Piecing together the Dolorosa's Past
A collection of stories from my relatives about our Family's image of the Mater Dolorosa, or Mary as the Sorrowful Mother
No one in the family can ascertain the exact age or time when the image was made (moreover who commissioned the image and who sculpted the image.) This is the image's greatest mystery. One of my Lola's assumes that the image is around 150 years old (although the term she used was 1500, I corrected it to 150 because 1500 years is somewhat highly improbable) since the image originally belonged to the mother of her mother, my great grandmother.
How the image ended up with my Family
The image used to belong to the whole family or clan of the mother of my great grandmother (I am intentionally leaving off names), but was under the care of one side of their family. There came a time when this side of the family decided to ignore the responsibility of having the image participate in the town's Holy Week procession and instead kept the image inside the "kamalig" or granary. The mother of my great grandmother, infuriated with this deliberate and willful disobedience of their family's obligation to the church and to the town, took the image from the "kamalig" and ensured the image participates in the procession. That's how the image ended up with our side of the family. Sometime in the 80's or 90's a claim was made by the side of the family who kept the image inside the "kamalig." They want the image back since our family seems incapable to ensure the image's participation during the Holy Week procession. My family never agreed to return the image back to them. We have been able to ensure her yearly participation from the time of the mother of my great grandmother up to that time (and up until now). As my Lola puts it, "Through good times and bad times, by hook or by crook, one way or another...the image will surely be part of San Jose's Holy Week processions."
I remember when I was a child one of my uncles was telling us that someone will take away the image from us, he said that our great grandmother ran off with the image...that we are not the rightful owners. No matter what may be said about how the image ended up with my side of the family, in our hearts and in our minds we know we are the rightful owners of the image. And our devotion and dedication to the image will continue to be passed on generation after generation.
Going back to the question of the image's age. my other Lolo's and Lola's cannot really provide an exact figure, and would not even attempt to give one. Instead they usually answer back with a memory they have of the image. Most common of these (with parallel stories among the siblings) are the following:
The Virgin's Miracle during the bombings of WWII
One of my Lola's recounted that in our neighborhood miraculously only their Family
remained intact, their parents and the 8 siblings lived through the war amidst the
heavy bombings the Poblacion suffered (although I am wondering why completely destroy San Jose, there are far more important towns in Bulacan to destroy like Malolos, not sure if these suffered the same casualties and destruction as San Jose...need to brush up on my history) and the fires that ensued soon after. The house they used to lived in was a huge two storey house made of wood with huge yakal foundations. Death was everywhere, even on both sides of their house but their family and their house miraculously was spared. More amazingly, only their house remained standing after the bombings. This miraculous deliverance from the onslaught of bombs was attributed to the protection of the Blessed Virgin, through the image of the Dolorosa.
One of my Lolo's provided a more chilling account of the experience. He was with his brother (the younger male sibling) on the other side of the brook at the far end of their yard when the bomber planes came and the sirens sounded off. They immediately rushed back home only to see Poblacion engulfed in flames except for their house which miraculously remained steadfast. His younger brother although survived the attack was wounded by shrapnels flying all over the place as bombs came down one after another. He further added a lot of their neighbors died and were buried underneath their house. Another story from one of my Lola's, in relation to this, tells how they dug holes to dump bodies given the number of casualties. They never left behind the image amidst the threat and danger surrounding them or rather, the image, Mama Mary never left them behind during this troublesome time.
Time caught up with the house and was no longer considered livable. Renovating was out of the question given that the yakal foundation proved difficult to fix (even drive nails into). The children got married and lived separately with their new families. Eventually the house was demolished and in place of the once huge wooden structure was a garage for the image's carroza. This is one thing that remained, the devotion to the Dolorosa, the commitment to ensure that she participates in Poblacion, San Jose Del Monte's Holy Week procession.
Promise Made Promise Broken
The original hands of the Dolorosa were clasped as well (comparing to the current hands used) but unlike her hands now, you can detach it from its clasped position and have two separate pieces (left hand and right hand). There came a time when the fingers of the original hands got broken. My great grandfather promised the image that if he wins the lottery (sweepstakes) he will have the hands fixed. It was December when the good news came, they indeed won a sizable amount of money. My great grandfather bought a horse (another version mentions of a bicycle), a lot of food given it was the holiday season and whatever they wanted to buy...but still the hands of the image were not fixed...the prize money by this time was almost completely spent...come New Year, my great grandfather bought a lot of firecrackers to welcome the new year with a bang...he did get the bang he wanted...unfortunately on his hands...the fingers that were amputated from his hands matched the broken fingers on the image's hands. A new set of hands were immediately commissioned. My great grandfather loved the image until his death. Another mystery surrounds the current whereabouts of the image's original hands...
