It has to be said… Filipinos don’t believe in doing things by halves. It’s the last day of my trip to Cebu, and friends have suggested we visit the Monastery of the Holy Eucharist, which you can find in Simala, Sibonga, about a two hour drive south of Cebu city.
The Monastery is popularly known as the Simala Shrine or Simala Church. At first sight, you could be forgiven for thinking you had come to one of the castles of mad King Ludvig II of Bavaria. It’s certainly eye catching enough for that, but it is also clear that it is still ‘work-in-progress’.
The church is not even 20 years old – it was built in 1998 by the Marian Monks from Pampanga after reports of several miraculous events in the vicinity, including the shedding of tears by statues of the Virgin Mary (known here as Mama Mary!). Ever since, the shrine has been a hot spot for devotees of Mama Mary, hoping that their prayers will be granted.
Mama Mary was said to have interceded through a Penitential Rosary Walk in 1998 to stave off a local epidemic that had already claimed the lives of several children. She is also credited with numerous other miracles. So the devout take this place very seriously. Don’t even think of wearing hot pants, mini skirts or even baseball caps if you come here. You won’t be allowed in if you do…
But I am not wearing a mini skirt, let alone hot pants, and I am waved through by the bored looking guard on duty.
Once inside, the architecture continues to amaze. But it amazes in a way that brings out a smile on your face. Some may well accuse it of being well over-the-top, but I have to say I quite like it!
Looking over the castle-like parapet you get a good view of the garden below with ‘We Love Mama Mary’ “embossed” in plants for all to see.
Inside the church itself the attention to detail is strong; and if you have a mind to take off your shoes, you can make a tour of the passageways behind and over the main hall.
The paintings on the ceilings are certainly eye catching, though I think I would take issue with one description you can find on cebu-bluewaters.com which is surely a little too enthusiastic in describing them as “just like some of those you can find at the Sistine Chapel in Rome”. (You can almost hear Michelangelo turning in his grave at the thought!)
Like many Catholic churches in the Philippines, you won’t have to look very far to find a souvenir stall…
And as I discovered on my visit to Padre Pio’s shrine, you can buy coloured candles, each one representing an intention to go with your prayers: red for love; blue for perseverance; green for prosperity, and so on.
Mind you, the colours have totally different meanings here from those used at Padre Pio’s shrine… There, red is used for life’s crisis; blue is for jobs and exams; green for good health… how confusing!
Outside the main body of the church is an area put aside for testimonials. Here you’ll find loads of letters and items donated by people who believe they were cured by the intercession of the Virgin Mary. They’ve even left wheel chairs and crutches, to make their point.
Just beside the testimonials is a notice to those who are thinking of going to the loo (known as a CR in the Philippines). The loo inside the monastery (do they really only have one?) is reserved for pilgrims only. Lesser people – such as your favourite blogger – should use the paid-for loos outside in the car park area as the water supply is not sufficient, apparently.
The notice does, however, leave a few questions unanswered…
If the water source (provided by Mama Mary, apparently) produces only 300 gallons per hour, and the powers-that-be felt the shortage “due to the thousands of pilgrims using the CR”, then how will it change anything if the CR inside the monastery is still free for [all] pilgrims?
And if there is enough water down in the car park area to cater for the needs of all the tourists, why doesn’t someone simply set up a pump to push more water into the monastery area?
Or maybe someone could ask Mama Mary if she could provide just an incy-wincy little bit more?
Maybe no one has yet figured out what colour of candle needs to be burned, that has connotations with supplying water for public facilities.