top of page

What Dreams May Come: The Failing Rituals

This is already Tuesday, the week of the fiesta. I continue with my journal lest we forget what happened this month, this year of 2020. The Year of the Covid-19.

This is the Tuesday of the novena. Memories tell me we always called the days after the Traslacion as the week of the feasting, not the days for praying.

The fear of everyone came true: there was no Traslacion. This means that the “Virgin” or the “Ina” did not make the journey. She was not “moved” from her Home by the river to the Cathedral.

Lest I touch on a subject matter people, especially the high priests in church-palaces and parishes, will say is not my expertise, let me speak as an anthropologist. But allow me to speak also as a Bikolano who receives and listens to ideas from other people – pilgrims and believers, I believe – who strongly ask why the Traslacion was scrapped, and why there was no attempt to conduct a similar action or enact a simulacra of the process.

Forget or think about the pandemic, there could be or there would have been a way to bring Ina to her home, as the age-old, important practice has been done.

What transpired in the discussions among the Church representatives, local officials and key health officers? Was there anyone who said let us have the Traslacion?

Any follower of the Peñafrancia devotion will tell you it possesses a material beginning and an end: the move from the Shrine to the main Church, the Mother Church, if you wish. and the return by the river after the nine days of prayers. Those are the essential elements. They are non-negotiables. The rest are non-essentials. The beauty pageants are mere indicators of persistent bad taste and it was good to put them outside the walls of the devotion. The parades are waste of energies and finances and are nothing but vestigial remains of our love for military might, albeit they come in soldiers dressed like clowns and majorettes swathed in garments fit for circuses and carnivals.

If it was easy to decide not to conduct the transfer of the icon of the Lady of Peñafrancia to another place, is it because that part of the devotion is not really essential?

When Naga was declared a pilgrim city, that act articulated further the meaning of the devotion. The Marian image herself accompanies the old city as it moves from one place to another, very much like the pilgrim who travels far to be physically in the place where the Bikol’s Ina can be found. That is the essence of pilgrimage.

One can commission the best carver in town so that he or she can have the best replica but the Virgin, as we always persist to say, lives somewhere. Her presence cannot be abstracted as the pilgrimage to her Shrine is physical. She has to be located somewhere.

Thus, the value of the shrine. Thus, the value of the sites where healing and miracles originate.

The pioneering mythologist, Mircea Eliade, is noted for underscoring the crucial meaning of the “center,” the site of compelling beauty and strength.

With anthropologists convinced that the Eliadian interpretation has become simplistic, new discourses were constructed about centers and sites where powers and “magnetism” come in concentrated form. Alan Morinis interprets the power of the shrine in this manner: Celebrated pilgrimage places often enshrine relics of the most revered saints or the most authenticated apparitions of the divine. These centers have been glorified with the highest expressions of religious art and architecture that cultures have evolved.

Talking about the shrines, Morinis talks of the “spiritual magnetism” of the place, and how it can become so powerful that it overwhelms group or cultural boundaries and so draws pilgrims of many affiliations, who come because of the reputation for power the place projects and manifests through material representations. The words “material representations” matter. We know there is a highly spiritual approach to the devotion, that the Virgin of Peñafrancia is still the Virgin Mother of the greatest story ever written. And yet, we know why we are devotees of the Ina. We so love the Nuestra Señora de Peñafrancia because she is particular to us. That “nuestra” is not simply a borrowed word from a colonizing language, but a subversion of the colonial memory in which that pronoun is embedded. She is “our” Lady. She is the Mother of God manifested in a center that is culturally and socially apprehensible by the Bikolano.

The Traslacion, much as the priests would want it to be, cannot be merely metaphorical. Rendering the “Ina” in the Shrine by the river as a trope dilutes the local power of the image. It questions the specific prayers offered to her, which healed many, consoled more, and protected the land from storms of all kind.

One cannot do a Traslacion in one’s heart; you can, pardon my bluntness, do it only on land.

Perhaps we can dream?

What if someone – an ordinary person, a nun, or even a priest of less stellar reputation – dreams of the Virgin supplicating that the Traslacion be made, would the local Church listen? Would the local officials be convinced? Would we believe?

Heed this: Many devotions have thrived because the church listened to a dream and believed in an apparition.

bottom of page