One day in 2004, I was walking around San Pedro, La Laguna looking for an apartment for my young family. I was about to relocate them there from our place in BF Homes-Parañaque, Las Piñas City. A female cousin of mine who married a San Pedrense suggested that I move there because of the low cost of living (particularly the house rents) although it’s just a few kilometers away from the Metro.
I happened to pass by one of San Pedro’s barrios called Landayan. The place somehow had a rustic feel to it. Somehow, my tired feet led me to a small, queer church which I first thought was a chapel. But upon nearing it, I realized it was a church. It was closely tucked within the small houses around it.
In front of this church was a wide-roofed multi-purpose gymnasium. Between the gym and the barrio road is a small plaza with two ancient acacia trees. Being a newly reconverted Catholic, I strolled around the church out of interest.
I then wondered what the name that church was…
Suddenly, a jeepney passed by in front of it. Like most jeepneys in the country, it had a banner on top of it. The name painted on that banner: SANTO SEPULCRO. And it’s sooner than I realized that Santo Sepulcro –or Parroquia de Santo Sepulcro (Parokya ng Santo Sepulcro in corrupted Tagalog)– is the name of that church.
I entered the empty church. The big wooden doors were half open. It was a late weekday afternoon, a Saturday if memory serves me right. I stopped for a while to pray for brighter days ahead as a feeble afternoon sunlight streamed through the colored glass panels.
It was the beginning of a beautiful covenant between me and Santo Sepulcro, now one of my favorite churches. I later learned that the church, particulary the black wooden image of Jesus Christ in a sepulchre, was miraculous. Hungry for the lost years of Christianity, I instantly became a devotee. As much as possible, all Fridays of the month should find me there. It was also at Parroquia de Santo Sepulcro where my two children, Krystal and Momay –who I refused to be baptized in the past due to my rabid atheism– were baptized at the same time; and it happened during my twenty-fifth birthday, one of the happiest days of my life!
And a few years later, on 1 December 2006, I was fortunate to witness a historic event when Parroquia de Sto. Sepulcro was proclaimed the Shrine of Jesus Christ in the Holy Sepulchre, or Dambana ni Jesús sa Banál na Libiñgan in Tagalog (Santuario de Jesucristo en el Santo Sepulcro in Spanish).
The church is oftentimes compared to the famous Quiapó Church because of countless devotees who visit the church every Friday. No one is sure when this Friday devotion began, but it has become a sort of “tourist and religious attraction” for the bustling municipality of San Pedro, La Laguna. Some people even call this church “The Quiapó church of Laguna”.
Because of the biography that I’m currently cowriting (with Arnold Arnáiz) for Mayor Calixto Catáquiz of San Pedro (and perhaps through divine intercession), I was very fortunate to have met Gaudencio “Sonny” Ordoña, San Pedro’s resident historian. After the success of his book SAN PEDRO, LAGUNA: (NOON AT NGAYON) which he cowrote with scholar Amalia Cullarín Rosales, Kuya Sonny didn’t stop his momentum when he wrote and published his sophomore book entitled LOLO UWENG NG LANDAYAN (SA ISIP AT PUSO NG MGA DEBOTO) which is all about the history and testimonials of the church and its miraculous image, as well as the miracles attributed to them. Kuya Sonny was even so kind and trusting when he assigned me to translate his book into English (still unpublished). Kuya Sonny soon became a friend and even a spiritual adviser for me.
This morning, I thought of taking my wife’s phone camera along with me and take some pictures and videos. It was to be my first time to go there on a very rainy Friday morning. I was surprised to still encounter the same multitude that I used to see there on sunny Fridays! The bad weather didn’t hamper the people’s devotion and will to visit Lolo Uweng in the Holy Sepulchre.
Lolo Uweng is how the devotees fondly call the sacred image. The following text is an excerpt taken from my still unpublished translation of Kuya Sonny’s best-selling book (available at all National Bookstores around San Pedro, La Laguna and at the Shrine itself):
For a long period of time, devotees have exchanged alleged “true” histories among themselves regarding the origin of Lolo Uweng. Some say that he was a man who mysteriously turned into wood. Others claim that he was a piece of timber in the shape of a sleeping man. Because such stories go against the laws and principles of nature and science —and since superstition is clouded with mysteries— more questions than answers arose due to these various legends. Neither legend was accepted as the official versions.
In 2003, the administrators of the Parish of Sto. Sepulcro published the first official history of the image of Lolo Uweng. It is included in the document The Parish Profile, intended as a preparation for the shrinehood of the parish. Led by then Parish Administrator Msgr. Jerry V. Bitoon, the document was submitted to the Diocese of San Pablo. The document was regarded as a fundamental basis in the issuance of a decree. Thus, on December 1, 2006, the parish was proclaimed as the Shrine of Jesus Christ in the Holy Sepulchre.
