Written by : Grace Jane May B. Segovia
It is known as the grandest Marian celebration in the Philippines is the annual festivity honoring the Queen of Bicol, Our Lady of Peñafrancia. Thousands of devotees, pilgrims, tourists from various parts of Bicol and Philippines come to Naga City every September for a nine-day feast in reverence of the Principal Patroness of Bicolandia. Lovingly addressed as “Ina” or Mother by Bicolanos, shows the extraordinary and remarkable devotion and love to Mother Mary. The shrines of Our Lady of Peñafrancia resides at the Pilgrim City of Bicol gathering millions of devotees from all over the country. We, Bicolanos have this strong faith and unwavering belief that our prayers will be answered through the intercession of Mother Mary. Thus, we pay tribute for her every year through majestic celebrations.
This passionate devotion that we have for Ina started out in Paris on September 4th, 1401 when Simon Vela was born. He was born into a rich family and eventually gave all his wealth to the church, charities, and the poor. Simon spent his time in the church and while devoutly praying, he lost consciousness and was then awoken by a voice, telling him to travel to Peña de Francia (Rock of France), where he would find the image of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Simon traveled west for five years, and came across a hill in which he saw the Virgin Mary with the Child Jesus in her arms. From there, with the help of the townsfolk, he began to search and on May 19th, 1434, they uncovered an image of the Blessed Virgin Mary with the Child Jesus.
The Filipino tradition of honoring Our Lady of Peñafrancia began in the Bicol region in 1712, led by Fr. Miguel Robles de Covarrubias, a priest in Naga City, when he, himself experienced the miracle of the Blessed Virgin Mary when he once felt very ill. He set forth his plans to construct the shrine and ordered for an image to be made, similar to the one he prayed to while sick. During the construction, the local artisans run out of paint, and so a dog was killed in order to coat and paint the image. This followed a miracle as the dead dog that was dumped into the river began to swim alive to the bewilderment of hundreds of people. News of many more miraculous wonders related to Our Lady of Peñafrancia spread out encouraging thousands of believers and devotees.
Today, millions of people gather every year in September in the Bicol region to honor Our Lady of Peñafrancia. For almost 305 years, our faith and love to Ina grew tremendously as we celebrate her feast through activities such as Traslacion Procession, Voyadores Festival and Fluvial Procession which most Bicolanos consider as one of the most awaited celebration of faith and devotion every year. Our devoted love to Ina has saved us from several calamities for years, the trials that we Bicolanos face has tested our courage and help shape our faith uniting every Bicolano from across regions closer. Having Ina is truly a blessing to every Bicolano and paying her homage for all the graces we received from God is our way to show her our love. Our Lady of Peñafrancia is more than just the patroness of Bicol, she is the Mother of Bicolanos, the Queen of Bicolandia, and our devotion will continue to endure for more years as our faith and loyalty to her is never ending.