Romanillos rebuts ‘Myths and Miracles of the Nazareno de Quiapo’


MANILA—A retired UP professor and full-bloodied Church historian, Prof. Emmanuel Luis A. Romanillos has written an article—and published yesterday the “Part I” of which in his Facebook account—that rebuts the several points brought out by Audrey B. Morallo and Lito B. Zulueta in their essay, “Myths and Miracles of the Nazareno de Quiapo,” that saw print in the Philippine Daily Inquirer a year ago, on January 8, 2018.

Committed to “simply bring out the testimonies and facts based on reliable Augustinian Recollect contemporaries and historians and then make conclusions from their statements,” Prof. Romanillos first established in his “Notes on the ‘Myths and Miracles of the Nazareno de Quiapo’” that a “myth” is defined as “a widely held but false notion” (Oxford Dictionary, 1995th ed., p. 900).

In his scholarly and objective response, he pointed out not only “the historical blunders, conjectures and false conclusions occasioned probably by the failure of the two writers of the article to make use of primary sources at the Archivo Recoleto, Recollect libraries, chroniclers, historians or authors of the Augustinian Recollect Order and or by basing their article on authors who may never have set foot at the Recollect archives in Spain or Quezon City” but also the positive and admirable side of the write-up.

Main Issues

The principal issues singled out by Prof. Romanillos from the contentions of Morallo and Zulueta included the following:

First, “that the Black Nazarene of Quiapo, Manila, whose feast is the 9th of January, is biggest Catholic devotion in the Philippines is nothing but a myth.” For these two authors, “the biggest is that of, ironically, the diminutive Santo Niño, either the original icon in Cebu or its various replications in the Visayas and elsewhere, notably in Pandacan and Tondo in Manila.”

Second, “that ‘Nuestro Padre Jesus Nazareno’ is not the original icon now venerated by hundreds of thousands of Catholic devotees in the Basilica Minore of the Black Nazarene in Quiapo… Morallo and Zulueta claim that the original icon was totally destroyed ‘when World War II laid Intramuros to waste’.”

Third, “they agree that the original icon did not arrive with the first ‘barcada’ or boatload of original Augustinian Recollect missionaries in 1606, as virtually claimed by the ‘quadricentenary’ celebration in 2006.”

Fourth, they claimed that “even the account of the first mission of the Augustinian Recollects to the country bore no record of any black image resembling the Señor. The account was written by Fray San Jeronimo (1593-1610), one of the 10 priests and four brothers of the inaugural Recollect mission.”

Fifth, as regards this intense devotion to the Nuestro Padre Jesús Nazareno, “Morallo and Zulueta, unfortunately, added that ‘the fierce devotion was even called a superstitious cult by Fr. Pedro Herce, a 20th-century Recollect historian’.”  

Sixth, the two authors wrongly used the term “descalzados”.

Seventh, the authors conceded to an abundance of “conjectures and probabilities” including “the most probable date of installation of the Nazareno in Quiapo Church” which, according to a source they cited, was on “1767, when the image was blessed by Archbishop Basilio Sancho.”

Biggest Catholic devotion

Morallo and Zulueta cited the late Dominican historian Fidel Villarroel who preferred the Santo Niño de Cebu of the Augustinians as the biggest devotion.

Prof. Romanillos replied: “But if we base the combined multitudes of devotees of the Black Nazarene at the Pahalik in Luneta, Dungaw at Plaza del Carmen and the Traslación from Luneta to the Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene, we can clearly observe the millions of Filipinos who profess deep devotion and firmly believe in Nuestro Padre Jesús Nazareno. It is noteworthy that the devotion to the Santo Niño includes the festivals in Iloilo, Cebu and Tondo as well as the parishes whose patron is the Divine Child.”

He also added that “the alleged ranking or competition between the Black Nazarene or the Santo Niño as the biggest Catholic devotion in the country … is simply out of place in Catholic tradition and belief. I personally believe that it is exceedingly difficult to quantify any Catholic devotion by the name of physical and numerical presence of devotees during the celebration of their fiestas. The criterion or gauge of popularity or hugeness of a devotion cannot be quantified or made by the number of devotees in attendance at a religious procession or Traslación event.”

His argument is that: “if we count the number of parishes devoted to Santo Niño in the Philippine dioceses like those of Calapan, Cagayan de Oro, Bacolod, Talibon, or in the provinces of  Rizal, Benguet, Eastern Samar,  Zamboanga del Norte, Misamis Oriental, etc., or if we count the number of replicas and parishes of the Black Nazarene in Cavite City, Cagayan de Oro City, Bohol, Pangasinan, Camarines Sur, Masbate, should we count as well the number of parishioners who are devotees of the Santo Nino or the Black Nazarene in those curacies? This quantification is next to impossible, the data being unavailable or may be increasing by leaps and bounds as the years pass by.”      

