TheChurch of Our Lady of Candles. The Jaro Cathederal, Iloilo City, Philippines
photographed and written byphotographed and written by:: Fergus DucharmeFergus Ducharme,, assisted by:assisted by: JoemarieJoemarie AcallarAcallar andand NiloNilo JimenoJimeno..
proudly present:proudly present:
The old, historic Church ofThe old, historic Church of
Our Lady of Candles,Our Lady of Candles,
The Metropolitan Cathedral of Jaro,The Metropolitan Cathedral of Jaro,
Iloilo City, IloiloIloilo City, Iloilo
The driving distance from our jumping off point at
the SM City parking lot in Iloilo to Our Lady of
Candles Church in Iloilo City is approximately 5
kilometres. Which translates into a driving time of
between 15 to 20 minutes in City traffic.
Jaro Cathedral 1894-1895. The Eiffle Tower Replica was built of bamboo for the
fiesta in 1894-1895 & stood for 3 months before being removed from Jaro Plaza.
Our Lady of the Candles, formally known as Nuestra Señora de la Purificacion y
Candelaria, also known as Nuestra Señora de la Candelaria is a Marian title
depicted by a 16th-century lime stone image of the Blessed Virgin
Mary venerated by Catholics in the Western Visayas region. The statue is
prominently known for carrying a candle and is locally known as
the patron of Jaro, Iloilo. It is enshrined at the Jaro Cathedral, recently named
the National Shrine of Our Lady of Candles, atop the balcony-facade of the
church which is accessible by balcony stairs outside the church.
The National Shrine of Our Lady of Candles celebrates its Marian feast annually
on the 2nd of February.
Our Lady of Candles – Metropolitan Cathedral, Jaro, Iloilo
The shrine is constructed in the Romanesque Revival style of Architecture.
The Cathedral has several distinctive features, namely:
• similar to St Anne’s Church in Molo, which is sometimes referred to as
the “Feminist Church” because all the statues in the Church are
representations of female Saints. The Cathedral is noteworthy because all
of the statues are depictions of male Saints.
• the bell tower is located across a busy street, on Jaro Plaza. Normally,
belfries are built next to their churches. In this case, the original tower
had been built next to the original church, which was destroyed in the
Lady CayCay Earthquake of January 1948.
• the stairs attached to the front facade of the cathedral, over the main
entrance, lead up to the actual shrine of Our Lady of Candles.
• there is a reliquary containing relics of St Josemaria Escriva, the founder
of Opus Dei.
A few examples of the statues of the male saints in the Cathedral
The Jaro belfry was originally built of bricks and limestone blocks in or about 1744. It was a
29 meter high three-story tower high. The ‘new Cathedral was built between 1826 and 1837 by
Augustinian Friar Ilanos. On July 5, 1877 at about 12.07 PM, the “campanario” was heavily
damaged when an earthquake measuring VII on the intensity scale struck the Western Visayas
Between 1833-1881, another two serious earthquakes damaged the belfry; one on March 28th,
1880 at 5:04AM at intensity VI and another on July 11th , 1880 at 12:35PM at intensity VI.
Msgr. Mariano Cuartero, had the Belfry and Church completely restored in 1881. On January
25th , 1948, the day the Lady CayCay earthquake destroyed a great many Churches throughout
Panay. The Cathedral was completely destroyed and the Tower was again seriously damaged.
ILOILO CITY, Philippines, April 11, 2012 (www.philstar.com) – The restoration
of the unique and historical Jaro Belfry in Iloilo City is now underway after the
Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority (TIEZA) has allocated
P5million fund for the project.
The restoration project of the belfry, situated between the Jaro Cathedral and
the plaza, started when the TIEZA team inspected the site recently.
The belfry of the “New Cathedral” was the former tower of Jaro church built by
Fray Ilanos in 1826-1837. As mentioned, it was destroyed in the Lady CayCay
earthquake of January 1948 and restored by the city government in the 1990s.
Saint Josemaria Escriva was born in
Barbastro, Spain, on 9 January 1902. He
was ordained to the priesthood in
Saragossa on 28 March 1925. On 2 October
1928, by divine inspiration, he
founded Opus Dei. On 26 June 1975, he
died unexpectedly in Rome in the room
where he worked, after a last affectionate
glance at a picture of Our Lady.
