The Fiesta of all Fiestas – La Naval de Manila

(very rare 1920s video of La Naval procession inside a still beautiful Intramuros! From Youtube 🙂

Upon returning to the church of Sto. Domingo, an almost shrill voice of a choir boy, a member of the Tiples de Sto. Domingo, will sing the opening lines of the “Adios”, which go: Adios, Reina del Cielo. —listen to the video, that is the Adios, from the 2009 festivities

In earlier decades, the month of October harks what was the Philippine capital’s most celebrated, most ostentatious and most awaited feast: the feast of Nuestra Señora del SantĂ­simo Rosario – La Naval de Manila. Because of the fiesta name’s sheer length, Our Lady’s feast was intimately known as “La Naval”, and for generations of Filipinos this spelled intense pious devotion but also overwhelming joy and celebration. It was “la fiesta de las fiestas”, and it was also the chicest and to some extent, the chance to be seen.

Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary, La Naval de Manila ---from Traveler on Foot

The story of La Naval began in 1593 when upon the death of his fathe, Gobernador General Luis Pérez de Dasmariñas ordered an image of Our Lady to be carved. Under the supervision of Capitan Hernando de los Rios Coronel, a non-Catholic Chinese sculptor was commissioned to do this. Elephant tusk ivory was used for its heads and hands, and the image that was created was a fine, if not, magnificent one, with human-like and Chinese-inspired features. With an almond-shaped head, the image was 4’8 tall and was the gem of the Governor General.

The image was Nuestra Señora del Santísimo Rosario (Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary), and it was given by Dasmariñas to the Dominican friars as a gift. It is the oldest ivory image of our Lady in the Philippines, and has occupied the Sto. Domingo churches (there have been many Sto. Domingos because of the many times it was destroyed and replaced) of the Dominicans in Manila for almost 400 years now.

Pre-War Neo-Gothic Sto. Domingo in its splendor: American Historican Collection

Around this time, the Philippines was already gaining steam in the arena of the New World countries. Its potential was now being recognized, and soon, with the help of the Galleon Trade, Manila would become Asia’s main entrepot and most important and famed harbor. In effect, in 1646, the Dutch took interest in the Philippines. The Dutch (as well as the English) fleets in Asia were eyeing the Philippines, ready to kick the Spaniards out and replace Catholicism with Calvinist Protestantism. In that year, five naval battles took place.

The Dutch had 18 warships sent throughout that year, and because the galleons and ships from Acapulco have yet to arrive, there were only 2 merchant galleons in Manila that time. The Spaniards and Filipinos were severely outnumbered and so, they entrusted all the battles to our Lady, in particular, under the title of Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary. Led by Commander Lorenzo Orella y Ugalde, the soldiers and many members of the city of Manila, walked around Intramuros barefoot reciting the Most Holy Rosary, beseeching Our Lady to defend the city. And defend she did.

The main retablo of pre-War Sto. Domingo fully spruced up: notice the number of candles

After 1 year of fighting a severely lacking Spanish defense, for some reason, the Dutch simply can’t penetrate the harbor of Manila. They were utterly frustrated, and embarrassed as to why they can’t conquer Manila when the city was virtually unprotected. But Manila was protected, and it was no less the mantón or the cape of Our Lady of the Rosary that kept the Dutch, literally, at bay.

In 9 April 1662, the Cathedral Chapter of the Archdiocese of Manila solemnly proclaimed that the five naval battles were miraculous, and in from then on, the navy of Manila, “la naval de Manila”, will be under the special protection of Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary. The Dominican Friars too, who keep her image, will keep their special place of honor as chief promoters of the cult of the Holy Rosary.

Nstra. Sra. Del Santisimo Rosario: taken from

From then on, the image of Santísimo Rosario found in Sto. Domingo would be known more affectionately as “La Naval de Manila”.

The image also, by far, is the most elegantly dressed image, making her one, if not, the most expensive statue of Mary in the entire archipelago. She is dressed like the royal ladies in the court of Spain’s kings, and wears a dress made purely of gold. It is garbed in precious “tisu de oro”, which is gold cloth with sliver gilt thread. On her left hand, she holds the Infant Jesus, who is likewise, dressed in fine clothes. To her right hand, she holds a royal scepter, bastón or staff and the Holy Rosary. She is adorned with many, many jewels: from sapphires, to rubies and to diamonds. Her different gowns are made of gold or silver thread, all decorates with lovely precious stones.

