Our Lady of the Candles, Jaro Cathedral in Iloilo is represented by a historic 16th century stone carving of the Virgin carrying both Jesus & a lit Candle. It is formally known as Nuestra Señora de la Candelaria and is venerated by Catholics in the Western Visayas region. It is enshrined at the Jaro Cathedral, recently named the National Shrine of Our Lady of Candles, atop the balcony-facade of the church which is accessible by balcony stairs outside the church.
Our Lady of Candles Cathedral is The National Shrine of Our Lady of Candles which celebrates its Marian feast annually on the 2nd of February.
Our Lady of Candles shrine is constructed in the Romanesque Revival style of Architecture.
The Cathedral has several distinctive features, namely:
- similar to St Anne’s Church in Molo, which is sometimes referred to as the “Feminist Church” because all the statues in the Church are representations of female Saints. The Cathedral is noteworthy because all of the statues are depictions of male Saints.
- the bell tower is located across a busy street, on Jaro Plaza. Normally, belfries are built next to their churches. Here, the original tower had been built next to the original church, which was destroyed in the Lady CayCay Earthquake of January 1948.
The Jaro belfry was originally built of bricks and limestone blocks in or about 1744. It was a 29 meter high three-story tower high. The ‘new Cathedral was built between 1826 and 1837 by Augustinian Friar Ilanos. On July 5, 1877 at about 12.07 PM, the “campanario” was heavily damaged when an earthquake measuring VII on the intensity scale struck the Western Visayas Region.
Between 1833-1881, another two serious earthquakes damaged the belfry; one on March 28th, 1880 at 5:04AM at intensity VI and another on July 11th , 1880 at 12:35PM at intensity VI. Msgr. Mariano Cuartero, had the Belfry and Church completely restored in 1881. On January 25th , 1948, the day the Lady CayCay earthquake destroyed a great many Churches throughout Panay. The Cathedral was completely destroyed and the Tower was again seriously damaged.
- the stairs attached to the front facade of the cathedral, over the main entrance, lead up to the actual shrine of Our Lady of Candles.
- there is a reliquary containing relics of St Josemaria Escriva, the founder of Opus Dei.
Saint Josemaria Escriva was born in Barbastro, Spain, on 9 January 1902. He was ordained to the priesthood in Saragossa on 28 March 1925. On 2 October 1928, by divine inspiration, he founded Opus Dei. On 26 June 1975, he died unexpectedly in Rome in the room where he worked, after a last affectionate glance at a picture of Our Lady.
Opus Dei had by then spread to five continents, with over 60.000 members of 80 nationalities, serving the Church with the same spirit of complete union with the Pope and the Bishops which characterised Saint Josemaría.
His Holiness Pope John Paul II canonised the Founder of Opus Dei on 6 October 2002. His feast is celebrated on 26 June. The body of Saint Josemaría rests in the Church of Our Lady of Peace in Rome.
The reliquary of the Saint can be seen below his photo in the lobby of the Cathedral.
Our Lady of Candels was originally built in 1874 in Jaro Plaza, next to the Bell Tower by the then first Bishop of Jaro, Mariano Cuartero. As mentioned the Our Lady of Candels Church was levelled as a result of the 8.1 magnitude Lady CayCay Earthquake of 1948. The Church was rebuilt in it present location and was consecrated in 1956 by Jaro’s first Archbishop, Jose Maria Cuenco.
Surrounding the cathedral are a variety of archdiocesan and parish offices. Including, the Adoration Chapel. A block away is the archdiocesan Seminary and across the plaza is the Archbishop’s official residence.
On May 27, 1865 Pius IX in the Bull of Erection, “QUI AB INITIO”, of the Diocese of Jaro, insisted that the new bishop should found and organize a seminary as soon as possible.
The Archbishop of Manila, Most Rev. Gregorio Meliton Martinez carried the decree into effect, on October 10, 1867. At the time of his appointment as First Bishop of Jaro, Mariano Cuartero, was still in Spain acting as General Procurator of the Dominican Order.
He received episcopal ordination at the Dominican Seminary of Ocania, Spain, on November 1867, was able to take possession of his Diocese only on April 25, 1868.
The new Bishop founded the Diocesan Seminary where he could train good pastors for the different parishes, which at that time were almost entirely under the spiritual administration of the Augustinians Friars, who were then regarded as the Fathers of Faith in Panay. On April 2nd , 1868, Bishop Cuartero arrived in Manila together with five Vincentian priests, three Brothers and sixteen Daughters of Charity. Having taken possession of the Diocese, Bishop Cuartero began his work immediately of enlarging the parish of “La Candelaria” to be his cathedral church, he also adapted the convento to be his residence and the foundation of the Diocesan Seminary in December 1869.