On this “quantity” issue, the Church Historian took a catechetical and evangelizing stand: “It is safe to avoid the discussion on the magnitude of hugeness of the devotion to the Santo Niño or Black Nazarene as both refer to the same devotion to Our Lord Jesus Christ whom we profess to be the Incarnate God and Second Person of the Holy Trinity. The two devotions manifest the Filipinos’ profound and solid Catholic Faith displayed in religious processions and reverent kissing the age-old icons. Both deepen the Filipinos’ complete confidence in God’s mercy and compassion and rely totally on Divine Providence at all times.”   

Original Icon

Morallo and Zulueta contended that since the original icon of the Nazareno was totally destroyed during World War II, the presently venerated icon in Quiapo is no longer the original icon.

Prof. Romanillos replied: “It is a fact that most of the Spanish churches, convents and other edifices in the Walled City were destroyed by American shelling. It is also true that San Nicolas Church, popularly known as Recoletos Church, lost its roofs and the grandiose retablos and icons inside the age-old temple during the Liberation of Manila, with only its walls left standing. The ruined church was eventually levelled to the ground in 1959. See Simbahan at Kumbento ng Recoletos marker installed at Recoletos Street corner Muralla Street in Intramuros by the National Historical Institute in December 2006. Of the four revered sacred images of Recoletos Church (Virgen de la Salud, Nuestro Padre Jesús Nazareno, San José and Santa Lucía), dating back to the 17th and 18th centuries, solely the small Virgen de la Salud icon which arrived in Manila in 1634 was saved from shelling by US Army howitzers at the liberated University of Santo Tomas campus.”

The image of the Nazareno of San Nicolas de Tolentino in Intramuros.

Then, he added: “Fr. Emil A. Quilatan, Church History professor in various theology schools and Archivo Recoleto Administrator for years, informed this writer that there exists an oral tradition claiming that there used to be two images of Nuestro Padre Jesús Nazareno in the Recoletos Church of Intramuros: one was in the lateral chapel and another in the sacristy of the church. The same tradition contends that the second image was handed over to Saint John the Baptist Church in Quiapo in 1787 by the Recollect friars upon orders of Archbishop Basilio Tomas Sancho de Santas Justa y Rufina, Archbishop of Manila (1767-1787).”

Arrival date of Nazareno

Morallo and Zulueta are among those who claim that the original icon did not arrive with the first “barcada” or boatload of original Augustinian Recollect missionaries in 1606, a position contrary to that of the “Quiapo clergy who mounted the fiesta in 2006 [and] had billed the celebration as the ‘fourth centenary’ of the icon.”

Prof. Romanillos, who wrote several books and articles on Recoletos history, culture and heritage, made it clear one more time: “Among Recollect historians, it is an accepted fact that the Black Nazarene devotion is, definitely, not 413 years old today. The first group of thirteen Augustinian Recollects had left Cebu where they had landed on 12 May 1606 brought with them the images of Virgen de la Correa [Nuestra Señora de la Consolación, Our Lady of Consolation] and of San Nicolás de Tolentino. After a couple of weeks, the pioneers proceeded to Manila and arrived at the capital on 31 May.”

He provided more details and some deductions: “Since the Recollect sources were silent on the exact date of arrival of the Black Nazarene icon, we can only deduce from undeniable facts: the eyewitness account written by the Recollect contemporary chronicler Fr. Andres del Espiritu Santo (1585-1657) on their first Recollect mission. This chronicle was published in 1965 in pages 174-179, no. 600, of Boletín Oficial de la Provincia de San Nicolás [BSNP, Official Bulletin of the Province of Saint Nicholas of Tolentino]. Fr. Andrés del Espíritu Santo in 1647 made no mention of the Black Nazarene in his list of divine images found in Recoletos Church in Intramuros. Father Rafael Garcia, BPSN editor, puts the year 1645 as the date of this early contemporary account. In this early chronicle, only three sacred images and their year of arrival were mentioned by Fr. Andres del Espiritu Santo: Virgen de la Correa (1606), San Nicolas de Tolentino (1606) and Virgen de la Salud (1634). The image of Virgen del Carmen in San Sebastian Church which was brought by the third mission led by Father Rodrigo de San Miguel to the Philippines, a gift of the Discalced Carmelite nuns in Mexico City, was left unmentioned by Fr. Andres de Espiritu Santo because the 400-year old Marian icon which arrived in 1618, was later enshrined in 1621 at the small church located at San Sebastian de Calumpang outside the walled city of colonial Manila.”

