Monday, February 26, 2018
Tuesday, February 20, 2018
What is it about us that we all seem to have a need for heroes? I don’t just mean the super-heroes that come out of Marvel and Hollywood, but real-life heroes – those we can look up to and admire in some way.
If you were to do a Google search of “Philippines, hero” you would find that one name crops up over and over again: that of José Rizal, who is generally considered the greatest Filipino hero ever, and often trotted out as THE Philippine national hero, even though he has never been explicitly proclaimed as such by the Philippine government (though they are, apparently, still thinking about it!).
José Protasio Rizal Mercado y Alonso Realonda, to give him his full name, was a Filipino nationalist who lived in the latter half of the 19th century, during the tail end of the Spanish colonial period of the Philippines. Though he was an ophthalmologist by profession, Rizal became a writer and a key member of the Filipino Propaganda Movement which advocated political reforms for the colony under Spain. He was executed by the Spanish colonial government for the crime of rebellion, after the Philippine Revolution – inspired in part by his writings – broke out.
So it is no surprise that anywhere that can be linked with Rizal in any way whatsoever has been turned into some kind of national shrine; and the two most prominent are where he was born (Calamba) and where he died (Intramuros).
Not sure where Calamba is? Maybe this map will help, helpfully displayed inside the museum. Manila is in the top left of the picture and Calamba is just to the left of where it says Laguna on what looks like a root of ginger, which depicts the local lakes.
The museum is but a stone’s throw from Calamba’s town plaza and parish church and is actually a replica of the house where Rizal was born on 19 June 1861. The seventh child and second son of Francisco Mercado and Teodora Alonso, Rizal regularly recalled his childhood home in Calamba, longing for it ‘like a weary swallow’ while he was travelling in Europe.
Unfortunately, because of a land dispute with the Dominican friars, the Rizal family was evicted from this home in 1890 and the house soon fell into disrepair and was demolished. The present structure was erected in 1950 by National Artist Juan F. Nakpil from funds donated by schoolchildren.
Maybe it’s because I’m not Filipino, but as a museum I found this place distinctly underwhelming, albeit that the house is very impressive. If you are not familiar with Rizal, you are going to have to do a lot of work here to learn anything much about his life and times. The museum appears fixated, for instance, on displaying quotes from his writings – deep, and meaningful stuff such as “It has been said that love has always been the most powerful force behind the most sublime actions”. Wow… dynamic or what?
There are also posters such as this one that depict birds in Rizal’s reminiscences. Hmmm…
The house itself is of two storeys and is made from stone with narra wood floors, and has capiz shell windows (an important cultural icon in the Philippines, using shells from the ‘windowpane oyster’ – placuna placenta – that have been used for thousands of years as a glass substitute because of their durability and translucence). There is also a library, dining room, three bedrooms, a kitchen and pantry leading out to a balcony. Located on the ground floor were the servants’ quarters, workroom, and a storeroom for food supplies. The backyard was planted with various fruit trees, which Rizal frequently mentioned in his writings: atis, santol, tampoy, makopa, plum, balimbing, and kasuy. A small nipa hut served as the young Jose’s hideaway.
Here. For instance, is the 'antesala' – used as a library and guest dining room.
This is the bedroom of the brothers Paciano and José. The blurb tells us that it is small and has a single bed made of narra wood. It also has a marble-topped table and a wash basin. What we are left guessing is whether the two brothers shared the bed, took it in turns (while the other slept on the floor perhaps?) or whether there was actually more than one bed, but that the museum couldn’t afford to put in a second one.
The blurb-signs go on to tell us that here is the bedroom of Jose's nine sisters. Like their brothers' bedroom, this room is small and has a single bed made of narra wood. We can also see here the authentic sewing machine owned by Saturnina.
Well I doubt you could get nine beds into this one room, so I am even more intrigued now about the Rizal family’s sleeping arrangements!
Relatives and close friends were received in the living room. There were usually two or three sets of furniture, although as there is no extant record of the actual furniture arrangement, the set up here is based on that found in other houses of the same vintage as the original Rizal-Mercado house.