Elaborate Certificate of Membership to the Cofradia del Santisimo Rosario

Perhaps, the most famous, and if not, one of the biggest jewels that adorns the image of our lady is are the storied stones, the Roxas’ “Granada de Oro” and also the Roxas “Concha”. In 1872, a King of Cambodia, Norodom I, visited the Philippines. During a dinner party in Apalit, Pampanga, he was smitten by the beauty and grace of Señora Doña Josefa Roxas Manio, and immediately wanted to ask her hand in marriage. However, the pious lady turned down his offer because she was a Catholic and he was a Buddhist. Before leaving, the king gave her a present: a pomegranate-shaped jewel encrusted with diamonds, rubies, emeralds, sapphires, and pearls. The king also gave Josefa’s sister, Ana, a jewel, this time shaped as a shell (concha), which was also heavily adorned. The two ladies, and their brother, who was a priest, donated these to the image of Nstra. Sra. De la Naval de Manila, which was, at that time, already the favorite image of Our Lady among the country’s alta sociedad. Unfortunately, the Granada de oro was lost before the War. In 1982, the concha was also lost upon the death of Rev. Fr. Augusto Antonio, OP, Chaplain of the Virgin, who kept the jewel. (details from

Our Lady still inside the Old Sto. Domingo Church before procession: from La Gran Senora de Filipinas

The October procession of La Naval de Manila was the favorite of all of Manila. The novena was said in the cavernous Sto. Domingo, whose pre-War Felix Roxas, Sr. version would be the most remembered of all of the Sto. Domingos because of its sheer beauty and captivating power. During the novena Masses to La Naval, a total 1,600 bees wax candles would be used to light up the main retablo where the image would have already been transferred. The popular Spanish and Latin hymns would be intoned by either Dominican friars or the renowned choir boys of Sto. Domingo, the Tiples de Sto. Domingo.

Inside the cavernous Sto. Domingo

Manila’s most affluent and distinguished families, however, looked forward most to the “procession de las procesiones”, the procession of all processions: the La Naval feastday procession. Members of the Ayala, Roxas, Soriano, Elizalde, Zaragoza, Ortigas, Legarda, Prieto, Tuason, Araneta, Madrigal and other good families were the busy bees during those Pre-War days. In the days of October, they would congregate at the Neo-Gothic church of Sto. Domingo to prepare what is the favorite of all processions. The vestments, crowns and beautiful ornaments of our Lady would be brought out, and would be discerned as to which would be worn. On the feast day itself, the members of these families spearheaded the ceremonies with much enthusiasm and cooperation.

Artwork depicting the exit of Our Lady from the portals of Sto. Domingo

On her carroza triunfal shaped like a galleon, and made out of pure silver, Our Lady would be moved in procession around the narrow streets of Intramuros. The different schools’ para-military units such as the Ateneo de Manila cadet corps as well as the San Juan de Letran ROTC would accompany the image. 10 Dominican saints were also processed along with the magnificent estanderas or banners. It was the longest procession in Intramuros history, and the most favorite of all. Upon returning to the church of Sto. Domingo, an almost shrill voice of choir boy, a member of the Tiples de Sto. Domingo, will sing the opening lines of the “Adios”, which go: Adios, Reina del Cielo.

The exquisite pulpit was just one of the many features of the Pre-War Sto. Domingo

These same customs and rituals behind La Naval were the ones that would inspire a young man to write about and in effect, devote his life to Our Lady. This man, who would become the country’s most respected writer in the English language was none other than Nick JoaquĂ­n.

However, like all good things, those grand days of the La Naval ended in 1941.

Sto Domingo was bombed-out: its facade and walls remained standing but were bulldozed by Americans

Santo Domingo church, the beautiful masterpiece of Felix Roxas, was the first casualty of the war. For some reason, the Japanese immediately bombed the church, and it was burning for several days (the fact that many printing presses were found near its vicinity contributed to that fact.)