As to the celebration of the Quadricentenary of the Nazareno’s arrival, Prof. Romanillos pointed out: “There was indeed a big doubt that cast upon the fourth centenary of the Black Nazarene icon in Quiapo in 2006. It was intended by its organizers to coincide with the Recoletos 400 or the commemoration of the 400 years of uninterrupted presence of Augustinian Recollect missionaries in the Philippines and Asia. However, the Recollect archival sources and history did not categorically confirm the arrival of the Black Nazarene in 1606.”

He added: “Recollect historians, obviously, were not consulted on the commemoration by Quiapo Shrine authorities. During the liturgical rites at the Basilica Minore of Quiapo in 2006, Gaudencio Cardinal Rosales, then Archbishop of Manila, had invited Fr. Lauro Larlar OAR, then Prior Provincial of the Province of Saint Ezekiel Moreno, informed the Recollect superior why they were celebrating the fourth centenary of the Black Nazarene. The fourth centennial had been earlier recommended by the members of Quiapo historical committee. Since there was a quandary with respect to the exact year of the arrival of the Black Nazarene, Cardinal Rosales informed the prior provincial that the historical committee suggested the dual celebration of Nazareno 400 and Recoletos 400. The corrected celebration of the Black Nazarene arrival is to be done if further archival research would unearth in the future the exact arrival date.” 

Nazareno and Fray San Jerónimo

Morallo and Zulueta claimed that the account of the first mission of the Augustinian Recollects to the country written by Fray Juan de San Jerónimo “bore no record of any black image resembling the Señor.”

Prof. Romanillos was quick to put a spotlight on this, saying: “This is a huge blunder and bereft of truth to affirm that Fray Juan de San Jerónimo, superior of the first Recollect mission to the Philippines, authored an account of the inaugural missionary expedition. The superior never wrote any chronicle at all.”

He further said that there are only two contemporary accounts on this pioneer mission of the Recoletos in the archipelago: “As we wrote earlier, the first accounts were authored by Fr. Andrés del Espíritu Santo (1585-1658) and Fr. Rodrigo de San Miguel (1584-1625). A probable source, attributed by Morallo-Zulueta to Fr. Andrés del Espíritu Santo, is the first volume of Historia general de los Religiosos Descalzos del Orden de los Ermitaños del gran Padre y Doctor de la Iglesia S. Agustín de la Congregación de España y de las Indias [General history of the Discalced Religious of the Order of the Hermits of the great Father and Doctor of the Church Saint Augustine of the Congregation of Spain and the Indies],  written by the first Recollect chronicler and native of Colombia, Fr. Andrés de San Nicolás (1617-1666).

“Fr. Andrés de San Nicolás wrote that a May 1, 1605 royal decree from King Philip IV of Spain gave clearance to the Recollects to go to the Philippines. They left Cadiz on July 12, 1605, and arrived in San Juan de Ulua in Mexico on Sept. 17, 1605 to recharge. On Feb. 22, 1606, on board the ship ‘Espirito [sic] Santo,’ they left Acapulco to sail for the Philippines.”

A superstitious cult?

The Recollect Fr. Pedro Herce, wrote an article, “The Recollects in the Philippines,” in Boletín Eclesiástico de Filipinas 435 (1965) 210-253, where, specifically on page 223, he recognized that a “cult” is given to the Black Nazarene. Morallo and Zulueta, however, twisted the interpretation: “the fierce devotion was even called a superstitious cult by Fr. Pedro Herce, a 20th-century Recollect historian.”

Prof. Romanillos, incumbent President of the Academia Filipina de la Lengua Española, made these clarifications: “The Spanish Recollect friar-historian simply translated culto as cult, and Morallo-Zulueta worsened the translation by declaring it was a “superstitious cult.” The Diccionario de la Real Academia Española defines culto as homenaje externo de respeto y amor que el cristiano tributa a Dios, a la Virgen, a los ángeles, a los santos y a los beatos [External homage of respect and love that the Christian pays to God, to the Virgin, to the angels, to the saints and the blessed]. This Spanish definition has obviously nothing to do with the Filipino matinding debosyon o pagsunod sa isang tao, ideya o bagay (UP Diksiyonaryong Filipino 2010). The most appropriate meanings for Herce’s cult are formal religious veneration (Merriam-Webster Dictionary and Thesaurus 2014) and devotion to a person or thing (Oxford English Dictionary 1995). The superstitious added by Morallo-Zulueta to Herce’s cult is a complete blunder, totally out of the question because Merriam-Webster tells us that superstition refers to beliefs or practices resulting from the ignorance, fear of the unknown, trust in magic or chance.     

