Our Lady of the Rosary of La Naval de Manila

Last Sunday, the Dominican community of Manila celebrated the grandest festival that is held in the Philippines annually, and that is the feast day of the Virgin of the Rosary of La Naval. The Virgin Mary, Queen of the Most Holy Rosary, has always been the queen of these Islands, and indeed she has been the witness to the spreading of the Catholic Faith here in this country of mine, as well as the joys, sorrows and glories of the Filipino people for 5 centuries, even earlier.

The Image

No ethnicity could be more notorious for frantically and wildly venerating the images of the Lord and the Blessed Virgin Mary than the Hispanics (I suppose that many would deviate from this claim of mine—that’s fine), and here I speak of the Hispanics of Asia (even when they do not confess as one) which are the Filipinos. Picture burly men in maroon shirts and white towels, as many of them push each other to grab hold or to get a grip of the rope pulling the andas or processional platform of the Nuestro Padre Jesús Nazareno of Quiapo, as some of them get trampled over or some would even collapse of fatigue. It seems to be like a scene from some political rally gone mad, but no. It is a scene of a procession gone haywire due to the excessive devotion of the people to the Señor, and I suppose only God knows their intentions.

Therefore, being the Filipino I am, and since I too have my fair share of excessive devotional practices (sometimes admittedly bordering to the fanatical), like any good Filipino I am to discuss first the image of Our Lady of the Rosary. This section may bore anyone not interested in art to oblivion, but I suppose I cannot please anybody nowadays.

This image of the Virgin of the Rosary was a donation of the Governor-General Luís Pérez Dasmariñas to the Dominican Fathers, in the memory of his dearly departed father, Gómez Pérez Dasmariñas, in the year 1593.

The image is of the de-bastidor type. During the era of the 16th century, while Spain is admittedly slow with regards to adopting the Italian Renaissance wholesale, it did however pioneer in the production of statues of the Divine whose face, hands and feet are rendered in full, while the rest of the body took the form of a mannequin, and made to be dressed in real fabric. This gave and lent the image an aura of realism, for unlike carved-in-the-round images, this one wears actual fabric. This image of Our Blessed Mother is one such type. The head and the hands are rendered by a Chinese pagan out of elephant ivory. Therefore since it is of Chinese origin, the image did have Chinese looks, although the Child Jesus that the image carries is not very sinitic but more mestizo. For me, this is a very significant symbol. The Child Jesus is the one whose origin the indio filipino and the Chino does not know then, but this Child shall save them, and that is made possible by one of their own, who is the Virgin Mary, who took their countenance.

As the Chinese man carved the image, and as he put his chisel to the practice of his trade, legend says that he heard a voice of a gentle woman emanating from the image he was working on, and it gently admonished him with the words: «¡No me des tan fuerte!» (Do not chisel me too hard!). To modern ears (eyes), it is something that came out of the Onion or any satirical publication. But a simple folk tale to modern ears it may be, it has been documented in the history of the La Naval as being the first miracle of the Virgin, that through such a phenomenon, the Chinese pagan carver  became restless until he saw the image that he made, and was later baptized a Catholic.

This is the image that survived earthquakes which shook her previous churches to ruins, wars, famine, uprisings and revolutions. It narrowly escaped the Second World War, when her Gothic temple within the walled city of Intramuros was set aflame by the Japanese infidels out of hatred of Catholicism and demonstrating their prowess in the art of war.

The image was found hidden in the vault, along with her jewels, the vessels and vestments of the church along with some important documents. She was then whisked to the España, New Manila campus of the Universidad de Santo Tomás, where she remained until her transfer to her new shrine in 1954.

The Miracle of the Dead Infant

There are many miracles that were wrought by the Blessed Virgin through the image of the La Naval de Manila, and of the thousands, here are but a fraction of them.

There was once a mother who was seen entering the Walled City of Intramuros. An india, she was dressed in the poorest of garments that any india would have worn if she were in her destitution. She holds an infant, a lifeless little child. She then approached the grounds of the church, and was to leave the infant on the doors of the convent of the Dominican friars hoping for a decent burial, for she herself does not have any means. But, seeing that it is better for her to go to the temple of Santo Domingo, the Shrine of the Blessed Mother of La Naval, she went, carrying the lifeless child in her arms. She then knelt, crying and mourning and implored God and Our Lady to restore the life of her child.

