Sunday, 14 June 2020

In the Kitchen: Spaghetti Bolognes alla Checca/ My Visit to Bologna, Italy

I asked my son what he wanted for dinner. "Spaghetti Bolognese...with cilantro" was his reply. "With cilantro," that was something different, I thought. So, I came up with this idea - I would take two of my pasta sauce recipes and use them both, with some modification. From the title of this entry, I'm sure you got the hint.

As I started my meal preparation, I thought of my visit to Bologna several years ago, with a dear friend. It was just a train ride away from Milan. That visit turned out to be quite interesting, as it gave me more insights into the historical importance of this place.

Bologna is the capital city of Emilia-Romagna, in the Po Valley of Northern Italy. One of its claims to fame is it is the home of the oldest university in the western world, the University of Bologna which dates back to 1088. In the 19th century, Bologna was once again under the sovereignty of the Papal States.

Bologna is one of the most developed cities in Italy, ranking as one of the top cities in terms of quality of life in Italy, due largely to its strong industrial tradition, its highly-developed social services, and its prominent location at the crossing-point of the most important highways and railways in the country. Bologna is a lively and cosmopolitan Italian college city, with a rich history, art, cuisine, music and culture. It was named "2000's European Capital of Culture."

Piazza Magiore is the main square. Here is a partial view of the Basilica di San Petronio, the facade of which remains unfinished.
On another side of the piazza is Palazzo d'Accursio.

Another view of Palazzo d'Accursio

My friend is showing me how these two iconic towers were constructed...

slanted and almost meeting at the tips, from one angle!

You can see that the problems started at the base...looks like over compensation for the unleveled ground.

We got to a crossroad and ended up shopping on Via Rizzoli

There were many churches, almost one in every corner.

The main church we visited was this, for a special exhibition on "Eucharistic Miracles" that have taken place in...

different parts of the world. The posters were hang on the metal grills in front of the side chapels, on both sides of the church.

I was very interested in this after having read the book authored by Bob and Penny Lord "Eucharistic Miracles" detailing and documenting some of the Eucharistic miracles that have happened, when the bread turned into flesh or blood - transubstantiation.

This part of the church, the wood panels, reminded me of the interior altar section at the Notre Dame de Paris, was for use by the priests for their vespers.
A beautiful wood-in-laid panel depicting the descent of the Holy spirit

The following morning, we looked out from our hotel window. It was almost lunchtime and we decided to have the famous Spaghetti Bolognes from where it originated, before heading back to Milan.

We found a restaurant serving Spaghetti Bolognese in this area. I ordered it. When It came, I was surprised that it had very little ground meat but more of a tomato sauce that flavored the pasta, and I had to asked for formaggio - Parmigiano Reggiano

INGREDIENTS for my recipe , as requested by my son - 
Alla Checca Pasta Sauce
1. 1 small clove of garlic, chopped or pressed
2. I small onion, coarsely chopped
3. 2 seeded tomatoes, diced
4. Coarsely chopped cilantro (instead of Basil)
5. 1 Tbsp. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
6. Salt and pepper to taste
Combine all ingredients and set aside.

INGREDIENTS for Bolognese Pasta Sauce
1. 1 clove of garlic, chopped
2. I small onion, coarsely chopped
3. 3/4 lb. (350 gms) of ground beef, 5% fat
4. 2 125 gm. cans tomato paste
5. 1 1/2 c. water
6. 1/2 c. red wine
7. 1 tsp. ground nutmeg
8. 1 tsp. sea salt and pepper to taste

Arrivederci, Bologna!

Wednesday, 27 May 2020

Holy Christ of Agony (Limpias Christo) at Iglesia de San Pedro in Cantabria, Santander, Spain

Some years ago, on a pilgrimage to Garabandal, Spain, we took a sidetrip to visit Iglesia de San Pedro (Church of St. Peter) in Cantabria, located in the area of Rucoba de LImpias, in Santander, Spain. In this village church, an image of the Holy Christ of Agony, or also known as Christ of Limpias, has been much venerated by pilgrims from all over the world.

The church was built at the beginning of the 17th century in late Gothic and Renaissance style, under the guidance of a master of the time - Francisco de Hazas. In 1664, a Baroque doorway was added to the structure.

The façade - which is made of limestone - was the work of Diego Vélez de Palacio. Next to the entrance door are two columns, one on each side. Above the columns are circular pediments with statues of St. Peter and St. Paul,  and at the center above the main door is Santiago (Saint James the Great, the brother of John the Apostle.
The façade of Iglesia de San Pedro, Cantabria
Prominent in the interior of the church are the three naves that are equal in height, with the center nave wider than the side ones. They are separated by cylindrical pillars that are covered with rib vaults.

