Each September, Bicolanos celebrate the Peñafrancia Festival, a religious festival held in honor of the Feast of Our Lady of Peñafrancia, the most revered patroness highlighted by the fluvial procession of the Lady’s image down the Bicol River. This week-long-celebration includes civic-military parade, sports festivals, exhibits, cultural shows, beauty pageants and colorful competitions. Peñafrancia Festival is the grandest Marian Celebration in the Philippines. Marian devotees and Bicolanos from different parts of the world unite in faith to manifest their great devotion to the beloved “Ina” or “Mother” – the Our Lady of Peñafrancia.
Our Lady of Peñafrancia is a wooden statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary copied from the one in Peña de Francia (Salamanca, Spain). Tens of thousands of pilgrims, devotees, and tourists come to Naga City – also known as the Pilgrim City and the Queen City of the Bicol region – in the Philippines every September for a nine-day festivity. The shrine in Naga gathers more than two million devotees every year and is also one of the biggest Marian Pilgrimage Sites in Asia. The Peñafrancia fiesta starts on the second Friday of September when the miraculous Ina (Mother) is transferred from her shrine to the centuries-old Naga Metropolitan Cathedral where a nine-day novena and prayers are held in her honor. The image is carried in a pagoda (similar to a boat) accompanied by Bicolano faithful men going back to its basilica while people shout “Viva La Virgen!”. After that, a Pontifical Mass is followed. The weight of the image is moved through the help of male devotees or “voyadores” and they walk on the pavement, shoeless and with colored banners on their heads or arms. On the side of the streets and river, they say the novenas and pray the rosary. Only faithful male devotees are on board the pagoda because there’s a superstitious belief (others call it coincidence but any Bicolano will swear to high heavens) that the presence of a woman, Filipina or foreigner aboard the decorated pagoda will surely spell disaster.
The devotion started three hundred years ago, in 1710, when Fr. Miguel Robles de Covarrubias had an image carved, a chapel built and processions held in honor of the miraculous image. The devotion has grew and has even reached abroad. Devotees’ accounts of healing and favors received through Her intercession are a reason for the spread of the devotion. Many have come to Naga as curious visitors and left as devotees of the Virgin.