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Traveling for Salvacion

Fr. Joseph Salando offered halo-halo as we entered the town of Tiwi but Kristian Cordero was quick with his politesse: “We need to go to Ina first.” Kristian was referring to the Nuestra Señora de Salvacion, the miraculous Marian image revered for hundreds of years. In the heat of that late afternoon, I dreamt of the local concoction noted for the finest shaved ice that could pass for ice-cream. I wanted to stop then, as I offered Fr. Joseph my opinion that the good Mother would understand her children’s craving for delicious things.

Food surrendered to faith and soon we found ourselves at Joroan, where the shrine of the Virgin was. Fr. Joseph is the new parish priest at the shrine and he was visiting his community. We were there for our Kapilya research, an undertaking funded by the Mother Butler’s Mission Guild.

In our research in Camarines Sur, we have already observed a preponderance of the image of Salvacion in many ermitas or chapels. Together with San Roque and San Antonio, the said Marian image appears to possess a major following in distant villages, where these “little churches can be found.

What could be in the image of Mary in “Salvacion” that has attracted the fervor of the believers?

The shrine in Joroan to Salvacion is of particular importance because of many reasons. There is the antiquity of the image, an indicator of how sustained is the faith around the Lady in this particular locality. Then there are the histories behind the place and the icon.

In the 18th century, Joroan was part of Buhi. It is from this lakeside town that the image of Salvacion was carved. A Calpi tree (a citrus hybrid) is said to have provided the wood from which the image of Mary was made. The story did not stop there, for two more images were produced from the same material - the Soledad, now found in Tambo, Buhi, and the San Antonio de Padua, now kept in the town church. As the narrative proceeds, the image of Salvacion stayed in Joroan and the pilgrimage began.

If one visits the shrine in Joroan at present, one would notice the lush hills behind the church. In the old account, it has been told how “Moro” marauders would often pillage the town of Tiwi, including Joroan. It was then because of this continuous danger that the image was brought up farther into the wooded area. Was it in that dark forest that now overlooks the village and its church?

That afternoon, we had the chance to see up close the 18th century statue of Salvacion. Fr. Joseph, helped by an assistant, took us to the back of the altar. And there before the 5 o’clock Saturday Mass, Kristian and I were gazing at the ancient statue. The replicas that are present all over the regions did not prepare us for the dark, mahogany-like sheen of the image blazing ex aequo with the silver patina of the Lady’s vestment.

We started taking photos of Her crown and the details of her hands, the expression on her face. Kristian notes how Salvacion’s face resembles the face of another major icon in the region - the Nuestra Señora de Peñafrancia in Naga. There is just a nuanced difference: the lips of Salvacion are slightly parted while the Ina in Naga has chosen to keep hers close, allowing only the faintest smile.

In many Marian images, the strength of the pose depends on the contrapposto, the move where one leg, its knee bent a little, is prominently displayed forward. This shows a dynamism in the statue, a walking action arrested in time and space. Salvacion does not contend with this position as she has her two legs firmly on the ground. And yet that is not where Her power resides; her might is concentrated in her two hands: the left, which carries the Child Jesus and right holding a figure.

Here are the contentious elements in the statue of the Nuestra Señora de Salvacion del Joroan, her title in old manuscripts: the being at the end of her right hand and the Angel holding a basket of hearts.

We can consider the painting depicting the origin of the conceptualization of the image of Salvacion, the Nuestra Señora de la Luz or Our Lady of Light, now found in the Cathedral of Leon in Mexico after having been transferred from Palermo, in Italy, around 1702. In that interpretation, we see the Virgin holding tight with her right hand a man whose feet are almost inside the gaping mouth of a giant demon - the gate of Hell. The question is if the Man has been taken from Hell or is he being prevented from falling into Hell? What about the hearts being offered: are those the love of believers or are those the souls (hearts) of those who had forgotten to ask for graces from the Divine? Whatever it is, the Lady of Light or the Lady of Salvation in Joroan is a powerful mediator.

Interestingly, in most statues depicting the Salvacion in Bikol, the Devil is always affixed near the base of the statue (There is an exception in Buhi where the Devil is detached and sometimes hidden from view). Is this the necessary Devil, the antithesis required when we confront the notion of Purity?


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