On the altars are decorative and religious elements that date back from the 16th to the 18th century. The main altar piece - that of Christ of Limpias, made of polychrome wood carving with the Sorrowful Virgin Mary on one side and the apostle John on the other, in Rococo style dating back to 1777 - are Andalusian art works from either Cadiz or Seville.

On the side chapels, there are the statue of the archdeacon - Fernando de Palacio and the tomb of General Don Antonio Cirilo de Rivero in marble.

The main altar at the center of the three naves
The figures above the main altar are life-size, and the crucifix is believed to have been the work of Pedro de Mena, who passed away in 1693. In the course of time, the crucifix was given to the church by Fr. Diego de la Piedra Secadura, a native of Limpias who was born in 1916.

Jesus on the cross is a depiction of the suffering of our Lord in the final moments of his crucifixion. Measuring six feet tall, the body of our Lord is clothed with a loin cloth held in place by a rope. His feet are on top of each other, pierced by a single nail.
His index and middle fingers on both hands which are nailed to the cross look like He is giving a final blessing, with His eyes looking towards heaven.

Miracles have been attributed to this image of Christ since 1919. Here are some accounts as published in this website:

The First Miracle -The eyes of Jesus on the crucifix miraculously come alive

The first recorded miracle involving this crucifix took place in 1914, five years before the grand miracles of 1919. The recipient of the favor was Don Antonio Lopez, a monk belonging to the Order of the Pauline Fathers who conducted a college in Limpias. His entire account reads as follows:

“One day in the month of August, 1914, I went into the parish church of Limpias, by order of my friend D. Gregorio Bringas, to fix the electric light over the high altar. In order to be able to work more comfortably I put two large cases on the altar, and on them a ladder, the ends of which I leaned against the wall that serves as a background to the figure of the Crucified One.

"After I had worked for two hours, in order to rest myself a little I began to clean the figure so that it could be seen more clearly. My head was on a level with the Head of the Christ, and at a distance of only a couple of feet from it. It was a lovely day and through the window in the sanctuary a flood of light streamed into the church and lit up the whole altar. As I was gazing at the crucifix with the closest attention, I noticed with astonishment that Our Lord's eyes were gradually closing, and for five minutes I saw them quite closed.

"Overwhelmed with fright at such an unexpected spectacle, I could still hardly quite believe what I saw, and was about to come down from the ladder. Notwithstand¬ing, my bewilderment was so great that my strength suddenly failed me; I lost my balance, fainted, and fell from the ladder onto the edge of the altar itself and down the steps into the sanctuary.

"After I had somewhat recovered, I was convinced from where I lay that the eyes of the figure on the crucifix were still closed. I pulled myself together hastily and went out in order to relate what had happened, and also to be medically examined, for my whole body was in great pain from the fall.

"A few minutes after I had left the church I met the sacristan, who was just going to ring the Angelus, as it was twelve o'clock noon. When he saw me so agitated and covered with dust he asked if anything had happened to me. I told him what had occurred, whereupon he said he was not surprised as he had already heard that the Santo Cristo had closed His eyes on one other occasion, and that it was probably brought about by the working of some interior mechanism.

"I asked him to collect the tools together and to put away the ladder, and generally to tidy up everything again. Then when I reached the college I told the Fathers the whole of the above incident. I was examined, but no wounds were found on my body and no broken bones, only a few bruises of slight importance.

"Thinking that the movement I had observed in the eyes of the figure was to be attributed in any case to a mechanism, I attached no further importance to the vision, but tried, however, to find out on what occasion this fact had already been observed, but without success, as no one could give me any information whatsoever about the matter.

"Since then I have often cleaned the crucifix, and at the same time examined it minutely, and am convinced that there is neither a spring nor any other mechanism on it. What is more, the eyes were so firmly fixed that even by pressing hard with one's fingers they could not be made to move in the least, nor could they be turned in any direction, as I have proved myself again and again.”


Father Antonio Lopez wrote the above account of his experience at the request of his superiors, and then kept the matter to himself. It was only on March 16, 1920, a year after the many miracles of 1919, that the above declaration was made public.

When the miracles attributed to the image of the Holy Christ of Agony (Christ of Limpias) were happening, religious fervor among the village people and the surrounding areas was waning and the church was practically deserted. To bring the miracles to the attention of the local people, the parish priest - Rev. Thomas Echevarria organized a mission. He applied to the Capuchin monastery at Montehano, not too far from Santander, and he was assigned two priests - Friar Anselmo de Jalon and Friar Agatangelo de San Miguel - to help him out.