During that time, the novena mass was being held in honor of the Virgin, attended by Spanish and indios alike, of all walks of life. And in astonishment, the clergy and the laity saw the infant transform, from the cadaver that it was, to breaking chains of death. The infant lives, the infant cries! The mother smiles, to the great joy and to the great wonder of the people.

The Miracle to Francisco López

Another miracle is that of a conversion of a man on his death. This sort of miracle is not of the metaphorical sort; that the act of conversion of the man is perceived as a miracle due to hardness of heart of the man. Rather, it is a different case. There was once a noble lady in the walled city of Manila by the name of doña Ana de Vega, who was appointed the camarera (caretaker; in modern Spanish, it means “waitress”) of the image of the Virgin. She sees to it that the image would be provided the best flowers, the tallest of candles and the most grandiose of vesture, befitting a queen during the Siglo de Oro of the Spanish Empire. And then, there is a certain man named Francisco López, who is known for all the evil acts and debauchery that he has done within the Walls of Intramuros, and was generally identified with every lechery that a man could’ve done. However as he was evil in most of his works, he had but one redeeming quality, and that is to pray the Rosary in front of the image of the Virgin of La Naval. The doña Ana would have noticed the man, with all of his bad reputation, suddenly sneak in to the chapel of the Virgin, and there privately say the rosary. The man was a soldier, and he was sent to Cavite for the islands of Ternate in the Moluccas for an expedition. They were sent off, and as they sail the seas they are battled not with the forces of men but with the forces of nature, as a monsoon typhoon wrecked the ships, with most men dead. Francisco López was himself in a struggle between life and death, and as he called to the Virgin to assist him, he felt hopeless, and eternal damnation surely awaited him. Maggots and worms began eating him, and he appeared as if he were a living cadaver. A man still breathing with a body that is half-dead. This happened on the shores of Mindoro Island in the Visayas region on the year 1613.

Then, there appeared a shining light from the shores of Mindoro, a great imposing figure overshadowed the darkness of the region. There appeared the Virgin and the Child walking side-by-side, and aiding the poor man, they made sure that he lives, so much so that while the bones of the man started showing, and that he ate nothing and drank nothing, and while maggots, fleas and worms started devouring him, he lived for 13 days.

He then received Extreme Unction on the hands of Fr. Pedro de los Cobos, OFM. Shriven and  Viaticum to him given, he died a penitent sinner. As Our Lady has promised, she will not forget anyone who prays her rosary faithfully in the time of their death.

Meanwhile in Manila, the doña Ana went to the chapel of the Virgin to do as she was wont to do as her caretaker, when to her surprise, she saw that the mantle of the Virgin and the golden sandals of the Infant Christ are covered with sand and mud. As the people from within the Walled City and outside of it got wind of the prodigy, they rushed to the church and stared in wonder. How could this be? When in fact that there is not a sand, nor a seashore that may soil the mantle of the Virgin and the sandals of the Child. The public clamour and acclaim for this mystery is that it is a miracle. But the lord Archbishop of Manila, don Miguel García Serrano would not be deterred by a simultaneous clamour of the people, and then initiated an investigation, with ten witnesses testifying to the authenticity of the miracle. Then, to their great surprise, they heard of the case of Francisco López, who was kept alive for 13 days by the Virgin and the Child, no less.

The verdict was reached in 1621—constat de supernaturalitate. 

The Miracle of the Jewels

There was once a Moro diver within the mysterious region of Mindanao. He went on with his profession, swimming and diving here and about, when he got an encounter with a very giant oyster, and as the oyster opened, lo and behold there was a large pearl! Very precious this jewel was, he was determined to get it. But as he grabbed hold of the pearl, he got stuck and was to be torn by the oyster to pieces when—remembering a sermon preached by the Dominican friars about a certain Lady who worked miracles that was enshrined at Manila, he prayed to the Virgin and made a vow, that if he were to survive, he would donate the pearl to her image at Manila. So, the oyster bursted forth, and the diver was saved. Fulfilling his vow, he gave the pearl to the Virgen de La Naval.

