Thousands welcome La Naval de Manila to the UST campus last January. Photo by JILSON SECKLER C. TIU

ONE OF the reasons why UST has lasted for four centuries is the unending grace from its unending devotion to the Blessed Mother.

The high point of the “Velada Tomasina” last Jan. 25 was the procession around campus of UST’s new image of Our Lady of the Rosary of La Naval, the miraculous icon credited for warding off foreign invaders in 1646. Banners imprinted with images of the saints of the Dominican Order preceded the La Naval.

In keeping with the turn-of-the-century mood, the faithful prayed the rosary in Spanish during the hour-long procession that started from the Quadricentennial Pavilion. Thomasians wore period formal attire, complete with black veils for women.

Officials said the event commemorated the processions held at Intramuros—UST’s original home—in 1907 for the canonical coronation of the image of La Naval, and 1911 for UST’s tricentennial.

The University, which was originally founded as Colegio de Nuestra Señora del Santisimo Rosario, is under the special patronage of the Blessed Mother, making all Thomasians “Marians.”

Floor director Tonton Africa, professor at the Conservatory of Music, said organizers were overwhelmed with the number of Thomasians who participated in the procession, as they only requested for 100 students per college.

Chemical Engineering freshman Gene Fernandez said he took part because of the event’s historical importance. Micolo Palma, a second-year student from the College of Tourism and Hospitality Management, said that the procession showed a glimpse of the history of La Naval. “Although we were not required to join the procession, I still wanted to attend,” Palma said.

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The procession passed by Quezon Drive, Albert Drive, and Osmeña Drive before culminating at the Plaza Mayor.

Origin of the devotion

Last Dec. 6, UST welcomed back the centuries-old image of Our Lady of La Naval for a “Quadricentennial visit,” underscoring the Thomasian community’s devotion to the rosary. The overnight visit of the image—brought by motorcade from Sto. Domingo Church in Quezon City —was capped by the blessing of the newly constructed “Rosarium” prayer area at the right side of the Main Building.

The Sampaloc campus was home to La Naval from 1942 to 1954, following the destruction of the old Sto. Domingo Church in Intramuros with the bombing of Manila during World War II. It was transferred to its permanent home on Oct. 10, 1954 with the construction of the new Sto. Domingo in Quezon City. The last time the miraculous image went to UST was nearly two decades ago, when La Naval de Manila was brought to the campus by a procession from Quezon City. This was to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the transfer of the image to UST from the old Sto. Domingo in Intramuros.

The feast of Our Lady of La Naval is celebrated every second Sunday of October in commemoration of the miraculous victories of Spanish Philippines in naval battles against Dutch invaders.

In 1646, 18 well-armed Dutch ships reached the Philippine islands to lead an invasion. The Philippines launched only two old galleons to fight the Dutch forces, and was clearly at a disadvantage. Spaniards and Filipinos turned to Our Lady of the Rosary for help, promising to walk barefoot to Sto. Domingo Church if they emerged victorious. They won five times in what was later called the Battle of La Naval.

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Had Dutch forces defeated the Spaniards, the result would have been the unification of the Philippines and Indonesia under one colonizer. “[W]e could have not been Catholics if the Philippines was colonized by the Dutch,” said Augusto de Viana, chairman of the Department of History.

The Cathedral Chapter of the Archdiocese of Manila proclaimed the victories of the Spanish and Filipino troops aboard “Encarnacion” and “Rosario” miraculous in 1662. Oral and written testimonies of eye-witnesses attested to the Virgin’s aid.

“It’s a miracle, because how can you explain that a numerically inferior force managed to defeat a superior force?” De Viana said.

The image of La Naval was sculpted by a Chinese artisan upon request of then acting Governor General of the Philippines Don Luis Perez Dasmariñas. The head, hands, and the Holy Child of the 56-inch-tall image are all made of ivory.

In 1907, UST took charge of collecting donations for the canonical coronation of La Naval, the first Philippine Marian image bestowed of such honor. Aside from two star brooches, UST took liberty of embellishing the crown with precious colored stones, which stood for the different colleges and faculties of the University.

The deeds of donation were signed by the UST rector; secretary general; deans of Law, Medicine, and Pharmacy; and 36 professors from Law, Pharmacy, and Medicine on Sept. 7, 1907 after the prior of Sto. Domingo Convent received the crown for the canonical coronation.

A dedication on the inside brace of the crown states: “Real y Pontifica Universidad de Santo Tomas, Manila/ los Professores a su Patrona la Santissima Virgen del Rosario en su Coronacion/ 5 de Octubre de 1907 (The Royal and Pontifical University of Santo Tomas, Manila/ the Professors to their Patroness the Most Holy Virgin of the Rosary on her Coronation/ 5 October 1907).” James Bryan J. Agustin and Gervie Kay S. Estella

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