Our Lady of Porta Vaga
The icon, which depicts the Virgin Mary as Our Lady of Solitude, is enshrined at San Roque Church in Cavite City. The devotion to Our Lady of Porta Vaga is one of the famous Marian devotions in the Philippines.
The icon has received several titles in its history, including "Queen of Cavite" and "Exalted Patroness and the Celestial Guardian and Protectress of the Province of Cavite and its Port" (Spanish: "Reina de Cavite", "La Excelsa Patrona y La Celestial Guardiana y Protectora de la Provincia de Cavite y su Puerto").
The icon was used to bless departing trade galleons plying the route between Cavite and Acapulco, Mexico, earning her the title "Patroness of the Galleons", while stories of its miraculous powers thus earned it the title, "The Virgin of Thousand Miracles".
The Blessed Virgin Mary is depicted as garbed in black and white, kneeling as she contemplates the instruments of her Son's Passion. Before her are the crown of thorns and the nails. The icon is painted on a canvas framed in carved wood. The painting itself is set in gold and silver accouterments with precious gems that are ex votos from her devotees.
An inscription found at the back of the painting says: "A doze de Abril 1692 años Juan Oliba puso esta Stma. Ymagen Haqui" ("On 12 of April 1692, Juan Oliba placed this most holy image here"). It is considered an invaluable treasure inherited by the Caviteños, and is the oldest extant dated Marian painting in the Philippines.
A legend narrates that during the Spanish colonial era, at the peak of Cavite's economic prosperity because of the Manila-Acapulco Galleon Trade, a small detachment of the Spanish Guardia Civil was stationed at a garita (little garrison, or sentry post) located at the Vaga Gate of the Cavite Port, at the end of the isthmus separating it from Barrio San Roque.
One stormy night, a Spanish sentinel was at his post when he saw a bright, shifting light. A dazzling apparition rose from the currents of Cañacao Bay and startling the sentry, who surmised that the light came from pirates out to raid the port.
Frightened, the sentinel shouted, "¡Alto! ¡Alto!" ("Halt! Halt!"). Instead of stopping, the light went towards him. Hence, in a loud voice he asked, "¿Quién vive?" ("Who is there?").
He then heard a sweet and melodious voice reply,
"Soldadito, ¿por qué el alto me das en noche tan fría? Dame paso. ¿No conoces a María?"
("Little Soldier, why halt me on a night so cold? Give me passage. You do not recognise Mary?")
The awestruck and confused sentinel humbly repented.
"Perdóname, Virgen María, Reina de mi devoción; pues solo soy un soldado que cumplo mi obligación!"
("Forgive me, Virgin Mary, Queen of my devotion; for I am but a soldier that complieth with my duty!")
The following morning, fisherman and workers at the Cavite Royal Arsenal passed through the Vaga Gate and found a framed image of the Virgin on the beach along Cañacao Bay, near the place of her apparition the night before. They brought the painting to the parish priest, who temporarily installed it in the parish church. Eventually, the Ermita de Porta Vaga (Chapel of Vaga Gate) was built along the port's walls, and for three centuries served as the shrine of Our Lady of Solitude.
In 1929, a new parish priest, Fr. Pedro Lerena y Lerena of Logroño, Spain, was assigned to the Cavite Port. At the same time, he was appointed Rector of the Ermita. His great dedication to the cause of Our Lady of Porta Vaga saw the beautification and the improvement of the Ermita through the years.
During the Second World War, Fr. Lerena rescued the icon from a junkyard that the Imperial Japanese Army had thrown it in. The image first stayed in the Arzobispado (Archbishop's Palace) in Intramuros before it was deposited in the vaults of the Philippine National Bank for safekeeping.
The icon returned to Cavite after the Allied liberation of the islands in 1945, re-enshrined at its home in the San Roque Church because the Ermita was destroyed by bombardment during the war. Fr. Lerena served as the icon's guardian until his death in 1972.
Through the joint efforts of Msgr. Baraquiel Mojica, former parish priest of San Roque, and Bishop Felix Pérez of the Diocese of Imus, the miraculous icon was canonically crowned on November 17, 1978 by Apostolic Nuncio to the Philippines Most Rev. Bruno Torpigliani, D.D., during the reign of St. John Paul II- the first Philippine Marian image crowned during his pontificate. A Pontifical High Mass was offered in her honour at Binondo Church in Manila, followed by a concert featuring the works of the National Artist Lucio San Pedro. Devotion to the image gave the Caviteños the opportunity to show their art skills.
Theft and return
On March 16, 1984, the icon of the Virgin was sacrilegiously stolen from its altar. After tedious months of search, it was recovered on August 15, 1984, albeit divested of all its original gilding and precious stones. Every effort was made by devotees to restore the image to its former glory, and on August 19, 1984, it was re-enshrined in the altar amidst much rejoicing.
Countless miracles have been attributed to the Virgen de la Soledad. Her mysterious apparition and the unexplained arrival of her image were initial revelations of her miraculous reign. During the terrible typhoon in 1830, a fire caused by lightning bolt hit the wooden altar of the Ermita and razed the chapel to the ground, but the image of the Virgin remained intact among the ashes. In 1856, another terrible typhoon flooded the houses, churches and public buildings within the Port but the Ermita, as well as its patio were found dry so the people took refuge in the Church. In 1857, a Spanish frigate based in Cavite was caught by a violent typhoon off the coast of Albay province and was stranded for 20 days after running aground. The crew prayed before an image of the Soledad. She appeared before them that night and the tide rose higher and the wind began to blow, thus releasing the frigate free from its rocky trap. There have been other miracles attributed to the Virgin with the passing of the years including present day accounts of healings, families reunited and family problems solved.
Our Lady of Solitude of Porta Vaga is one of the most venerated Marian images in Cavite. Her feast is celebrated every second and third Sunday of November in Cavite City. She is also associated with annual Lenten rites and the All Saints-All Souls Day observances where she is alluded to as "Inang Magkakandila" (Mother Candlemaker). The image celebrated the Pearl Jubilee of its coronation 2008 and the Silver Jubilee of its return the following year.
The Cofradia de la Virgen de la Soledad de Porta Vaga presently led by Rev. Fr. Virgilio Saenz Mendoza and Jonnell Ryan I. Enriquez heads the devotees of Our Lady. It was established in August 1998 through the efforts of the late Antonio G. Nazareno and then Bishop Manuel B. Sobrevinias. Devotees include overseas Filipino workers and other foreign nationals who flock to the country to join the Porta Vaga Festival.
Replicas of the Ynang Nag-Iisa (Mother [Mary] of Solitude, as she is called in Tagalog), are also venerated in San Isidro, Nueva Ecija; Camba in Tondo, Manila; San Carlos, Pangasinan and Buhi, Camarines Sur.
In 1892, Julian Felipe, composer of the Philippine national anthem, penned the hymn "Reina de Cavite" on the occasion of her fiesta and the opening of the Exposición Regionál Caviteña (Cavite Regional Exposition).. The lyrics were taken from the poem Himmo a la Virgén de Cavite (Hymn to the Virgin of Cavite) by Fr. Tomás de Andrade, the rector of the Jesuit College of Cavite sometime in 1689.
Reina de Cavite per siempre seras:
Madre Immaculada, prez del serafin,
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