Not long thereafter, a thief attempted to rob the image of the Virgin from this precious pearl. As he ascended the niche of the reredos wherein the Virgin was enclosed, the thief heard a voice saying: «¿Por qué me roba cuando no les daño?» (Why do you steal from me when I harm you not?). After that, the thief was converted.

Nick Joaquín, in his essay on the La Naval, once stated that the Virgin also possesses of a very large jewel of a red colour called the carbuncle. On how it was found remains to us the stuff of legends. There was once a very large serpent roaming nearby the Convent of Santo Domingo. A relic of pagan practice, milk was offered to it every day in order to appease it and from preventing it from eating any living human. The serpent had a large jewel on its person, and that jewel was never successfully gotten by anyone trying to wrest it away from it. A Spanish soldier, already tired of the surviving pagan practices around him, determined to kill the serpent and with sword in hand, he vowed to the Virgin of La Naval that if he were to kill the serpent, the jewel would be hers.

After much effort, and after much struggle, the serpent was hacked to pieces after drinking its last bowl of milk. The carbuncle is now the Virgin’s jewel, and was set upon her vesture as a symbol of the triumph of the Virgin over the ancient serpent.

The jewel did not survive the looting of the British in 1763, when it was stolen by them and shipped to Britain. It must be true that the Virgin allowed this to be stolen from her image, as an act of solidarity to those affected by the first Rape of Manila, perpetrated by the notorious Protestant British.

Why “La Naval?”

At this point, the readers might as well ask, “why is Our Lady entitled as “La Naval”?”, to which I answer that this title, which literally means “the navy” in English, is her lasting attribute and influence that changed the course of Philippine History, for she is the one that brought down the mighty Protestant Dutch armada in the Five Naval Battles of 1646, not entirely dissimilar from the Victory at Lepanto in 1571.

The Five Naval Battles of La Naval de Manila

Certainly, there would be no Philippines today as we come to know it if the Five Battles were not won by the Spaniards (in unity with the indio filipino) through the intercession of the Virgin of the 15 mysteries.

It was then the Eighty Years’ War, and Catholic Spain fought against the independence that the Dutch, then under the rule of King Philip II, was trying to seek from their Catholic lord. Naturally, they targetted the Philippines, for then it was an easy game for them. The Philippine Islands then was under complete disarray during that period, as there were a series of volcanic earthquakes from 1633 to 1640. Food was in short supply within the city of Manila. Adding to that great malady that this overseas territory of Spain has suffered during that time, the rebellion of the Muslims under the leadership of Sultan Kudarat in 1635 as well as the Chinese Rebellion in 1639 to 1640 drastically reduced the population in the Islands. Also, to add another poisonous icing on this odious cake, the Manila-Acapulco Galleon Trade was severely disrupted during the years of 1638-1639, thus weakening both the economy and the naval strength of the Spanish Empire in the Far East.

Also, during the year 1645, while the archbishop-elect of Manila, Monseñor Fernando Montero de Espinosa was aboard the galleon ships of Encarnación and Rosario, he contracted hemorrhagic fever and then died, to the sorrow of the Manileños.

As if these things were not enough, on November 30, a great and violent earthquake occurred, tumbling down the many edifices of the city.

On the reception of the news regarding the Dutch, the Manileños and the other natives as well as the Spaniards retrofitted the aforementioned galleons, the Encarnación and the Rosario in order to prepare for the battles. These efforts were laughed at by the 19-ship strong Dutch, who snidely remarked that they are to be challenged by two wet gallinas (a pun between galleon and gallo, the Spanish word for “chicken”). So, there were challenged by two wet chickens (later, the ship San Diego would be added to these wet chickens), 400 soldiers and 68 guns. They, the superior Dutch, certainly held more than that. Besides the aforementioned 19 ships, they also carried around them a squadron of more than 800 soldiers (that statistic is from only the second squadron), and an estimate of 470 guns. The Spanish were doomed to lose.