" On the last day of the mission, Sunday, March 30, while the Archpriest D. Eduardo Miqueli was celebrating Holy Mass, both missionaries were occupied in the confessional. Fr. Agatangelo, however, delivered the day's sermon based on the words, "My son, give me thy heart." (Prov. 23:26). While he was speaking, a girl of about 12 entered the confessional of Fr. Jalon and told him that the eyes of Christ on the cross were closed. Thinking that this was the product of the child's imagination, the priest ignored her claim until other children also came to him with the same message. After Fr. Agatangelo finished the address and was about to return to his confessional, Fr. Jalon approached him and told him of the children's claim. Both priests then looked at the crucifix but saw nothing unusual. Presently a man in the congregation shouted for everyone to look upon the crucifix. In a few moments the people confirmed with great excitement what the children had seen. Some of the people began crying, others shouted that they had seen a miracle, others fell to their knees in prayer while others called out to God for mercy.

"After the parish priest was called from the sacristy and was told that the eyes of the Crucified were opening and closing and that the figure was turning His gaze from side to side, he, too, fell on his knees to pray. But his prayer was soon interrupted by many of the people who declared that the figure was perspiring and that Fr. Jalon should climb up to the crucifix to verify it. When a ladder was produced, Fr. Jalon climbed up and saw that the perspiration covered the figure's neck and chest. After touching the neck, he looked upon his fingers that were wet with the fluid. As verification of what had taken place, he showed his moistened fingers to the congregation. Once again agitation and excitement gripped the people so that it was a long time before they were calmed.

"None of the priests saw the movements of the eyes, but Fr. Agatangelo later saw the miracle several times when he prayed alone in the church at night.
A report of all that had taken place was given by the Archpriest D. Eduardo to the bishop of Santander on April 2, 1919. This report was later published in the Boletin Eclesiastico of the diocese of Santander."
"The second set of public apparitions first took place on Palm Sunday, April 13, 1919, when two prominent men of Limpias approached the altar. Speaking of hallucination and mass hysteria as they looked upon the crucifix, one of them suddenly pointed upward and fell to his knees. At once the other man also fell to his knees, crying for mercy and proclaiming his belief in the miracle.

"The third apparitions took place on Easter Sunday, April 20, in the presence of a group of nuns known as the Daughters of the Cross who conducted a girls' school in Limpias. They saw both the eyes and lips of the Santo Cristo move. At this time some of their students also saw the miracle, as did a group of people who were reciting the Holy Rosary. Their experience was quickly reported to the parish priest. The manifestations were repeated almost daily from April 24."

Once again, the church came to life when the people from Limpias and the neighboring towns came after hearing about the miracles. 

Reverend Baron Von Kleist reports that:

“ 'Many said that the Saviour looked at them; at some in a kindly manner, and at others gravely, and at yet others with a penetrating and stern glance. Many of them saw tears in His eyes; others noticed that drops of blood ran down from the temples pierced by the crown of thorns; some saw froth on His lips and sweat on His body; others again saw how He turned His eyes from side to side, and let His gaze pass over the whole assembly of people; or how, at the Benediction, He made a movement of the eyes as if giving the blessing; how at the same time He moved the thorn-crowned head from one side to the other. Others had the impression that a deep, submissive sigh was wrested from His breast, some believed they saw Him whisper- in short, the most varied manifestations were observed on this crucifix.' ”

One of the prominent citizens to witness a miracle was Don Adolfo Arenaza. His testimony was published in the newspaper - La Gazeta del Norte (in Bilbao) - on May 5, 1919. Here is his account:

"He reported that he joined a procession going to Limpias in order to visit the crucifix. While looking through his field-glasses he saw the movement of the eyes four times. He further stated that it could not have been an effect of the light nor an hallucination, since people saw the miracle from all parts of the church. He then asked, "Does Our Lord really move His eyes ... I am rather of the opinion that He really does move them, for I have seen it myself."

The miraculous accounts had spread to all of Spain and in the United States. There was a journalist who was able to witness the movement of the eyes and the mouth of Jesus.

 “ 'I could perceive two movements of the jawbone, as if He were saying two syllables with His lips. I shut my eyes quite tight and asked myself: "What will He have said?" The answer was not long in coming, for in my innermost self I clearly heard the significant and blessed words, "Love Me!"

There were more than 8,000 testimonies given by people from all walks of life who had witness miracles of Christ of Limpias. 2,500 of these were sworn on oath.

A Capuchin monk - Fr. Celestino Maria de Pozuelo- in his report stated:
" ... The face presented a vivid expression of pain: the body was a bluish colour, as if it had received cruel blows, and was bathed in perspiration. . ."

