diego, the Mexican-Indian convert who saw a beautiful lady cloaked in a brilliant light, atop a hill.
She asked him to build a shrine on that site where people could come and share in her love, compassion and protection.
Unfortunately, the bishop refused to believe Juan Diego and asked him to bring proof of his miraculous encounters. Finally, on her fourth apparition, where she uttered her famous line, “Am I not here who am your Mother?” she instructed him to go and pick flowers from a stony and desolate area in the mountains. Upon arriving, Juan Diego discovered Castilian roses, which were neither in season nor native to Mexico.
He took the flowers, which the Lady arranged in his tilma (a cloak made out of the fibers of the maguey cactus), and then set off to see the bishop. Can you imagine how they must have felt when Juan Diego opened his tilma, and aside from the fresh roses cascading, an exquisite image of the Blessed Virgin appeared, miraculously imprinted on the fabric?
Despite the tilma having an average life span of approximately 30 years, this particular piece has survived for almost five centuries with the portrait of Santa Maria de Guadalupe as fresh and vibrant as though it were just yesterday that she imprinted her image on the cloak.
Patron of children
In the picture, her hair is parted in the middle signifying that she is a virgin and yet, she wears a black maternity ribbon over her belly to signify that she is with child. The sun is behind her so that the Mexican-Indians would realize that she is brighter and more powerful than the sun god, whom they used to worship and sacrifice live children to. This is one of the reasons why this particular image is the patron of families and children.
The stars on her mantle are accurately arranged in the same configuration as the constellations in the sky that day, which has allowed scientists to confirm the date of this apparition as Dec. 12, 1531.
There was the microscopic image in her eyes of the bishop, Juan Diego and those present in the room when he unfurled his cloak, as if one had taken a photo of the Virgin Mary’s eyes as she watched from above. They say the cloak maintains a particular temperature and, despite attempts to destroy it, the cloak has survived. She is the patroness of the Americas and also the secondary patroness of the Philippines.
Our Lady of Perpetual Help/Ina ng Laging Saklolo
Almost everyone knows that Wednesday is Baclaran Day, when the devotees of Our Lady of Perpetual Help make their way to her shrine in Baclaran. If I am not mistaken, it is open 24 hours a day, so it is not unusual to see people even at midnight, lighting candles, making their way to the altar on their knees or quietly praying in their chosen corner.
But it is not just in the Shrine of Our Mother of Perpetual Help in Baclaran where one can find this image or pray the novena. This particular image is found in a great number of churches and homes, and almost every church has a weekly novena on Wednesday.
Our Lady of Manaoag
The name of the town Manaoag in Pangasinan is taken from the original Pangasinense word mantaoag, meaning “to call.” It is said that the choice of this particular word is taken from an apparition of the Virgin Mary to a local farmer in 1610. As he recounted his vision, he spoke of a voice that “called out” to him as he was making his way home. When he looked around, he saw the Virgin Mary floating on a cloud on top of a tree. In her right hand, she held a rosary while her son, Jesus Christ, was on her left arm. She instructed the farmer to go and build a shrine on that spot. From there, the town soon grew around the church which became known as Manaoag, in honor of the original call.
As the church was built, a Spanish 17th-century ivory statue of the Virgin Mary holding a rosary and the Child Jesus was used, in accordance to what the farmer saw in the apparition. This statue was brought to the Philippines by Fr. Juan de San Jacinto via the Manila Galleon.
From a small shrine, the church has been elevated and is now known as the Minor Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary of Manaoag.
Many Filipinos credit numerous miracles to her. My husband and I have always been grateful to Our Lady of Manaoag because we prayed to her until we were finally blessed with our firstborn, Maria Adriana.
Devotees believe that when Our Lady of Manaoag crosses your mind, you must not ignore her. It is a sign that She is calling you to come and visit her, whether in her shrine or in your heart.
Our Lady of La Leche/Nuestra Señora de la Leche y Buen Parto (Our Lady of the Milk and Happy Delivery)
Our Lady of La Leche is not as popular in our country as she is in Spain, but any nursing mother will no doubt find a degree of comfort in her, knowing that even the Mother of Christ went through the same challenges that every breast-feeding mother goes through today.
Though all the images of the Virgin Mary that I see evoke the same love and respect, this particular image is one that feels most familiar to me as a mother. She has no crown of stars or angels at her feet. Just like you and me, she’s just another mother, doing her best to take care of her child.
It is said that the devotion dates back to a fourth-century grotto in Bethlehem where the centerpiece is a statue of a nursing Virgin Mary. It is believed that the Crusaders brought back this image with them to Spain in the Middle Ages.
In 1598, it is said that a woman and her child were both in danger of dying from a complicated childbirth. The husband prayed fervently to Our Lady of La Leche and, through her intercession, his wife was able to deliver the child safely.
As word spread, more and more mothers and families began to turn to Our Lady of La Leche both to ask for her intercession to conceive and to have a safe delivery. Soon, her popularity reached King Philip III and he personally took charge of building a cathedral in her honor.
Immaculate Heart of Mary (also known as the other half of the Twin Hearts of Jesus and Mary with the Sacred Heart of Jesus on the other side)
The image of the Virgin Mary with her heart pierced and on fire is one we all grew up with. The piercing represents her sorrows as the Mother of God who had to endure both the pain of her son’s crucifixion and the pain caused by humanity.
She is often shown beside her son and His Sacred Heart, overflowing with love for all humanity. Meanwhile, the Immaculate Heart of Mary overflows with love for Jesus and God.
In most images, she is often seen pointing to her heart. This has been taken to mean that she aims to unite mankind with God through the imitation of her heart’s purity and virtues.
During the third apparition at Fátima, Portugal, on July 13, 1917, the Virgin Mary allegedly said that “God wishes to establish in the world devotion to her Immaculate Heart” in order to save souls from hell and bring about world peace.
There are many more images and titles that we know the Virgin Mary as, but at the end of the day, what matters more is how much we have her love in our lives.