All Things Asian Event Post: 04.10.2012 – Our Lady of Manaoag – UPDATED

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez

All Things Asian Event: April 2-16



The blogs: That Hapa Chick; Live, Laugh, I Love Books; and My Words Ate Me are hosting the All Things Asian Event featuring guest posts about anything and everything about the Asian culture!

My guest post blogging interview will be featured on one of the host blogs on April 13.

But, until then, each and every day, a guest post will be featured until April 16, 2012, so be sure to drop by and visit the hosting blogs! Just click on the All Things Asian button above that links to the host blog.


As for me, I couldn’t pass up the chance to post a few articles as part of the All Things Asian Event on my own blog, alongside this important event because quite simply put: I’m Asian! And I’m especially honoured and driven to share the beauty of Asia with my readers to foster awareness, community, and inclusivity—all things that are especially important to me.


Filipino legend dating back to 1610 attests to a native man walking on his way home and seeing an apparition resembling the Virgin Mary holding a rosary in her right hand and Jesus as a child in her left. He apparently left and told others of this miraculous vision and a chapel was built on the very spot of his sighting. Later a town quickly grew and flourished around the site and was to be called Manaoag.


The name Manaoag derives from the Filipino word, taoag, which means to call. The word Manaoag is named after the sighting of the Virgin Mary and means She Calls.

An image of the Virgin Mary

And thus, the birth of the prominently revered ivory stature of the Virgin Mary’s image called Our Lady of Manaoag is enshrined in the Manaoag Shrine, which boasts thousands of visits and religious pilgrimages per year.

The Manaoag Festival in honour of Our Lady of Manaoag.

Its reverence by Filipino Roman Catholics isn’t singularly held by its origin, but also by the miraculous events associated with the statue and the shrine itself.

The Manaoag Shrine

During the Spanish colonization of the country, mountain tribes who believed in Animism burnt down newly converted Christian villages. The town of Manaoag was one of those towns that were set in flames and the last refuge for those in the community was the church, which was only made out of straw. And even though pillagers shot flaming arrows into all parts of the church, the building itself did not ignite!

And then during World War II when the Japanese dropped several bombs within the church’s vicinity, four bombs were released above the church. The last bomb fell in the church sanctuary, but it remained intact and did not explode!

My father was born in Manaoag, Pangasinan and so Our Lady of Manaoag and its shrine holds special significance in the Garcia family.

And so, I’m privy to miraculous stories told to me by my father as part of my history. These are his personal accounts of miracles associated with the Lady of Manaoag:

The Lady was stolen from the church several times in the past and always miraculously “returned” to the shrine while each suspect died of mysterious deaths after each time the statue was found or returned. Theft is the reason why the statue is locked behind an enclosure and secured with alarms and sensors.

In the early ‘50s, there was a big fire in [Manaoag], our town. When the fire was burning down the college building directly beside our house, the Lady was brought outside the church by priests and nuns and the raging fire abruptly shifted away from our [home]. It saved our house and the neighbours’ [houses]. In those days, there were no firemen. Tay and Nay took us away from the house towards the hill up the church. Nay told us later in life this episode of divinity…I recall that the Lady was dressed in red (maybe it was her normal gold attire but the red probably came from the reflection of the fire down below).  This is a true story…we are so blessed that Manaoag is our family home.

*Tay and Nay is an affectionate short form of the words/names, Tatay, which means Father and Nanay, which means Mother.

Thus, the beloved statue, Our Lady of Manaoag, became attributed to protective and healing powers and became the patroness “of the sick, the helpless and the needy.”

This is an elaborate carving of Our Lady of Manaoag in a tree. (c) Photo by Zar Photography. All rights reserved.

The statue, too, is so venerated amongst the Filipino community that a replica travels around the world, while the original statue remains in the shrine in Manaoag. When it was her turn to travel to the Brampton, Ontario, Canada, where we live, a Catholic mass was performed in her honour at St. Mary’s Church on Main Street, a couple of blocks from our house at that time.

Of course, my family went and my father in conversation with one of her entourage in her pilgrimage shared the news of his birthplace and somehow the Our Lady of Manaoag statue was brought to our very home right after the service!

It was one of the highest honours for my family and for my father especially since our home was the only home she visited in the entire Greater-Toronto-Area (GTA)! The rest of her visits were only to churches.

Many Filipinos who attended the service were told where the Lady would be visiting after many inquiries and so they, too, followed us home. And though many requests were made for visitation to homes, according to Father Arceo, only one visitation was permitted because it was not possible for them to make all rounds in such a short period of time.

We lived in a moderately sized house with three bedrooms and I remember my mother was anxious because she had no food to offer our guests who had travelled all the way from the Philippines.

Unannounced Filipino visitors showed up at our door wishing to see and touch Our Lady of Manaoag and to also pray blessings over the household in which she was visiting.

We had no substantial food to offer our guests. And yet, but some miracle, my mom and Dad were able to cook out of nothing (our fridge was barely stocked) in just over an hour before the entourage arrived.

And then unannounced guests would arrive with an array of food as offering to her hosts and to the community that gathered! It was unbelievable. What was once an empty house and an empty table had become in a matter of an hour or less, a crowded household with a feast!

There was a lively buzz of Tagalog intermingled with Pangasinan, eating, photographs, praying, and well wishes until the late evening when Our Lady of Manaoag and her entourage retired to travel to another city listed on their worldwide tour.

I was, maybe, 10 years old. And I remember the evening quite well.

The revered Lady that receives visits from Filipino Roman Catholic pilgrims each year at the Manaoag Shrine also stood in our living room for an evening when I was a child.

The Feast of Our Lady of Manaoag is celebrated on April 21, the day she was canonically crowned by his Holiness Pope, Pius XI in 1926.

Our Lady of Manaoag visits our home on her pilgrimage tour in Canada. If you look closely at the photo there is a perfectly shaped halo behind her crown! The shot was taken by my mother who is an amateur at photography. It is maybe a reflection of the flashbulb against the window glass, but if you look closely, you can clearly see it's a perfectly round shape of a halo instead of the expected splattered light that usually results from a flashbulb. (c) Photo Zar Photography. All rights reserved.

Small miracles do happen—especially to those who don’t expect them.


What small miracle in your life has helped you grow in faith?


A special thank you to my father for providing me with a rich historical account of Our Lady of Manaoag, for sharing his personal stories of miracles, and for his reverent faith.

For previously posted features by The Bibliotaphe’s Closet for the All Things Asian Event, visit the Event Page here.

Zara Alexis

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