Testimonies from more members of the religious:  
"Father Valentin Incio of Gijon tells that he visited Limpias on August 4, 1919 and joined a group of pilgrims who wen; witnessing the miracle. There were 30 to 40 people, two other priests, 10 sailors and a woman who was crying with emotion. Father Incio wrote:
“ 'At first Our Lord seemed to be alive; His head then preserved its customary position and His countenance the natural expression, but His eyes were full of life and looked about in different directions... Then His gaze was directed towards the centre, where the sailors stood, whom He contemplated for a long time; then He looked to the left towards the sacristy with a remarkably stern glance which He retained for some time. Now came the most touching moment of all. Jesus looked at all of us, but so gently and kindly, so expressively, so lovingly and divinely, that we fell on our knees and wept and adored Christ. .. Then Our Lord continued to move His eyelids and eyes, which shone as if they were full of tears; then He moved His lips gently as if He were saying something or praying. At the same time the above mentioned lady who was beside me, saw the Master trying to move His arms and striving to get them loose from the Cross.' Signing their names to this statement were the three priests, nine of the sailors and the lady."

" 'The Coadjutor of St. Nicholas Church in Valencia, Father Paulino Girbes, relates in his statement of September 15, 1919 that he was in the company of two bishops and 18 priests when they knelt before the crucifix:

" '... We all saw the face of the Santo Cristo become sadder, paler, and more bluish-looking. The mouth also was wider open than usual. The eyes gave a gentle glance now at the bishops and then in the direction of the sacristy. The features at the same time took on the expression of a man who is in his death-struggle. That lasted a long time. I could not restrain my tears and began to weep; the others were similarly affected..."

" 'Father Joseph Einsenlohr submitted his statement on June 18, 1921. After offering Holy Mass at the altar below the crucifix, he sat in the church to attend the Mass being offered by another priest. He wrote:

“ 'After the Santo Cristo moved His head and eyes for a certain time He began to pull at the shoulders, to writhe and to bend, as a man does when he is nailed alive to a cross. Everything was in motion, only the hands and feet remained nailed fast. In the end the whole body relaxed as if exhausted, then took up its natural position again with the head and eyes turned up in the direction of heaven. This whole scene of the dying Saviour lasted from the Sanctus until after the priest's Communion...' ”

" 'A Capuchin monk named Father Antonio Maria de Torrelavega visited the crucifix on September 11, 1919, he saw blood streaming from the left corner of Our Lord's mouth. The next day, he:

“ '.... observed anew, only still more frequently, the movement of the eyes, and saw, too, once more that blood was flowing down from the corner of the mouth ... Several times He also looked at me. Now I felt as if my whole being were shaken violently ... I stood up, therefore, and changed places three or four times, always observing, however, the same manifestations ... At about two o'clock, as I was kneeling in one of the central benches, I saw the Santo Cristo gazing at me again, and this so affected me that I had to hold on tight to the bench, as my strength was beginning to fail me ... I noticed that the countenance changed colour and became bluish and sad. Many other persons who were kneeling round me also observed this ... Now I verify it; there is no doubt the Santo Cristo moves His eyes. During my visit I saw the movement of the eyes about fifty times...' “

" 'Father Manuel Cubi, an author, lecturer and confessor of the Church del Pilar in Saragossa, Spain gave his statement on December 24, 1919. In the company of a group of people, he saw the Santo Cristo in a death agony.

“ '…One had the impression that Our Lord was trying to loosen Himself from the cross with violent convulsive movements; one thought to hear the death-rattle in His throat. Then He raised His head, turned His eyes, and closed His mouth. Now and then I saw His tongue and teeth ... For nearly half an hour He showed us how much we had cost Him, and what He had suffered for us during His abandonment and thirst on the cross.”

Statements from physicians who were, initially, skeptical and out to disprove the miracles and come up with scientific reasons to explain the "hysteria":

" A report made by Dr. Penamaria was published in the paper “La Montana” dated May, 1920. The doctor described what seemed to him to be "...a re-enactment of Christ's death on the Cross." He writes that after witnessing the movement of the statue's eyes and mouth, and after changing locations in the church to verify the miracle, he prayed for a more distinctive proof, something more extraordinary "... that would leave no scope to further doubt, and would give me positive grounds for His miracle, so that I might also proclaim it to all and sundry, and defend it against every opponent, even at the risk of losing my life." He then writes:
“This request seemed pleasing to Our Lord ... A moment later His mouth was twisted sharply to the left, His glassy, pain-filled eyes gazed up to heaven with the sad expression of those eyes that look and yet do not see. His lead-colored lips appeared to tremble; the muscles of the neck and breast were contracted and made breathing forced and laboured. His truly Hippocratic features showed the keenest pangs of death. His arms seemed to be trying to get loose from the cross with convulsive backward and forward movements, and showed clearly the piercing agony that the nails caused in His hands at each movement. Then followed the indrawing of a breath, then a second ... a third ... I do not know how many... always with painful oppression; then a frightful spasm, as with someone who is suffocating and struggling for air, at which the mouth and nose were opened wide. Now fol¬lows an outpouring of blood, fluid, frothing, that runs over the under-lip, and which the Saviour sucks up with His bluish, quivering tongue, that He slowly and gently passes two or three times in succession over the lower lip; then an instant of slight repose, another slow breath ... now the nose becomes pointed, the lips are drawn together rhythmically, and then extend, the bluish cheek-bones project, the chest expands and contracts vio¬lently after which His head sinks limply on His breast, so that the back of the head can be seen distinctly. Then ... He expires! . . . I have tried to describe in out¬line what I saw during more than two hours...”

