Although the devotion to Our Lady of Peñafrancia has withstood the test of almost 300 years in the Philippines, it remains relatively unknown to the rest of the world.
The devotion started in Paris and spread to Spain, before finally becoming one of the most popular Filipino Marian devotions.
Today, the Marian statue is enshrined in the Basilica of Our Lady of Peñafrancia in Naga City in the Philippines.
The miraculous image of Our Lady of Peñafrancia portrays the unparalleled and indescribable beauty of the Mother of God.
She is typically vested in an embroidered gold cape, reflecting Our Lady’s queenship, splendor, and purity. A radiant aura surrounds this striking statue of Our Blessed Mother, depicting Our Lady as more resplendent than the sun.
Our Lady is also represented as gracefully holding the Infant Jesus in her arms and is adorned with a gold-plated crystal crown featuring 12 stars. This symbolizes Our Lady as the Queen of Heaven and Earth as illustrated in chapter 12 of the Book of Revelation:
“A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head.”
Origins of the Devotion
The devotion to Our Lady of Peñafrancia originated in Paris with Simon Vela, a nobleman born in 1384 to a wealthy Parisian family.
He gave all of his riches to the poor and the Church and devoted his life to Christ. After spending hours in prayer at Church one day, contemplating the Blessed Virgin Mary, he lost consciousness for a short while.
He was suddenly awoken by the majestic and graceful voice of a woman who said:
"Simon, vela y no duermas! Stay awake and do not sleep! Go to Peña de Francia and search for my image. You will find it in a cave and once there, I will tell you what you must do.”
Simon spent five long years hiking and searching for the image. The same voice encouraged him to persist with his quest. He thought that Peña de Francia was located in the west of France, but little did he know that the Peña de Francia mountain was located south of the city of Salamanca in Spain.
He finally discovered the sacred site when he came across a dazzling light on the mountain. There, he found an apparition of the Mother of God holding the Infant Jesus in her arms.
Our Lady urged Simon to dig the earth beneath him to find the sacred treasure buried within the mountain and build a shrine.
Interestingly, this miracle was foretold by mystic Juana Hernandez (often called La Moza Santa) who resided in the village of Sequeros, which was located in the Peña De Francia mountain range in Spain.
On her deathbed in 1423, the holy woman was said to have uttered these words:
“Turn your faces to Mount Peña de Francia and pray to the Virgin Mary. That’s where an image of her has been hidden for 200 years. It will soon come to light and Our Lord will work many miracles through it. That glorious image must be shown to a man of good life.”
Finally, on May 19, 1434, Simon and four of his friends found the holy image of Our Lady of Peñafrancia. A miracle immediately occurred the instant the image was unearthed, with Simon and all four of his friends being cured of their ailments.
Simon’s head wound vanished, Pascual Sanchez’s eye defect was cured, Juan Fernandez was relieved of his life-long stomach pain, Antonio Fernandez was cured of deafness, and Benito Sanchez no longer suffered from a crippled finger. Other miracles have also been attributed to the image. A Church was finally erected at the sacred site.
Fast-forwarding to the 17th century, the devotion spread even more. A well-learned man named Miguel Robles de Covarrubias, the son of a Spanish government official, was prone to sickness and ailment. He and his family resided in the Philippines.
He remained steadfast in faith and devoted to Our Lady of Peñafrancia, often placing a prayer card of the Blessed Virgin on parts of his body that were in pain. He was eventually ordained a priest in Naga City and embarked on a journey to have a shrine built in honor of Our Lady of Peñafrancia.
More miracles occurred, resulting in the highly efficacious Marian devotion spreading further through the Philippines.
Honoring Our Lady of Peñafrancia Today
The feast of Our Lady of Peñafrancia is celebrated in the Philippines on the third Saturday of September, where many pilgrims and devotees from all over the world travel to Naga City for a one-week celebration, novena, and a popular procession called "Traslacion."
This procession involves the cherished statue of Our Lady of Peñafrancia, the Patroness of the Bicol Region, being transported from the Basilica to Naga Cathedral.
On the last day of the novena, the statue is escorted back to the Basilica via an illuminated boat procession along the Bicol River. Pilgrims are often heard chanting, "Viva La Virgen!" – "Long live the Virgin!"
Let us try to revive this powerful Marian devotion to the loving Virgin of Peñafrancia. A prayer to Our Lady of Peñafrancia can be found here.