At first, the seminary was housed at the bishop’s residence. The bishop busied himself with the idea of building up an adequate edifice for his seminary. The Bishop begged and appealed to his people for help and they gave generously.
On March 11th , 1871, the cornerstone was laid and the construction of the Seminary begun under the direction of Fr. Aniceto Gonzales.
The fathers and Seminarians joined the workers during their free time. They carried the bricks from the riverbank where the bancas unloaded them to the construction site. Bishop Cuarteto was often seen carrying the bricks to the site with the Seminarians.
By October 1872, a good part of building was finished and ready for use. The Seminary was transferred then and was finally completed in November 1874.
The St. Vincent Ferrer Seminary was the first of the seminaries to be run by the Vincentian fathers to become a first class college, being fully incorporated into the University of Santo Tomas in 1891. Sometime in 1890, Bishop Arrue asked permission from Governor General Valeriano Weyler for the authorization to offer baccalaureate studies for those students who, having finished secondary education here, couldn’t afford to pursue college studies in Manila. The Governor granted the petition.
On the night of October 7, 1906, a sudden fire caused by a candle, left carelessly burning in the sacristy by the seminarian in charge, reduced the building to a heap of ashes. Nothing was saved and no one was injured.
Bishop Rooker was not a man who could easily be deterred by misfortune. Two months after the fire, he began rebuilding, backed by the moral and financial support of his priests, the people of Jaro, his many friends in America, and Pope Pius X who sent substantial financial help. The seminary was housed temporarily in a spacious building of Don Teodoro Benedicto. In less than a year, three fifths of the building was completed, sufficient to house one hundred interns.
The return of the seminary to its own location was completed on September 17th , 1907. The next day, seemingly constant misfortune struck again. Early that afternoon Bishop Rooker was stricken by massive heart attack and died a few hours later.
On June 19th, 1946, the Archdiocese of Jaro once again opened its modern and excellent Seminary for the proper training of its future priests.
In 1957, the Seminary became de facto a regional major seminary when the bishops of the suffragan dioceses of Bacolod (1946), Capiz (1957), Antique (1963) and even the Prelature of Palawan enrolled their major seminarians in this seminary.
Let’s get back to the Church itself…
The National Historic Institute of the Philippines proclaimed the Jaro Cathedral as a historical landmark in 1976 . And in January 2012 The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines officially designated the Cathedral as the “National Shrine of Our Lady of Candles”.
One of the interesting things about the Statue of Our Lady of Candles is the legends surrounding it and they are quite interesting. In fact there are three statues, the principal one which is in the Shrine at the front of the Church, the second is located on the main altar and the third is used in that various parades and festivities when the ‘celebrations’ call for Our Lady of Candles to be present. These last two were in fact carved by the late renown Manila based, Filipino artist: Talleres de Maximo Vicente.
The first of the legends has it that the statue was found on the shores of the Iloilo River in 1587 by a group of fishers. It was only about one foot in height but It was so heavy that several men were needed to lift it. When it was decided by the founders that it should be bought to Jaro, the statue became lighter. It was installed in the old Augustinian church located in a section of La Paz town. When Jaro became a diocese in 1867, a cathedral was constructed in the town proper named after St. Elizabeth of Hungary.
The second legend has it that one evening in 1874, a Chinese businessman who owned a variety store near the church was visited by a beautiful customer and her child. She purchased some lamp oil for the baby.
The owner got curious and followed the woman and found her at the artesian well in the middle of the town plaza bathing her child. As he walked away the woman disappeared. When he passed by a church doors, he saw the niche was lit. There, stood the beautiful Lady with a lighted candle in her hand. After this event, the Chinese owner was converted to Catholicism. This same ‘event’ was experienced by several other parishioners. Every now and then the Lady would vanish from the altar and be seen at the well bathing her child.
The well has since been encased in steel in the plaza compound and the water from it is said to have healing powers.
Still another legend recounts the story when back in the 1870s, once the new Cathedral had been finished; the statue of the Virgin refused to be taken from her place in the old church. The parishioners suspected that transferring to another shrine did appeal to Her. So, with Archbishop Cuartero, they prayed and said Masses to try to convince her to move. She did finally relent and consented to be moved and was installed in her new home at the cathedral after a solemn procession.
The parishioners tried to move her several time using ‘block and tackle’ but the chains supporting the weight of the statues kept snapping, they broke several times. Recalling the old stories, they asked the late Archbishop Msgr. Alberto J. Piamonte to oversee the operation.
Upon the direction of the late archbishop, dressed in full regalia, the image was safely placed in her present place – a pediment to the balcony especially constructed for the visit of late Pope John Paul II.
Some of the tombs within the church of some of Iloilo’s prominent families as well as some of it previous Bishops and Archbishops.