But it was the Dominicans who were then inspired by Our Lady that they should, like in Lepanto, pray the rosary and fast, as well as have the Blessed Sacrament exposed into every church in the city, so that the Faithful may participate in the battles—in the spiritual realm. And so, this combination of the material and the spiritual brought the death-knell to the Dutch Protestants, by having their ships sunk and their men killed, one-by-one.

The men on board the wet chickens also prayed the Rosary, as the Dominican, Franciscan and Augustinian friar-chaplains preached about the necessity of penance and the Rosary. During the second battle, one of them that were assigned to the Encarnación, the Fray Juan de Cuenca, O.P. seemed in a trance and then delivered “a very spiritual sermon” to the men, the content of which was “an assurance on the part of God and His Most Holy Mother, not only victory but also that no one would be killed in battle.” ( Rodriguez, Mariano (1907)). The Dutch tried to blow up the Encarnacion by sending one of their fire ships, but it was repulsed by a continuous volley of artillery from the Spanish flagship. It turned to the Rosario, but it too was met with ten simultaneous shots which ignited its fireworks. The fire ship burst into flames and sank, killing its crew. (Vidal, Prudencio (1888)) The battle lasted till daybreak, and the Dutch fled. One man survived the sinking of the Dutch fire ship and was taken prisoner by the Spanish-Filipino armada. (Hornedo, Florentino (2007)) As promised by Fr. de Cuenca, no man was killed in the Encarnación. (Fayol, Joseph (1640-1649)), while five men were killed in the galleon Rosario. 

The two Spanish galleons caught up the seven Dutch warships between the islands of Banton and Marinduque on July 28, 1646, although no immediate hostilities ensued. Before the battle began, both General Orellana and Admiral Lopez (without each other’s knowledge), made public their vows to the Virgin of the Rosary in the name of the entire armada, that if they come out victorious against the Dutch, they will make a solemn feast in Her honor, and all of them would walk barefoot to Our Lady’s chapel at Santo Domingo church, as a sign of thanksgiving.

The second battle is the bloodiest of all five battles.

The third battle was as intense as the first and second ones, although the Hispano-Filipino fleet took the offensive, as the Dutch seemed to detect that they are in the losing side, and so they took the defensive.  The bombardment between the two navies, as one narrator described it, “became furious like the explosion of so many volcanoes.” (Hornedo, Florentino (2007)). The Dutch were forced to send its last ship to the offensive, but the Hispano-Filipino fleet doubled their efforts and their Aves, that the ship of the Dutch, along with its crew, were sent to the bottom of the seas. As the fire ship sank, the men on the Spanish flagship shouted “Ave Maria!” and «Viva la fe Cristo y la Virgen Santisima del Rosario!» (Long live the Faith in Christ and the Most Holy Virgin of the Rosary!) and continued shouting these words until the fire ship completely disappeared into the sea. The battle continued till about the time of the Angelus at 6:00 PM. The Dutch once again fled into the night, with its flagship severely damaged. The sense of relief was overwhelming for the Spanish-Filipino armada, that they publicly declared that it was the victory of Our Lady of the Rosary, and General Orellana “fell on his knees before an image of Our Lady and publicly gave thanks for the victory, acknowledging it as by Her hand.” 

After sending the ships back for repair, the soldiers kept their promises and took a pilgrimage to the shrine of the Blessed Virgin of the Rosary in Santo Domingo, barefoot and praising God and His Mother.

The Dutch, not giving up completely to the cause against Spain,  commenced the fourth battle. By then, the Spanish fleet added the San Diego, albeit in a reluctant manner, as the Spaniards were then confident that the Dutch would not return.

Needless to say, the Hispano-Filipino fleet became victorious, for the Rosary was prayed and penances were done by the men and by the faithful left behind at Manila.

