Our Lady of Aranzazu.



“I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”
Genesis 3:15


In late February of 1522, St. Ignatius visited the shrine of Our Lady of Aranzazu in the province of Guipuzcoa, Spain while on his way to Montserrat. The shrine was only fifty years old then and was built on the site where Rodrigo de Balzategui, a Basque shepherd boy, found a statue of the Virgin Mary nestled in a thorny bush with a cowbell in 1469. Together with his priest-brother, Pero Lopez de Loyola, the pilgrim Ignatius made a night vigil during which he put his journey to Jerusalem under the care of Our Lady, and sought heaven for the needed health and strength to fulfill the said pilgrimage.

The biographers of St. Ignatius supposed that it was in this shrine of the Virgin of Aranzazu where he made his vow of chastity inasmuch as he acknowledged in later years that he made the vow during his journey from Loyola to Montserrat, and the shrine would have been a suitable place for such a vow. Moreover, St. Ignatius must have experienced something very profound during his night vigil to the Virgin of Aranzazu, for more than thirty years later, in a letter to St. Francis Borgia dated August 20, 1554, he expressed his very clear recollection of that night and the spiritual grace he received in the shrine (see Ignacio Iparraguirre, and Candido de Dalmases, trans., San Ignacio de Loyola: Obras Completas [Madrid, 1982], pp. 932-934).

The devotion to the Virgin of Aranzazu started 548 years ago in Spain, and was introduced to the Philippines through the town of San Mateo 308 years ago. The devotion to this image of Our Lady is treasured as part of the Jesuit heritage in San Mateo.

Arantzan su – tu en el Espino?

San Mateo, the only town in the Rizal Province named after a saint, was founded by the Augustinians in 1572. The friars had a thriving brick industry there at that time. Fray Gaspar de San Agustin, O.S.A., wrote of the town in his work Conquistas de las Islas Filipinas 1565-1615 (1698). It was described as normally annexed to Pasig, four leagues inland, and very much exposed to invasions by the highland natives. Furthermore, he said that, “it is a very difficult ministry and only good for young, robust ministers because they travel on horseback, catching the natives to administer the sacraments to them since the people belong to mountain tribes, albeit friendly and peaceful. The weather is healthy because they are in the highlands and purified by the winds…the road is very beautiful and pleasant, because it is level and populated with houses and tobacco plantations with both Sangleys and mestizos since the earth is most fertile for this plant.” The town’s river is one of the two mighty and most destructive rivers during the rainy season, formed due to the continuous overflow of a large lagoon in the center of the island of Manila (see Luis Antonio Mañeru, trans., Conquest of the Philippine Islands 1565-1615 [Manila, 1998], pp. 75, 607, 973, 975).

In 1603, San Mateo was ceded to the Jesuits, and later became involved in a jurisdictional conflict that affected Cainta and Jesus de la Peña. It was therefore restored to the Augustinians on August 29, 1659 and was raised to the status of a parish on the said date, but was again ceded to the Jesuits on December 6, 1696. Fr. Pedro Murillo Velarde, S.J. wrote in his Historia de la Provincia de Philipinas de la Compania de Jesus (1749), “In the year 1696, not only did the very reverend Augustinian fathers surrender these posts [Cainta and Jesus de la Peña], with politeness and courtesy, but in token of mutual affection and friendly relations an exchange was made of the ministry of San Matheo (which is near Mariquina), the fathers of St. Augustine ceding it to us for that of Binangonan (which is called “de los Perros” [i.e., “of the dogs”]), on the lake of Bay, which belonged to the Society” (see Emma H. Blair and James A. Robertson, ed., The Philippine Islands, 1493-1803, [Cleveland, 1905-1909]: vol. 44, p. 105). He further wrote that the Jesuits gladly accepted San Mateo “in order to bring in the Aetas who are in the mountains of that region, to live as a Christian community in the village; for, Christians and heathens being mingled in those woods and little hamlets, there was little difference between them in their customs” (Ibid. p. 114). Fr. Murillo Velarde narrates further in the Historia:

“In the year 1705, Father Juan Echazabal began to promote, in the village of San Matheo, the devotion to Our Lady of Aranzazu; and the devotion to and adoration of that Lady steadily increased, with the encouragement of the Vizcayans, and especially of Don Juan Antonio Cortes. This incited the minister to undertake the building of a stone church, in order to provide a more suitable abode for the Blessed Sacrament and for the sovereign Queen. Through the persistence and energy of the father and the contributions of the faithful, a beautiful, substantial, and spacious church was completed, with its transept and handsome gilded reredos. The new church was dedicated in the year 1716, the minister being Father Juan Pedro Confalonier. There was a very large concourse of people, and the devotees of the blessed Virgin of Aranzazu made extraordinary demonstrations of joy and devotion in celebrating her feast; and great was the satisfaction of those who with their contributions had aided [to provide for] the costly building and adorn it with ornaments and rich furnishings of silver – especially the illustrious benefactor of that church and village, General Don Juan Antonio Cortes. And the Society, with the pleasure of dedicating to God and to His blessed mother this new temple, forgot the great sorrows that they suffered at that time from various defamatory libels, in which malignity repeated what had so many times been condemned, and was anew condemned, as calumny – their author being, most deservedly but impiously, his own executioner, at seeing that the arrows discharged by audacity against the Society were changed into crowns of triumph” (Blair and Robertson, vol. 44, pp. 117-118).

Upon the suppression of the Jesuits, which took effect in the Philippines in 1768, the Secular priests took over the administration of San Mateo. Later, it was given to the Recollects, then back to the Seculars. The parish church of Nuestra Señora de Aranzazu was raised to the status of a diocesan shrine in June 2004.

Up to the present, it is the only church named after the Virgin of Aranzazu in the Philippines, and one of the two shrines dedicated to the said Marian title, the other one being the chapel of San Juan de Letran in Manila. This representation of Our Lady came to be known also by other titles: “La Virgen del Espino,” “Our Lady of the Thorn-tree,” Our Lady of Askartza,” and “OurLady of the Bell.” On June 18, 2013, the Bishop of Antipolo, Most Rev. Gabriel V. Reyes, D.D., granted the petition for an Episcopal Coronation made by the parish priest, Fr. Lawrence C. Paz, in behalf of the parishioners and devotees of Our Lady.

May this fervent Marian devotion continue to lead the people of San Mateo and her devotees to a closer union with Jesus Christ, her Son, doing all things for the greater glory of God.Michael P. Delos Reyes

Ad Iesum per Mariam! 


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