Descalzos, not Descalzados

In his notes, Prof. Romanillos has not failed to mention that the icons of the Sto. Niño and Nazareno “were brought to the Philippines by Augustinian and Augustinian Recollect missionary confreres who followed the same Rule of Saint Augustine of Hippo and who up to now share the same Augustinian ideals and spirituality: the first group, the Calced Augustinians came in 1565 and the second group, the Discalced or Recollect Augustinians, in 1606.” 

Referring to the “Discalced or Recollect Augustinians,” Morallo and Zulueta said: “… for finally on May 10, 1606, the Augustinian descalzados safely set foot on Cebu.”

Immediately, Prof. Romanillos commented: “Surely without consulting any Spanish dictionary at all and thus inventing the past participle of the verb descalzar, Morallo and Zulueta coined the word descalzados to refer to the Agustinos Descalzos, Discalced Augustinian, indistinctly as Augustinian Recollects or Recollects. However, the Diccionario de la Real Academia Española categorically says that descalzo is the irregular past participle, not descalzado. Yes, that the past participle of calzar is calzado is correct. Hence, the friars of the Order of Saint Augustine, out of which Order the Discalced Augustinians originated in the 1588 provincial chapter of the Augustinian Province of Castile, Spain, are Agustinos Calzados, differentiating them from Agustinos Descalzos.  The Augustinians of this revered Order of Saint Augustine which originated from the Great Union of 1256 are indistinctly Agustinos Calzados, Calced Augustinians.”    

More conjectures and probabilities

Prof. Romanillos observed: “Conjectures and probabilities abound in the last paragraphs as the two Inquirer duo concede: ‘Regarding the exact date of and circumstances surrounding the arrival of Señor [Nuestro Padre Jesús Nazareno], historians could only surmise.’ Two researchers [ADMU Prof. Fernando Zialcita and UST Prof. Augusto de Viana] then declared that the blackened icon ‘probably came from Mexico, having been carved by an Aztec artist who supposedly tinted it dark brown to liken it to the color of his race, mulatto, a hybrid.’ Then Zialcita added: ‘It was probably through the Manila-Acapulco Galleon Trade that the Nazareno was brought to the country.’ Meanwhile, the Cofradía de Jesús Nazareno was first mentioned in the 1650s, according to Zialcita.  Zialcita added another probability: ‘It was probably already in the 18th century, around 1760s, when the image of the Black Nazarene was brought down and installed in Quiapo.’”  

As to the Cofradía de Jesús Nazareno, the Recollect historian Fray Angel Martinez Cuesta said, in his e-mailed reaction to Prof. Romanillos’ article, that the precise date of its establishment in Intramuros was 1651, and not just the nonspecific dating of “1650s.”

Moreover, Romanillos added another interesting conjecture by Morallo and Zulueta: “According to A Study on Filipino Culture: The Devotion to the Black Nazarene by M.M. Aguinaldo, the most probable date of installation of the Nazareno in Quiapo Church was 1767, when the image was blessed by Archbishop Basilio Sancho.”  

But then again, Prof. Romanillos also saw the admirable side of the two writers who made this conclusion: “The Black Nazarene has united Filipinos across the centuries. Filipinos have related to the icon so much so that that the image has become their own identity and history. And that is no small miracle among several miracles attributed to El Señor across the centuries!”

Ministry to preach the Truth

As his key contribution to the ministry of proclaiming the Truth using the pulpit of research and writing, Prof. Romanillos was emphatic: “These corrections and clarifications have to be done before their blunders and conjectures may in turn become myths themselves, as they may be quoted, copied and perpetuated by other writers or even by historians in the future or even in the coming fiestas of the Black Nazarene every 9th January.”

(Note: Morallo and Zulueta’s article may be viewed at /283887/myths-miracles-nazareno-de-quiapo/#ixzz53aBNRrmK while Prof. Romanillos’ rejoinder was earlier submitted to the Recoletos Communications Office but the Part 1 of which can be accessed via his FB account “Luigi Romanillos”.)

A Facebook post, dated January 6, 2019, by a FB account Ave Maria, Ina ng Diyos, showed the Señor Vicario wearing a tunic with the coat of arms of the Order of Augustinian Recollects.

(Photo below) A common scenery during the Traslacion: the Hijos del Nazareno protecting the image of the Señor while white towellets were thrown to the Hijos so that they may wipe it to the image of the Señor. Photo taken from the internet.

Fray Jose Ernil Almayo, OAR

Fray Jose Ernil Almayo, OAR

Fray Jose Ernil F. Almayo, OAR, is currently the Provincial Secretary of the St. Ezekiel Moreno Province.