This official report was regarded as a mere presumption due to a lack of documentary evidence. According to the report, the image could well have been a sculpture that was carved from a neighboring lakeshore town of Laguna Lake that is reputed for its people’s artistry; possible candidates are Angono in Rizal Province, and Paeté in Laguna (it should be noted that several giant-sized murals found in various churches throughout the Philippines are products of Angono sculptors). The image could’ve been set afloat on purpose by the sculptor o whoever owned it. Another theory is that it could have been washed towards the lake due to a severe storm which caused flooding; it was then carried by the currents towards the shores of Landayan where it was found by fishermen. It was regarded by them as miraculous; they built for it an altar and placed it inside a small chapel which was then known as a visita.
The summary of this version is inscribed on a bronze marker found at the entrance to the church:
…an image of the dead Jesus was found in the lakeshore of Landayan, San Pedro, Laguna. Since it was believed that the image is miraculous, the people of Landayan kept it and encased it in a camarín which was placed inside the visita for veneration. The event gave way to the devotion of Jesus in the Holy Sepulchre accompanied by stories regarding the miraculous icon as testified by both the local parishioners and the devotees from nearby provinces.
DECREE OF ERECTION
DIOCESAN SHRINE OF JESUS IN THE HOLY SEPULCHRE
After having considered the petition of the many devotees of Jesus in the Holy Sepulchre, also known as “Lolo Uweng” here in the Parish of Santo Sepulcro, Landayan, San Pedro, Laguna, administered to by the Reverend Father Jeremías O. Oblepias, Jr. and after having consulted the College of Consultors and the Presbyteral Council.
We see that fostering the devotion to Jesus Christ in the Holy Sepulchre will enrich holiness for the Church; and so We hereby
That the Santo Sepulcro Parish in Landayan, San Pedro, Laguna be conferred the title
DIOCESAN SHRINE OF JESUS IN THE HOLY SEPULCHRE
By this Decree of Erection, We also grant to the said Diocesan Shrine of Jesus in the Holy Sepulchre all the rights and privileges. It shall furthermore be governed by the provisions of cc. 1230-1234 of the Code of Canon Law.
Given in Landayan, San Pedro, Laguna, on this first day of December, in the second year of the Pontificate of His Holiness, Benedict XVI, in the year of our Lord two thousand and six.
LEO M. DRONA, SBD, D.D.
Bishop of San Pedro
REV. FR. CÉSAR A. GONZALES, JR.
Legend of the Image’s Name
According to elders, foreigners from faraway places who visited Landayan have reportedly met an old man there who introduced himself as Emmanuel Salvador del Mundo. They claimed that the old man invited them to visit his home which was located near the big acacia trees of Landayan. Many of them heeded the request. Upon reaching Landayan, they realized that the “home” that was described to them by the old man is none other than the church, the visita itself, which has big acacia trees fronting it! And the old man who invited them has a striking resemblance to the Holy Image in the Holy Sepulchre!
There used to be six huge acacia trees that were at the plaza of Landayan, one of which was near the Balón ng Mahál na Señor; it was later cut down to give way for the widening of the plaza. Three of the trees were at the middle part of the plaza, and it was also necessary to cut these to give way for the construction of the concrete stage, basketball court, and the building of the Pamahalaang Barangay and Day Care. The last two remaining acacia trees are still alive, standing right in front of the church, playing as silent witnesses to all the happenings of yore which was related to Lolo Uweng. It was said that if only these two giants were able to speak, they would have manifested more stories about Lolo Uweng.
Tita Ledy said that the whole name of Emmanuel Salvador del Mundo was etched in the very first camarín (encasement) that was made of wood and glass. It was crafted by the elders soon after discovering the image by the lakeshore. This simple camarín was on top of a simple concrete platform in the middle of the visita’s altar. The image can be seen from the inside of the visita. It can be reached by a tunnel-like passage four steps high towards the camarín behind the altar. This is where devotees pass through to kiss and touch the sacred image.
Lelong Uweng was the original nickname of the image; in many parts of the Tagalog region, Lelong is what elderly people are fondly called. On the other hand, Uweng was a usual nickname for Emmanuel. Lelong was subsequently changed to Lolo to conform to the term’s evolution.
Perhaps Lolo Uweng would be the nickname that will stick to the image until the end of time.
Here are more photos which I took a week later (08/14/2009)…
(This blogpost was last updated on 09/12/2010.)