Rizal was born in his parents' bedroom, where you can find furniture such as the matrimonial bed, a rack (for pillows, mosquito nets, and mats), an altar and a chair.
At the top of the stairs, the museum staff have seen fit to install a TV screen, that not only seems a daft place to watch TV, but is almost certainly unlike any TV the Rizal family could have dreamt of owning!
But from the upstairs windows, there is a good view of the gardens, with their manicured lawns, where the remains of Francisco Mercado and Teodora Alonso are now buried.
According to Valentina Sanchez, the family cook, Jose's favourite meals included relleno (green chilli pepper stuffed with minced meat and coated with eggs), adobo (cuisine that involves meat, seafood, or vegetables marinated in vinegar, soy sauce, garlic, and black peppercorns – widely considered to be the unofficial national dish of the country), estofado (stewed pork with beans, carrots and banana), puchero (stewpot) and tinola (soup-based dish served as an appetizer or main entrée in the Philippines). Carne asada (grilled beef, cooked with a certain amount of searing to impart a charred flavor) was his absolute favourite.
In the kitchen, Doña Teodora Alonzo apparently loved to cook sweets, sausages, shrimp paste and pickles, which she sold in a small store downstairs.
But the room that gets most people posing for a selfie has to be the family loo – or CR, as the Filipinos insist on calling it. Why a hole in a plank of wood should draw so much attention – especially when you consider that Rizal’s situpon never actually graced this particular loo seat – is anyone’s guess. But it’s somehow nice to imagine our super-hero as being a little “human” after all, don’t you think?
The family bathroom, however, is hardly alluring in any way whatsoever, I fear; and few people were wanting their photos taken here!
One thing we do know about young Rizal is that he had sticking out ears – that is if his self portrait is anything to go by.
I guess we could also work out his shoe size too, from this old pair of his socks that are on display in the museum.
His top hat is also on display… He obviously wasn’t big headed (British humour… sorry!)
As for this pair of long-johns he wore, I’m not sure what one can deduce from this. And in a country as hot as the Philippines why would anyone be wearing undergarments like this anyway? Could they have been used by him when he visited Europe? Alas we are not told.
There’s also a display of bank notes with José Rizal’s mug shot on them. Here is the 1916 ₱2 bank note, for instance. Rizal’s portrait regularly featured on ₱2 notes from then on, when they were in circulation.
There’s also all-manner of medals and medallions featuring our hero.
But I somehow feel that these ‘I ♥ Rizal’ badges verge on necrophilia, and certainly I have yet to see anyone in the Philippines proudly sporting them.
Super-heroes are one thing. But one must surely draw the limit somewhere!
I often think that those who have real faith are lucky. It must be comforting to ‘know’ that there is always something somewhere keeping an eye on things and looking after you; someone who can step in when things go bad and make things right again.
But I’m an old cynic and have always found it difficult to understand the lure of the church, and of religion, and of relying on a spirit to take care of me in my hours of need. And yet…
I was recently taken to a national Catholic shrine in Batangas, south of Manila. It was devoted to Saint Padre Pio – someone whom I had hardly even heard of. Yet Padre Pio has become one of the world's most popular saints, with more than 3,000 ‘Padre Pio Prayer Groups’ worldwide. A 2006 survey by the magazine Famiglia Cristiana found that more Italian Catholics pray to Padre Pio for intercession than to any other figure.
As far as I am aware he never ever went to the Philippines, yet apart from in his home country of Italy, there are shrines dedicated to Padre Pio not only in New Jersey, in the USA, but also here in Santo Tomas, Batangas.
The shrine in Batangas is only around a decade old and is a right hotch-potch of the uplifting and the downright tacky, depending on your point of view. For instance, some might think these street lamps are veering on the side of tackiness, though I have to admit I quite like them.
Padre Pio was born Francesco Forgione in a town in the southern Italian region of Campania in May 1887. He was given the name of Pius (Italian: Pio) when he joined the Capuchin Order of Friars. He became famous for exhibiting stigmata for most of his life – from the age of 31 until he died at 81 – and was both beatified (1999) and canonized (2002) by Pope John Paul II.