" An extraordinary revelation was observed by Dr. D. Pedro Cuesta in August, 1920. The doctor first tells that he was in the company of a priest, a doctor and a married couple. In the morning, during Holy Mass, his companions saw the miraculous movements but he did not, even though he moved from one position in the church to another. That afternoon he was persuaded to return to the church and saw this astounding revelation.

" 'When I fixed my gaze for the third or fourth time on the figure I noticed that the fleshy parts entirely disappeared, so that only the skin still remained, a skeleton on which I could have made anatomical studies. The head was completely dried up, until it, like the skin that I had seen, totally vanished. After I had not seen the figure at all for some time it reappeared, but as if mummified, until later on it was also restored by degrees in its fleshy parts. Yes, I observed clearly the formation of a hypertrophy (enlargement) of the head, which then also extended to the remaining parts of the body. Each of these apparitions was repeated twice.

"At the last stage of the second development I could no longer control myself, but cried out in terror and fled out of the church. A cowardly fear had taken possession of me, whereas I had never before known fear-let my description not be set down to exaggeration ... I, who was never ill, thought I should die on the spot. The instinct of self-preservation drove me out of the church or I should have had to be carried out as a corpse. So I stumbled out of the church and confessed with my whole heart to the people standing outside: By my reputation as a physician and on my word of honour, I take my oath to what I state herewith, and which I will also certify and ratify with my blood."

"Dr. D.Eduardo Perez y Perez gives us a graphic medical report of what he saw on October 6, 1919:

“ 'As I was praying before the crucifix of the Santo Cristo, He looked at me lovingly for nearly a minute ... then Christ raised His head, which then remained in quite a peaceful attitude. The muscles of the neck relaxed ... the eyes were at the same time wide open and turned upwards ... there ensued a violent inhalation with straining of the muscles of the neck, whereby the musculus cleidomastoideus especially stood out, and furthermore the musculi pectorales, the scalenus anterior, and the accessory respiratory muscles, with a considerable dilation of the intercostal spaces, as in the case, for example at the last struggle after mortal wounds ... For a moment He appeared on the point of death ... then He resumed His customary expression, as the artist had given it to the figure ... I must add that during the whole of that afternoon I saw the figure a reddish colour. The following day it was a yellowish or lead colour, as with a dying person ...”

'There is also a report of a non-believer who was a medical student named D. Heriberto de la Villa. His testimony was published in the paper “Del Pueblo Astur” on July 8, 1919. He first strongly declares that: " ... auto-suggestion is quite out of the question, for I did not believe in the miracle when I went."

He later went into the church at the urging of a friend and saw the movement of the eyes and mouth. Doubting what he was seeing, he changed his location in the church to better study the movements and then saw the crucifix of Limpias:
“. . . gaze upon me with a terrible look full of anger, which makes me shudder, and I cannot help but bow my head ... I look up again and see how He is looking to the right, bowing His head, and turns it to the right, so that I can see the crown of thorns from behind ... Once again he turns on me the same angry look which makes such a deep impression upon me that I see myself obliged to leave the church."

Later that day he returned to the church and saw that,

“... little by little the breast and face became dark blue, the eyes move to the right and left, upwards and down, the mouth opens somewhat, as if He were breathing with difficulty. This I saw for fifteen to twenty minutes ... I also noticed that above the left eyebrow a wound formed, out of which a drop of blood flowed over the eyebrows, and remained stationary by the eyelids. After that I saw another drop of blood fall from the crown of thorns and flow over the face. I could distinctly discern it, for it was very red and contrasted with the dark blue colour of the face. Then I saw a quantity of blood drip from the crown of thorns onto the shoulder, but without touching the face. He opened His mouth wide, out of which a white matter like froth welled. At this moment a Dominican priest mounted the pulpit, whereupon Christ gazed steadily at him for five or six minutes ..."
"When the preacher ended with the words: "and now, Santo Cristo, give us Thy blessing," Christ opened His eyes and mouth, smiling, and bowed His head, as if He wished to give the benediction in reality. At this moment someone who was standing near me asked me if I would venture to swear on oath to what I saw ... Then I recognized that Christ wanted to prove to me the truth of what I saw; He opened His mouth again, out of which froth and blood streamed in great quantity and flowed out of the comers of the mouth quite distinctly ... Thereafter I believed that it was now my duty to swear upon oath to what I had seen, and I did so in the sacristy of the church.”