Opus Dei had by then spread to five
continents, with over 60.000 members of
80 nationalities, serving the Church with
the same spirit of complete union with the
Pope and the Bishops which characterised
His Holiness Pope John Paul
II canonised the Founder of Opus Dei on 6
October 2002. His feast is celebrated on 26
June. The body of Saint Josemaría rests in
the Church of Our Lady of Peace in Rome.
The reliquary of the Saint can be seen
below his photo in the lobby of the
The original cathedral was built in 1874 in Jaro
Plaza, next to the Bell Tower by the then first
Bishop of Jaro, Mariano Cuartero. As mentioned
the Church was levelled as a result of the 8.1
magnitude Lady CayCay Earthquake of 1948.
The Church was rebuilt in it present location
and was consecrated in 1956 by Jaro’s first
Archbishop, Jose Maria Cuenco.
Surrounding the cathedral are a variety of
archdiocesan and parish offices. Including, the
Adoration Chapel. A block away is the
archdiocesan Seminary and across the plaza is
the Archbishop's official residence.
The National Historic Institute of the
Philippines proclaimed the Jaro Cathedral as a
historical landmark in 1976 . And in January
2012 The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the
Philippines officially designated the Cathedral
as the “National Shrine of Our Lady of Candles”.
Jaro Seminary after the fire of 1906
On May 27, 1865 Pius IX in the Bull of
Erection, "QUI AB INITIO", of the Diocese of
Jaro, insisted that the new bishop should
found and organize a seminary as soon as
The Archbishop of Manila, Most Rev. Gregorio
Meliton Martinez carried the decree into
effect, on October 10, 1867. At the time of his
appointment as First Bishop of Jaro, Mariano
Cuartero, was still in Spain acting as General
Procurator of the Dominican Order.
He received episcopal ordination at the
Dominican Seminary of Ocania, Spain, on
November 1867, was able to take possession of
his Diocese only on April 25, 1868.
The new Bishop founded the Diocesan Seminary where he could train good pastors for the
different parishes, which at that time were almost entirely under the spiritual administration of
the Augustinians Friars, who were then regarded as the Fathers of Faith in Panay. On April 2nd ,
1868, Bishop Cuartero arrived in Manila together with five Vincentian priests, three Brothers
and sixteen Daughters of Charity. Having taken possession of the Diocese, Bishop Cuartero
began his work immediately of enlarging the parish of "La Candelaria" to be his cathedral
church, he also adapted the convento to be his residence and the foundation of the Diocesan
Seminary in December 1869.
At first, the seminary was housed at the bishop’s residence. The bishop busied
himself with the idea of building up an adequate edifice for his seminary. The
Bishop begged and appealed to his people for help and they gave generously.
On March 11th , 1871, the cornerstone was laid and the construction of the
Seminary begun under the direction of Fr. Aniceto Gonzales.
The fathers and Seminarians joined the workers during their free time. They
carried the bricks from the riverbank where the bancas unloaded them to the
construction site. Bishop Cuarteto was often seen carrying the bricks to the
site with the Seminarians.
By October 1872, a good part of building was finished and ready for use. The
Seminary was transferred then and was finally completed in November 1874.
The St. Vincent Ferrer Seminary was the first of the seminaries to be run by
the Vincentian fathers to become a first class college, being fully incorporated
into the University of Santo Tomas in 1891. Sometime in 1890, Bishop Arrue
asked permission from Governor General Valeriano Weyler for the
authorization to offer baccalaureate studies for those students who, having
finished secondary education here, couldn’t afford to pursue college studies in
Manila. The Governor granted the petition.
On the night of October 7, 1906, a sudden fire caused by a candle, left
carelessly burning in the sacristy by the seminarian in charge, reduced the
building to a heap of ashes. Nothing was saved and no one was injured.
Bishop Rooker was not a man who could easily be deterred by misfortune. Two
months after the fire, he began rebuilding, backed by the moral and financial
support of his priests, the people of Jaro, his many friends in America, and
Pope Pius X who sent substantial financial help. The seminary was housed
temporarily in a spacious building of Don Teodoro Benedicto. In less than a
year, three fifths of the building was completed, sufficient to house one
The return of the seminary to its own location was completed on September
17th , 1907. The next day, seemingly constant misfortune struck again. Early
that afternoon Bishop Rooker was stricken by massive heart attack and died a
few hours later.