Pio is said to have lost up to a cup of blood every day. But surrounded in controversy throughout his life, the debate rages on even now, after a book published in 2011 by Italian historian Professor Sergio Luzzatto relates how a letter, from a pharmacist who arranged the delivery of carbolic acid to Pio, was discovered in the Vatican’s archives. Luzzatto suggests it was the corrosive acid that caused the bleeding on the saint's hands. He also said that many Popes had expressed doubts and suggested the Vatican only canonised Pio because of public pressure.
Luzzatto’s claims were dismissed by the Catholic Anti-Defamation League in 2007, with a stiff rejoinder that according to Catholic doctrine, canonisation carries with it papal infallibility! (It must be great never to be wrong about anything!)
Locals of San Giovanni Rotondo, where he lived, have accorded him a position only just below that of the Virgin Mary. He apparently displayed persuasive powers of conversion, healed the sick and could prophesy the future. Followers also believe he had the gift of 'bilocation' – the ability to be in two places at once.
Perhaps, when all is said and done, it doesn’t actually matter if he had such mystical powers or not. It’s a well known medical fact that a positive attitude helps in the cure of illnesses – that one’s own psychosomatic powers can make a huge difference to one’s chances of recovery. If you have a strong faith to add to that feeling of positivity, this could well explain many of the cases reported of people regaining their health after visiting Padre Pio.
So back to this shrine in Batangas. Almost the first thing that you see ahead of you is the Mother of Mercy bell tower, which you can go up if you have a mind to.
The structure of the main church is made mostly of local materials such as wood, stone, bamboo, nipa leaves and sawali (woven bamboo strips). The shape of its roof is said to resemble a salakot, a traditional Filipino hat used by farmers as a protection against the sun. The structure is open so that the pilgrims can enter and exit freely, while also allowing cooling cross-drafts throughout the church.
Inside hangs a huge replica of the ‘Glorious Cross’ based on a design used for the Archdiocese of Lipa during the Jubilee Year of 2000. The cross at the crucifix, the bottom of the altar table and the lectern are made of drift wood; and at the back is the Blessed Sacrament Chapel while the Baptistery is found below.
Everywhere – and I really do mean everywhere – are depictions of Padre Pio… wooden, plastic, plaster, paintings… and I guess this is where you’ll find a fine dividing line between religious symbols and tacky artefacts, depending on whether you are one of the faithful or not.
You can look up at him…
You can look down at him over the railings…
You can be beside him as you walk around the main church…
You can see him smiling down on you from the water tower…
…or maybe you will be tempted to buy a half size figure of him to stand in your hallway at home…?
Across from the main church you will find the ‘Sanctuary of the True Cross of Christ’ which can be used as an overflow church when the main hall gets too crowded.
It, too, is massive and open to the elements.
Inside, apart from the statues and pictures of Pio, is a model of Pope John Paul II, who had been responsible for Pio’s canonisation. The glass cabinet also contains a papal relic, but I have no idea what that relic consists of.
Around the perimeter of the site you can find symbolic ‘stations of the cross’. Here, for instance, is the Last Supper.
Naturally there are also loads of statues of the Virgin Mary (though not as many as Padre Pio, I have to say) …
And of course, you can burn candles, the way you can in most catholic churches.
What I hadn’t been aware of was the fact that the colour of the candle should be chosen according to what prayer you are hoping the candle will help with… Green for good health; yellow for financial blessings; orange for family matters; pink for love; and red for crises, to name but a few.
I’m not sure if this colour coordination also goes for the many ‘Christmas tree’-type lights that are draped over many of the small trees…
You can also admire Padre Pio sitting on top of a gurgling burbling fountain in the Holy Water Sanctuary, where many fill bottles of water to take back home with them.
You need a drink? How about the water jars lining the sides of one of the paths …
And don’t miss the incredible ‘phallus’ plants – a member of the ginger family, if I remember rightly.
Yes. There is surely something here for everyone, whether you are one of the faithful or not, and whether you believe that Padre Pio was rightly beatified, or whether he was simply a charlatan.
Cynicism is easy; but this place is testimony to the faith that many Filipinos have in their church. And that is probably no bad thing, when all is said and done.