"As noted above, most of those who saw the miracle instinctively felt the need to change locations within the church in order to verify what they had witnessed. For some, the miracle took place the first time they entered the church, but might not have taken place sometime later. For others, the miracle did not take place the first time, but occurred later in the day. Some did not see the miracle at all. As one witness testified: "The fact that these manifestations are seen by some, by others not, cannot be explained by the laws that are prescribed for nature."

"The official position of the Catholic Church concerning the miraculous events at Limpias: Bishop Sanchez de Castro, the Bishop of Santander, in whose diocese Limpias belongs, introduced a canonical process on July 18, 1920 in which Rome was notified of the miraculous cures and manifestations. One year and one day later, a plenary indulgence was granted for a period of seven years to all the faithful who visit the holy crucifix.

-Lord Jesus Crucified, have mercy on us!

By 1921, it was estimated that the number of visitors who came to Limpias had exceeded the number of pilgrims who had visited Lourdes. Among them were members of the royalty, politicians, church dignitaries from foreign, Christian  nations. Today, pilgrims still come to Limpias, but in much smaller numbers.

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Ganges River, Varanasi, India

Varanasi - the Hindustani pronunciation, is also known as Banares, Banaras, or Kasha. It is the spiritual capital of India,  on the banks of the Ganges in Uttar Pradesh. It is considered as one of the sacred cities in Hinduism and Jainism. It played a very important role in the development of Buddhism. It is believed that Buddha founded Buddhism here in 528 BC when he gave his first sermon. It is one of the oldest, continually  inhabited cities in the world.

Located along the National Highway 2, Varanasi connects to several cities - Calcutta, Kanpur, Agra, Delhi, and served by the Varanasi junction and an international airport.

The religious importance of Varanasi continued to grow in the 8th century when Adi Shankara - a philosopher and theologian who is credited with defining the main current thoughts in Hinduism, consolidated the doctrine of Advaita Vedanta, which "refers to the recognition that the true Self (Atman), is the same as the highest Reality (Brahman)." Add established the worship of Shiva as an official sect in Varanasi, even while under Muslim rule, in the 8th century. The city remained as the center for culture and education among the Hindu intellectuals and theologians during the Middle Ages. 

Adi Shankar also pointed out the difference between Hinduism and Buddhism: Hinduism believes that the self (soul) exists, while Buddhism asserts that there is no soul, no self.

He established the important role of monastic life in the traditions of Upanishads and Brahma Sutra, founding four  mathas (monasteries) at a time when monasteries were considered obsolete. He organised the Dashanami monastic order and founded the Shanamata worship tradition. This contributed much to the revival and spread of Advaita Vedanta.

It grew to be an important commercial center famous for its muslin and silk fabrics. Much of the local population is is employed in silk weaving, carpet making, and in the tourism industry.

There are other prominent figures who were born here and were responsible for the Bhakti Movement - a movement that provided for an alternative view to spirituality, regardless of caste or gender. 

In 1507, Sikhism was founded by Guru Nanak Dev. A Sikh is a disciple. The fundamental tenets of this religion, in part, includes constant meditation of God's name upon a guru's guidance, living a "householder's life"  instead of in a monastery, with a duty to engage in "truthful action" and "selfless action" to others, to believe in the equality of all created beings, and to believe in God's grace.

Varanasi went through a cultural revival during the reign of the Muslim Mughal emperor, Akbar, in the 16th century. Modern Varanasi was built by the Maratha and Bhumihar kings in the 18th century.

Varanasi is closely associated to the  Ganges, with its many ghats - the embankments made with steps of stone slabs lying along the river bank, where the pilgrims go to perform  their ritual ablutions. The Hindus believe  that if they were to die in this city, they will earn their salvation, thus, making it a pilgrimage destination.
Tourists and locals, alike, filled up the streets on the way to the river.

Flower leis, leaves and fruits were for sale.

The Hinduism ritual we were about to witness is called Ganga Aarti. This artistic, symbolic ritual is held at the banks of the Ganges River. It is an intricate ceremony that involves the use of light and fire, different colors, textures, and performers who use hand gestures and body movements to the sounds of drumbeats and songs sung to praise the deity. This is symbolic of the religious worship of the holy river, the Ganges.

We are approaching the back of the center stage from which we were about to watch the ritual Ganga Aarti on the Dashawamedh Ghat.

 These are boats to rent, located to the left of Dashaswamedh Ghat

By boat, we went out at late afternoon to cruise along the river, to see all the activities going on, including the ritual of the dead, by the cremation site. At a certain distance, we were allowed to take pictures. But inspite of taking pictures according to the guidelines, our pictures came out distorted, even spooky,  as we were quickly shooting the proceedings.
 Maharika Ghat

Candles were floating on the river. It made for a solemn site.

By sunset, we sailed back as close as we could get to the riverbank.

The Ganga Aarti ritual began. This is held every night.