February 20th , 1945 will always be remembered as a day of huge
disappointment in the history of the seminary. Early that morning a squadron
of American planes appeared in the sky heading straight toward the Seminary.
All of a sudden, their machine guns rattled and a number of incendiary bombs
were dropped and fell on the building and its surroundings.
In less than thirty minutes the magnificent building was reduced to a pile of
ashes and twisted iron. Fortunately, there was not a single casualty among the
fathers and the three hundred other who took refuge there.
On March 19th, 1945, Iloilo was liberated. Life returned to normal and
everybody resumed the work stopped by the war. With the death of Bishop
McCloskey on April 19th, 1945, Bishop Cuenco became the resident bishop on
November 27th, 1945.
He began rebuilding the diocese and the seminary. His initial plan was to re-
open the seminary in the parish convent at Sta. Barbara. However, on of his
Priests, Fr. Rodriguez, convinced his that to re-build in the original locations
would be both practical and would satisfy the various sentimentalities of the
people of the Diocese it was decided to rebuilds in the former location. There
were still many usable materials in the ruined building, which had been used
and partly repaired by the American soldiers.
On June 19th, 1946, the Archdiocese of Jaro once again opened its modern and
excellent Seminary for the proper training of its future priests.
In 1957, the Seminary became de facto a regional major seminary when the
bishops of the suffragan dioceses of Bacolod (1946), Capiz (1957), Antique
(1963) and even the Prelature of Palawan enrolled their major seminarians in
Let’s get back to the Church itself…
One of the interesting things about the Statue of Our Lady of Candles is the
legends surrounding it and they are quite interesting. In fact there are three
statues, the principal one which is in the Shrine at the front of the Church, the
second is located on the main altar and the third is used in that various
parades and festivities when the ‘celebrations’ call for Our Lady of Candles to
be present. These last two were in fact carved by the late renown Manila based,
Filipino artist: Talleres de Maximo Vicente.
The first of the legends has it that the statue was found on the shores of the
Iloilo River in 1587 by a group of fishers. It was only about one foot in height
but It was so heavy that several men were needed to lift it. When it was
decided by the founders that it should be bought to Jaro, the statue became
lighter. It was installed in the old Augustinian church located in a section of La
Paz town. When Jaro became a diocese in 1867, a cathedral was constructed in
the town proper named after St. Elizabeth of Hungary.
The second legend has it that one evening in 1874, a Chinese businessman who
owned a variety store near the church was visited by a beautiful customer and
her child. She purchased some lamp oil for the baby.
The owner got curious and followed the woman and found her at the artesian
well in the middle of the town plaza bathing her child. As he walked away the
woman disappeared. When he passed by a church doors, he saw the niche was
lit. There, stood the beautiful Lady with a lighted candle in her hand. After this
event, the Chinese owner was converted to Catholicism. This same ‘event’ was
experienced by several other parishioners. Every now and then the Lady would
vanish from the altar and be seen at the well bathing her child.
The well has since been encased in steel in the plaza compound and the water
from it is said to have healing powers.
Still another legend recounts the story when back in the 1870s, once the new
Cathedral had been finished; the statue of the Virgin refused to be taken from her
place in the old church. The parishioners suspected that transferring to another
shrine did appeal to Her. So, with Archbishop Cuartero, they prayed and said
Masses to try to convince her to move. She did finally relent and consented to be
moved and was installed in her new home at the cathedral after a solemn
And finally, this one from the 1990s. The Virgin again
refused to be moved from her niche to the balcony in
front of the church.
The parishioners tried to move her several time using
‘block and tackle’ but the chains supporting the weight
of the statues kept snapping, they broke several times.
Recalling the old stories, they asked the late Archbishop
Msgr. Alberto J. Piamonte to oversee the operation.
Upon the direction of the late archbishop, dressed in full
regalia, the image was safely placed in her present place
– a pediment to the balcony especially constructed for
the visit of late Pope John Paul II.