Here are other stories I heard from my relatives as they recounted the memories they have of the image. One of my Lola was saying that we should already start getting all the details about the image before all the old members of the family passes away...which I am doing right now (fortunately all are still alive, probably another miracle of the Virgin, granting the siblings long life)...unfortunately they cannot provide more accurate detail and for most parts I am left with bits and pieces of stories which I have to put together.
My great grandmother loved the image so much that she even bathes the image regularly.
Miracle of the Fire
Before plastic flowers were used to decorate the carroza of the Dolorosa, paper flowers were used to decorate the andas (which according to my Tita, when she was young she used to accompany our great grandmother to Quiapo to buy these...) To light the andas they used "gazera's" or "liquid gas lamps". One time, the one in charge to look after the andas got distracted and did not do what was expected of her, for some reason, the flames from the lamp spread out burning the paper flowers and the andas...miraculously the image remained unharmed...not a single damage or burn mark...
The Brightest of them All
One of my lola recounts that during the days when the image was still processed on an andas, her lamps shone brightly, radiantly...darkness was cast aside by the light emanating from the andas. It was a very beautiful sight to see.
Typical of the olden times, the Dolorosa used to own a land of her own wherein 10% of the harvest or earnings from that plot of land were used to fund for all the expenses during the Holy Week (food, flowers, new set of garments etc). Eventually this land was sold. My great grandmother a kind soul during her lifetime freely shared her inherited land with the rest of her family, cousins and all. Eventually all her land in San Jose were lost as well, what remained is the lot where the garage of the carroza now stood. One of my Lola's recalled that their house before extended until the brook (further back of the garage) and across the houses of our neighbors to our right (present day). Our great grandmother used to also own the lands near the Parish. One of her sisters asked to borrow the land title as a guarantee, but the title was never returned. Later on it was found out that the land got sold as well.
My Lolo's and Lola's never claimed they were rich. I guess they were a family of farmers who tilled their own land, planted crops on their own land and benefited from the produce of their own land; and was living beyond what was considered average at that time (they can afford to live in a huge 2-storey house) thus enabling them the distinction to be the owner of the town's Dolorosa (history dictates that key Holy Week characters were assigned to important families during those times).
The next stories I heard were about how remarkable a woman my great grandmother was, doing everything she can to ensure she earns a decent living for her family, from selling fans and hats to tourists; to selling lugaw or goto. She is very frugal and saves money whenever she can (another mystery surrounds the whereabouts of the original "resplenador" or metal rays around the face of the image which is said to be made of old coins saved by my great grandmother). I can only deduce that before the war they lived comfortably, after the war everything changed. The extensive lands were gone, their original house in Poblacion was gone...change became inevitable and they have to make do with what they have left to survive. But in the end, I can say my family continuously remains to be blessed. Keeping this tradition is no easy feat physically and financially and yet year after year we manage to fulfill our promise and obligation. The original image stands about a meter tall, as the years go by and as my Tita's jokingly puts it, "the image is now rich" that's why during Holy Week she uses another mannequin body with legs (the original body is of the bastidor type) which measures up to approximately 1.4 m, has fresh flowers for carroza decoration and a vast collection of wardrobe to choose from for use during Holy Week not to mention the crowns and other jewelries used to adorn the image.
I never knew my great grandmother. She died when I was relatively young. I remembered her as a very thin old woman who always wear socks, with kayumanggi skin and long black hair and likes to sleep on the sofa in my Lola's house. Although I can still remember the night she died, we were having dinner...suddenly everyone stopped eating and there was crying...now I wish I had that chance to talk to my great grand Lola, Lola Ele as she was lovingly called by her grandchildren and ask her these questions about the image. "AM" stands for Ave Maria, which also stands for Angelica Maiquez or as we lovingly call her, Lola Ele. In a few weeks time is her death anniversary.
Here's the oldest photograph I have so far, taken sometime in the late 70's. She
already has her own carroza by this time. I saw a sepia photograph once wherein the eldest sibling was fixing the Dolorosa on top of what looked like a carroza but now I believe was an andas. I never saw this photograph again.
Here's the Dolorosa's original hair. Looks like abaca but feels like Jusi. One of my Lola keeps this in her purse all the time and claims that this relic has gotten her through the different challenges she faced in her life. Hmmmm no wonder no one is owning up to the whereabouts of the original hands. I guess I should start making my claim for the original bastidor body (kidding).
See related article: Back to the 80's and 90's