The drumbeats and songs set the tone and rhythm of this ritual worship.

Many, many boats were out on the river to watch the Ganga Aarti.
The next morning, we were back for another traditional practice - the sunrise ceremonies, a ritual where prayers are offered to the rising sun.
We are getting our supplies for the boat ride - flowers and candles. 

A boat had been reserved for us by our guide.

Our boat ride took us out.

The morning ceremonies began at early morning, on the Dashawamedh Ghat.  On our boat,  we headed into the river with fog cover, where only the street lights cast a reflection on the river, giving it a mysterious glow. 

Our boatman prepared our candles, by putting a wide base and decorated it with flowers all around the candle.
Then, we set our candles on the water as we said our prayers for our departed loved ones. 

And soon, the skies had cleared up and we were able to observe more about our surroundings, including something that was floating on the water that looked like a coconut. As it got near us, it turned out to be a dead, old man. My daughter freaked out. Our guide explained that it was no longer allowed for people to walk into the water to die, nor to bury or leave the dead in the river. For this, there are several cremation sites along the riverbank.

We caught a glimpse of the  early morning bathers who came from all over India, to clean and purify themselves in the water.

Boat-merchants were also plying the river.

Prayag Ghat

The locals also do their washing on the river and dry their clothes along the steps.

This was an interesting visit which gave me a better understanding of Hinduism and Buddhism, as practiced in India. It appears to me that Hinduism and Christianity may have some tenets of faith in common.

Thursday, 7 September 2017

Nuestra Señora de Soledad de la Porta Vaga, Cavite, Philippines

Back in the days when the Philippines was under Spanish rule, an event took place in the province of Cavite, outside of Manila. There is a narrative which involves a soldier from the Spanish Guardia Civil who was on duty at the little garrison at the port in Cavite, at the Vaga Gate. 

It was a stormy night when the Spaniard noticed a bright light arising from Cañacao Bay. Startled, he immediately concluded that it was coming from a pirate ship that was coming to attack the port. But soon, the light came towards him. Alarmed, he commanded it to stop. As it continued to come towards him, he asked who it was: 
"¿Quién vive?" (Who is there?) 
With a sweet voice, the answer came: 
"Sodadito, ¿for qué el alto me das en niche tan friars? Dame paso. ¿No canoces a Maria? (Little soldier, why do you halt me in this night so cold" Give me passage. Do you not know Mary?")
"Perdoname, Virgen Maria, Reina de mi Devoción. Pues, solo soy un soldado que cumplo mi obligación." (Forgive me, Virgin Mary, Queen of my Devotion, I am but a soldier who complies with my duty.)

The next day, at the break of dawn, some fishermen and workers at the Cavity Royal Arsenal who passed through the Vaga Gate, discovered a framed image of the Virgin Mary on the beach, near the apparition site the night before. They picked it up and brought it to the parish priest, who temporarily enshrined it in the parish church. In time, the Ermita de Porta Vaga (Chapel of Vaga Gate) was built right along the walls of the port. The image of Our Lady stayed here for three centuries and this became known as the shrine of Our Lady of Solitude of Porta Vaga.

The  Ermita de Porta Vaga (Chapel of Porta Vaga), along the walls of the Cavite Port -  the original shrine of Our Lady of Solitude of Porta Vaga, c. 1899. 

In 1929, a new parish priest - Fr. Pedro Lerena - from Logroño, Spain, arrived and was assigned at the Cavite Port and became the restorer of the Ermita. Through the years, he worked towards the beatification of Our Lady of Porta Vaga and the beautification of the chapel. 

Sadly, during WWII, the Japanese Imperial Army had occupied the Philippines and disrupted life for the Filipinos. Fr. Larena found the image of Our Lady of Porta Vaga which had thrown in a junkyard. Upon its retrieval, the image was brought to the Arzobispado (Archbishop's Palace) in Intramuros, just before it was left at the Philippine National Bank's vault for safekeeping.

After the liberation of the Philippines from Japanese occupation in 1945, the image was brought back to Cavite, at the San Roque Church. By this time, the Ermita had been bombarded and destroyed in the course of WWII. Fr. Lerena remained as the guardian of the icon util his death in 1972
The icon is  crowned and ensconced in a silver frame, and clothed in a black and silver manto

It came to be known as Nuestra Señora de la Soledad de Porta Vaga (Our Lady of Solitude of Porta Vaga), or commonly referred to as Our Lady of Porta Vaga. She is the Patroness of the province of Cavite. The devotion to Our Lady by the Caveiteños is one of the oldest in the Philippines.

Several other titles have been given to her: Queen of Cavite (Reina de Cavite); Exalted Patroness of the Celestial Guardian and Protectress of the Province of Cavite and its Port (La Excelsa Patrona y la Celestial Guardiana y Protectora de la Provincia de Cavite y su Puerto). She also was the "Patroness of the Galleons," as the icon was used to bless the galleons during the trading days between Cavite and Acapulco, Mexico. Many miracles had been attributed to Our Lady, thus, she also was known as "The Virgin of Thousand Miracles."

