By Rhaydz B. Barcia
TIWI, Albay --- Before the feast day of Our Lady of Penafrancia in September in Naga City, there was the celebration in August of the feast day of Nuestra Senora de Salvacion in this town in Albay.
For centuries now, pilgrims from all walks of life continue to throng to Bicol to pay homage to the two famous images whom Bicolanos both fondly call their Ina.
Nuestra Señora de Salvacion, also known as Our Lady of Light, has been the most venerated Marian icon in Albay for 243 years now. The Catholic Church crowned her as the patroness of the province of Albay, while the image of Our Lady of Penafrancia whose devotion has been observed for over 300 years now, has been installed as the patroness of Bicolandia.
The original image of Nuestra Señora de Salvacion is housed in the Diocesan shrine located on top of a hill in Barangay Joroan, Tiwi town.
On the third Saturday of August, a maritime procession, one of the country’s biggest, was held along the rich fishing grounds of Lagonoy Gulf after the Holy Mass officiated by Legazpi Bishop Joel Z. Baylon at the Diocesan shrine.
Every month of August, all roads lead to Tiwi town where devotees across the country, including a large number of balikbayans gather to pay tribute to the ancient wooden image of the Virgin.
Devotees from different places convene at the Diocesan shrine down to the seashores of Barangay Joroan and the long coastline of the whole town.
The last Saturday of August is traditionally reserved for the ‘peregrenacion sa mag-agahon’, or the dawn procession, a 9-km foot procession from the St. Lawrence Church in this town to the Diocesan shrine in Joroan, her original home. This year, however, it was conducted on September 1, a Saturday.
Before the maritime procession, a replica is escorted in procession around the Diocese of Legazpi that covers the whole province of Albay, from parish to parish for the 9-day novena.
The original wooden image of Nuestra Senora de Salvacion had first been revered in the seaside village of Joroan. Based on the historical account, the devotion had begun in the 1770s.
Many miracles had been attributed to the 243-year-old image, especially that the coastal barrio of Joroan then had been often attacked by Muslim pirates. At the sight of the Muslim vintas, the residents would come to the image of Our Lady of Salvation to pray and seek protection.
Miracles after miracles, including personal petitions granted, the devotion to Our Lady of Salvation continues to grow stronger up to this day.
How the image was born
Fr. Lamberto S. Fulay, the first parish priest in Joroan (between 1919-1935), in his “An Kasaysayan ni Birhen de Salvacion,” wrote that in 1770, haciendero Don Silverio Arcilla had a tenant named Mariano Dacuba in one of his vast estates in Joroan, which was then known as Cagnipa.
One day, while Dacuba was clearing the hacienda, he chopped off a big Calpe tree. After several hours, he found to his surprise that the leaves of the tree did not wilt and preserved its freshness for a period of time.
He informed his landlord Don Arcilla about it who later consulted the friar pastor of Buhi town in nearby Camarines Sur. The friar pastor of Buhi soon summoned a sculptor named Bagacumba to carve images out of the Calpe trunk.
Three images were actually carved out of the trunk, such as the Nuestra Señora de Salvacion now installed in Joroan, Tiwi, Albay; San Antonio de Padua, and; Nuestra Señora de Soledad (Our Lady of Sorrows), the latter two in Buhi town, in the poblacion and Barangay Tambo, repectively.
Joroan used to be under the jurisdiction of Buhi during the Spanish colonial period. On August 25, 1776, the image of the Lady of Salvation was lent to Joroan with the condition that the residents construct a chapel at the center of the barrio. A certain Sotera Cababag was assigned as the chapel’s hermana mayor who took charge in taking care of the image.
On January 21, 1853, an agreement was made among the Buhi parish priest (Fray Antonio Gudalajara), the gobernadorcillo (Mariano Buenaflor), and the Joroan barrio lieutenants representing the people that permanently cemented Joroan’s claim to the image.
The agreement stated that Buhi will give up all its rights on the image if the people of Joroan made an offering of fifty pesos and additional twenty-five pesos for the bell.
Soon a territorial dispute arose between the provinces of Ambos Camarines and Albay. It was asked whether Barrio Joroan belonged to Buhi of Ambos Camarines, or to Tiwi of Albay.
A certain Captain Vera of Albay argued Joroan’s proximity to Tiwi and thus it was decided that Joroan be annexed to the Albay town of Tiwi.
In 1805, a strong typhoon hit the village, destroying the small shrine that sheltered the image. The People of Joroan temporarily brought the image to Tiwi poblacion until the time that her new chapel had constructed. While in Tiwi, the devotion to the image grew among the residents there that the Joroan residents wanted the image back for their own devotion.
In 1918, after a long conflict, an assembly was conducted. They agreed to turn Joroan into a parish where a new shrine would be built on a vast six-hectare land. When the new shrine was completed in September 15, 1919, the image was finally returned to Joroan in November of that same year.
On December 8, 1975, then Bishop Teotimo Pacis of the Diocese of Legazpi formally declared the Virgin Mary with the title of Our Lady of Salvation as the heavenly patroness of Albay.
In 1976, the Diocese celebrated the Bicentennial Jubilee of its patroness. One of the projects during the Bicentennial was the completion of a modern shrine. The original design of the shrine was done by Juanito Pelea of Tiwi, but was later redesigned and finished under the supervision of Fidel Siapno of Legazpi City.
After its completion, Bishop Pacis blessed the shrine on August 21, 1976. In August 25 of the same year, as a culmination to the Bicentennial year, Archbishop Jaime Cardinal Sin of Manila crowned the Our Lady of Salvation while the Joroan shrine was proclaimed as a Diocesan shrine.
On February 7, 1977, his Holiness Pope Paul Vl proclaimed the Nuestra Senora de Salvacion in Joroan as the heavenly patroness of the Diocese of Legazpi.
Next year, the Diocesan shrine will celebrate its centennial anniversary, according to Fr. John Mendoza, current parish priest of Joroan,
He said they are preparing for a big day as the Diocesan shrine’s 100th year.. “As early as today, we are preparing for the centennial celebration of Joroan parish,” he said.
With this, there is a possibility that the three images carved from the dame tree -- Nuestra Señora de Salvacion in Barangay Joroan, San Antonio de Padua and Nuestra Señora de Soledad, the latter two stationed in Buhi, Camarines Sur, will be reunited in a celebration come August next year.