The fifth battle greatly exasperated the Dutch Protestants, and here we see their last attempt in defeating the Hispano-Filipino fleet, with their wet chickens and their rosary beads. The furious bombardment lasted for four hours. The Encarnación inflicted grave damages upon the enemy, forcing the Dutch corsairs once again to flee. As the Dutch fled, the wind suddenly stopped, giving chance to the galley under the command of Admiral de Esteyvar to attack the Dutch flagship (which was temporarily immobilized with the absence of the wind). Although outgunned, the galera fired upon the Dutch vessel “so furiously that the enemy regarded themselves as lost and the men attempted to throw themselves overboard.” The Dutch flagship was already in danger of sinking when the wind returned which helped the enemy in their escape. The Encarnación and the galera followed in hot pursuit, but the Dutch managed to flee by nightfall. There was no casualty in the Spanish galley, however, four were killed in the Encarnación. This was during the feast day of Saint Francis of Assisi, October 4.

The soldiers, weary from the battle, decided to hold a thanksgiving pilgrimage to Santo Domingo, the shrine of the Virgin of the Rosary, in order to thank her for this prodigious victory.

On January 20, 1647, the victory was celebrated in a solemn feast by means of a procession, divine worship and a parade of the Spanish squadron with other demonstrations in fulfillment of the vow made to the Virgin of the Rosary. After which, the city of Manila, after convening a council, made a new vow to celebrate the solemnity of the naval victories every year.


On April 6, 1647, the Father Friar Diego Rodriguez, O.P., Procurator-General of the Dominican fathers, on behalf of the religious Order, duly requested the vicar of the Diocese of Manila to declare that the victories achieved in the year 1646 had been miraculous intercession of the Virgin of the Rosary.

The City Council took into account the three following circumstances to declare the victories as miraculous:

  • That only fifteen soldiers died on the side of the Spanish-Filipino troops;
  • That the two ships mentioned were already very old and powerless to do battle and;
  • That the soldiers, who sought Divine assistance by means of devoutly praying the Holy Rosary in choirs, attributed the victory they achieved to God through the intercession of Our Lady of the Rosary.


Later, on 9 April 1662, the cathedral chapter of the Archdiocese of Manila declared the naval victory a miraculous event owed to the intercession of the Virgin Mary, declaring:

“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 amongst 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.”

What the La Naval Victory could teach us Catholics today

We Catholics, without exagerating this point, should make it our duty to pray the Holy Rosary of Our Lady as much as possible and very frequently. As we face a new battle, the new armada of secularism, militant atheism and anti-Catholicism,  the weapons of preaching and continous convincing of the modern infidel, while still very efficacious and effective in itself, could be made a much stronger force in the Catholic side by the aid of the Blessed Mother through the praying of the Rosary. Let us not forget her fifteen promises:

1) To all those who shall recite my Rosary devoutly, I promise my special protection and very great graces.

2) Those who shall persevere in the recitation of my Rosary shall receive some signal grace.

3) The Rosary shall be a very powerful armor against hell; it will destroy vice, deliver from sin, and dispel heresy.

4) The Rosary will make virtue and good works flourish, and will obtain for souls the most abundant divine mercies; it will substitute in hearts love of God for love of the world, and will lift them to the desire of heavenly and eternal things. How many souls shall sanctify themselves by this means!

5) Those who trust themselves to me through the Rosary, shall not perish.

6) Those who shall recite my Rosary devoutly, meditating on its mysteries, shall not be overwhelmed by misfortune. The sinner shall be converted; the just shall grow in grace and become worthy of eternal life.

7) Those truly devoted to my Rosary shall not die without the Sacraments of the Church.

8) Those who recite my Rosary shall find during their life and at their death the light of God, the fullness of His graces, and shall share in the merits of the blessed.

9) I shall deliver very promptly from purgatory the souls devoted to my Rosary.

10) The true children of my Rosary shall enjoy great glory in heaven.

11) What you ask through my Rosary, you shall obtain.

12) Those who propagate my Rosary shall be aided by me in all their necessities.

13) I have obtained from my Son that all the members of the Rosary Confraternity shall have for their brethren the saints of heaven during their life and at the hour of death.

14) Those who recite my Rosary faithfully are all my beloved children, the brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ.

15) Devotion to my Rosary is a great sign of predestination.
¡Reina del Santísimo Rosario, ruega por nosotros pecadores! 

(SOURCES: http://www.ewtn.com/v/experts/showmessage.asp?number=438582, https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Our_Lady_of_La_Naval_de_Manila, https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battles_of_La_Naval_de_Manila)

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