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Peñafrancia Festival
Source: Manila Bulletin
Author: Jaser A. Marasigan
Date: 2006-10-08
NAGA CITY — Throngs of devotees once again flocked to this Marian city to pay homage to their “Ina”. Their unbelievable affinity to the miraculous patroness of Bicol is likened to the unique bond of a mother and a child. And every year, this city in Camarines Sur becomes the center of the biggest and most popular religious event in the country honoring the Our Lady of Peñafrancia. The centuries-old celebration begins nine days before the actual feast day which is a rite of transfer called “Traslacion”. The dark tiny image of the Virgin carrying the infant Jesus is taken in a ceremonial parade from her shrine by the river to the Metropolitan Cathedral.

Department of Tourism (DoT) Region 5 Director Nini Ravanilla invited a media group to witness the event, which coincided with the "Gayon Bicol Fiesta", an annual show of the region’s various festivals, products and tourist attractions.

The group arrived just in time to see the highlight of the festival, which is the Virgin’s sentimental journey back to her sanctuary in a colorful fluvial procession.

Bicol’s Virgin is talked about as having been responsible for countless miracles. The sick have been cured and the unhappy consoled. The strangest miracle revolves around how she restored the life of a dog whose blood was used to darken the tint of her image. The dead animal, with its four legs tied up, was cast to the river after its blood was sacrificed for the Virgin. Don Miguel de Cobarrubias, a Dominican missionary remarked: The Virgin will work her first miracle and she will bring back to life that innocent animal that gave the blood for her. Upon hearing this, those around him laughed, but to their surprise, the dog began to swim and upon reaching the banks, ran back to the house of its master. Some people, including a few Dominican fathers, bore witness to the veracity of this miracle.

From then on, the Virgin was always brought back to Her shrine through the famous waterway, the Bicol River, which itself wrapped in the Virgin’s legends. According to the Bicolanos, almost every year, this city witness the miracle of rain. After a long dry spell, its river reduces to a dry parched bed until the third week of September when rain would come with the celebration of the Lady’s feast.

The fluvial procession started at the Tabuco bridge. Her image was escorted by priests and government officials, the fish folk and boatmen from the nearby waters of Pasacao and Cabusao towns. Along Tabuco’s grassy river bank, women and children with lighted candles sing psalms. The men appointed to take the image to her shrine -- the voyadores, hold on their painted oars and carved canes while the rest form a human bar to pave way for the image’s transfer from land to water, up the ornate pagoda. As the tradition dictates, women are forbidden to participate in the river procession. There is also the belief that their presence always results in tragedy.

Brass bands blared the praying and shouting multitude from their ecstatic cries of "Viva la Virgen" and "Patrona del Bicol, Viva" as the Virgin finally approaches the landing. From there, She was once again taken in a procession, carried through Naga’s streets by drenched, barefooted male devotees. And after much jostling, the Virgin finally arrives at the Peñafrancia Chapel built in 1710, Her sanctuary. She returns home welcomed with fervor by her children.

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