It was on November 17, 1978, when the icon of Nuestra Señora de Soledad de la Porta Vaga thanks to the efforts of Msgr, Baraquel Monica - former parish priest of San Roque, and Bishop Felix Pérez of the Diocese of Imus - was canonically crowned by the Apostolic Nuncio to the Philippines - Bruno Torpigliani, D.D., at a high mass that was held at the Binondo Church. This was the first Marian image crowned under the pontificate of St. John Paul II.

The icon that was much venerated was stolen on March 16, 1984. After several months, it was recovered stripped of ornamentation, on the Feast of the Assumption on August 15, 1984. To the credit of her devotees, the icon was restored and re-enshrined in the altar in a joyful celebration.

There are several accounts of miracles attributed to Our Lady of Port Vaga. Firstly, her miraculous arrival on the port in Cavite. Then, while she was enshrined at Ermita de Porta Vaga, there was a typhoon in 1856. A fire that was caused by lightning that struck the wooden altar leveled the chapel down to the ground. Among the ashes, was found undamaged, was Our Lady of Porta Vaga. 

Counted among her devotees were sailors. On one stormy night, on June 30, 1857, there was a Spanish Frigate - the Lucero - based in Cavite, that  ran aground along the coast of Albay. With the low tide and the absence of a strong breeze in the following days, the frigate remained stuck for more than three weeks, at which time, the provisions were running low. One of the crewmen took our Our Lady's picture and invited his fellow crewmen to pray for her intercession. 

On a full moon, one evening, la Virgen de la Soledad appeared before them. As the crewmen got down on their knees, the tide began to rise and a breeze came, enabling the frigate to float from its trapped position, enabling it to return to the port in Cavite. Back on land, the sailors went to the Ermita to give their thanks.

In 1882, a cholera epidemic had taken its toll on the Caviteño population. The epidemic was brought under control by mid-October after gun powder was burned on the streets, under the order of the Spanish military governor of Cavite - Don Juan Salcedo y Mantilla delos Rios. However, the governor himself got afflicted.

As the governor was about to take his nap, one afternoon, he heard a persistent knocking on the door. Previously, he had given order to not be disturbed. As he opened the door, and old woman dressed in black asked him to celebrated the forthcoming fiesta with much flare. Salcedo hurriedly agreed.

Right after the old lady left, the governor called his soldiers to reprimand them for letting the lady through. When the guards replied that they did not see any lady, Salcedo quickly realized that his visitor must have been the Blessed Mother. And instantly, he was cured.
Through the years, more miracles of physical healings, families reunited, or problems solved - through the intercession of Ntra. Señora de Soledad de la Porta Vaga - have been reported.

A replica of Our Lady of Solitude of Porta Vaga is on a holy tour
 ... and she stopped-over to be venerated at the Sto. Niño de Paz Chapel, located at Greenbelt Park, Ayala Center, Makati City,   from August 27 to September 3, 2017.
 The story of the miraculous apparition of the icon in the vernacular - Tagalog
The prayer to Our Lady of Porta Vaga in Tagalog
A closer look at the icon, shows the Virgin Mary dressed in Black with white, mourning, kneeling as she contemplates the various objects used by her Son during the Passion - the crown of thorns and the nails. The icon is a painting on canvass - embellished with gold and silver,  and precious gems that were given by devotees in order to fulfill a vow,  beautifully, framed in carved wood. 
 An ornately embroidered velvet cape drapes behind the painting.

The icon is considered as the oldest existing painting of the Virgin Mary in the Philippines. On the reverse side, there is an inscription that reads - 
" A doze de Abril 1692 años Juan Oliba puso esta Stma, Ymagen Haqui." (on April 12, 1692, Juan Oliba placed this most holy image here.)

The original icon is unde the guardianship of the Confradia de la Virgen de la Soledad de la Porta Vaga. The confraternity was founded on November 17, 1998. They continue to bring bring her to us, to spread the devotion to Mary. 


Porta vaga.jpg
Original Bejeweld Painting of Our Lady of Solitude of Porta Vaga

During the First Saturday Devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, the original icon in Cavite is exposed for veneration. It starts with the recitation of the rosary and the novena prayer at 11:00 in the morning, and a Misa de la Reina follows. The confraternity meets, thereafter, to discuss plans to continue spreading the devotion to Our lady of Porta Vaga. Her feast day is celebrated on the 2nd and 3rd Sundays of November.

Thanks to her visit at the Greenbelt Chapel, I got the chance to meet her. I am renewed in believing that Our Lady really cares about us as she continues to appear in other parts of the world, to this day.


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