Visit any home in the Philippines, and chances are you'll find at least one image of the Virgin Mary. Known to Filipinos as "Mama Mary," the mother of Jesus has as much of a place in the hearts of Catholics as her son. Today being the Nativity/Birthday of the Blessed Virgin Mary, here's a list of images and places where you can see just how much she means to her Filipino devotees.
The Virgin Mary of Regina Rica (Tanay, Rizal)
In the hills of Tanay in Rizal province, there's a 13.5-hectare pilgrimage site known as Regina Rica. Here, you can see a 30-foot statue of the Virgin Mary, who's represented as Regina, the Queen of the Holy Rosary. (Incidentally, the name "RICA," an acronym for "Rosarii Institute for Contemplation in Asia," is also the Spanish word for "rich lady.") You can also find thousands of trees, a handful of waterfalls and a creek in Regina Rica's natural, green-and-blue landscape.
Marian Orchard (Balete, Batangas)
If you've always wanted to see Brazil's famous Christ the Redeemer statue, there's a replica of it in this place. Filled with brightly-colored bougainvilleas and European-inspired architecture, the Marian Orchard gives you a breathtaking view of rolling hills and the Taal Volcano. There's also a chapel where you can walk through an aisle flanked by statues of saints, until you reach a domed structure housing the Virgin Mary.
The Underwater Statue of the Virgin Mary (Bien Unido, Bohol)
Unless you're a diver, you can't technically "see" the Virgin Mary in this place. Instead, you have to make do with praying at a spot in Danajon Bank, where her 14-foot statue is submerged 80 feet underwater.
In case you're wondering why the statue is where it is, there's a not-so-exciting but touching reason for it. When former mayor Niño Rey Boniel saw how much of a problem dynamite fishing was in his town, he installed underwater statues of holy figures to deter people from illegal fishing practices. Ever since, the problem has been lessened in the areas where the statues are, though the local government admits that Bien Unido has a long way to go in this respect.
Our Lady of Manaoag (Manaoag, Pangasinan)
Of the many images of the Virgin Mary in the Philippines, this is one of the most famous. Brought from Spain in the 17th century, the bejeweled ivory statue was said to be miraculous.
One story is that, when a middle-aged farmer was about to go home one day, he heard a female voice calling out to him. Turning around, he saw an apparition of the Virgin Mary on a treetop, bathed in heavenly glow. The apparition told him where to build her church, and thus the Shrine of Our Lady of Manaoag was born.
Today, the statue continues to draw devotees from all over the country. It's considered the patroness of the sick and needy, and has been granted a Canonical Coronation by Pope Pius XI in 1926.
Our Lady of Piat (Piat, Cagayan)
Another major pilgrimage site is the Basillica Minore of Our Lady of Piat. Dubbed as one of the Philippines' twelve Minor Basilicas, the site houses the 407-year-old image of Our Lady of Piat, a Black Virgin Mary.
Like many famous images of the Virgin Mary, Our Lady of Piat has been credited with numerous miracles. There's the ending of a persistent drought in the Itawes region, the healing of a young boy from insanity and the curing of an old woman's pleurisy, to name a few. It's no wonder, then, that Piat became the "Pilgrimage Center of Cagayan Valley."
Aside from Our Lady of Piat, you can also visit the Bukal ng Buhay (Spring of Life) nearby. As the name suggests, the spring was said to have healing powers, and has drawn enough devotees to warrant being featured in numerous TV documentaries. You can also take part in the Sambali Festival every July 1 and 2, where a fluvial procession is held to venerate the image of Our Lady of Piat.
Our Lady of Caysasay (Taal, Batangas)
This wooden statue is one of the oldest images of the Virgin Mary in the Philippines. Found in the Pansipit River by a fisherman in 1603, the image was credited with some of the earliest Marian apparitions, as well as miracles like the salvation of Taal's townsfolk during the 1754 Taal Volcano eruption. Like Our Lady of Piat, Our Lady of Caysasay was also said to have blessed a nearby water source — called the "Well of Saint Lucy" — with healing powers, which continue to draw devotees to this day.
These are just six of the must-see Virgin Mary images in the Philippines. You can also visit Our Lady of the Good Success (pictured above) in Parañaque, the giant Virgin Mary statue at the EDSA Shrine and many others within Metro Manila. As always, if you want to have your say about this piece, or about our other pieces, write them down in the comments below.