Destroyed Sto. Domingo Church and Convent Complex: American Historical Collection

However, by Divine Wisdom, the Dominicans had earlier decided to hide the image of our Lady in the tesoro convent or convent treasury vault just upon hearing about the incident in Pearl Harbor. For the three days and nights that the huge church complex burned, the Dominican friars kept vigil that their most prized and adored Marian image wouldn’t be destroyed along with their other priceless treasures of gold and silver ornaments found in the vault. If they lose her, they would have lost everything. The vault was inside the burning church but luckily, the vault was in good state when the conflagration ended. The image was unharmed but some of her jewels had already melted due to the immense heat.

On 30 December 1941, just a day before the Japanese finally entered Manila, the Dominicans, led by no less their Prior of the Sto. Domingo convent, went inside the ruins of the Sto. Domingo to salvage what they hoped for were the “remains” of the statue. There was a blackout then, so the darkness worked in their advantage. The solid metal door of the vault was extremely difficult to open, and with an acetylene torch, they tried their best to open the door. Alas, at 8:00 PM, four hours after they tried opening the door, a small opening was made. As they further enlarged the opening, infernal heat emanated from the vault.

Once it cooled, they saw her, Nuestra Señora del Santísimo Rosario, La Naval de Manila, still standing proudly.

They then took her, in the dead of night, to UST in Sampaloc, where the friars (wisely) thought it would be safer. There she would stay until the end of the War, and until a new Sto. Domingo would be constructed.

From the 1954 Transer procession: 3 kilometers, 4 hours, thousands of Filipinos

In 1954, Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary – La Naval de Manila was placed aboard her galleon-shaped carroza triunfal, which was now more Spartan than its former silver one for what was perhaps the longest procession she ever had. From the UST Chapel in Sampaloc, she was transferred by her Dominican sons and members of other religious orders along with thousands and thousands of Catholic lay organizations, Catholic school students, and other Filipinos to her new home in Quezon City, a suburb outside Manila found on a hill. The new Sto. Domingo was a humongous church designed by Ramón Zaragoza of the famous Quiapo-residing Zaragoza clan, a family also very much associated with the La Naval de Manila.

The modernist post-war Sto. Domingo is extremely huge

However, upon the death of Padre Augusto Antonio, OP, in 1981 the last witness to the La Naval fiestas held in Intramuros, and also the last considered aristocratic Dominican, the participation and support of Manila’s aristocratic families for the La Naval also came to a sad halt. Another factor that greatly played a role as to why the Old Rich families stopped in spearheading and actually participating in La Naval was when the Spanish Dominicans were “kicked out” or replaced by the Filipino ones in the 1970s during the “Filipinization” of the Catholic Church in the country.

3rd Day of the Novena, my class visited Sto. Domingo

Fortunately though, we still have the feast of La Naval, and her procession (albeit less ostentatious) to look forward to every year. It’s just that we’ve been missing the scent of Old Money for some decades now. Perhaps if we get these high profile people coming from the old de buena familias, more people, especially the identically-challenged middle class Manileños to renew this once looked forward to fiesta in the capital, what was once the fiesta of all fiestas. This was indeed hecho ayer.

Resting in Sto. Domingo's cloister, beautifully designed by Zaragoza

Sources: and

Viva, la Reina de las Filipinas!

Reliefs above the portal by Francisco Monti, Italian former design teacher at UST


About hechoayer

Things made yesterday still influence us until today. Things made today will influence us tomorrow. Things of the essence such as faith, culture, food, music and values should never disappear nor eroded by the times. Instead, these must be recorded, lived and shared. Something made yesterday - hecho ayer - can be tomorrow's saving grace. Never ignore the past.
This entry was posted in CULTURA, HISTORICA, LA VIDA FILIPINA, OLD MANILA and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to The Fiesta of all Fiestas – La Naval de Manila

  1. she is the patron of our subdivision. i think she is one of the most beautiful and best adorned images of the blessed virgin. she’s all dressed in gold and she shines like a star with the yellow light from her karosa.

  2. hechoayer says:

    Hi Kid. Glad to know that. It would be still highly recommended that you visit the original image of Nstra. Sra. del Santisimo Rosario – La Naval de Manila in her shrine in Sto. Domingo

  3. Lianne Habana says:

    Hello. The video from the 1929 procession is such a precious and rare gem especially for us historians and teachers of history. Where did you find that? I hope you have more videos from prewar manila, the “Paris of the East”. Thank you for sharing!

    • hechoayer says:

      hello Ms. Habana!
      There are plenty of videos on Youtube that show many Pre-War and World War 2 episodes in Philippine history. Being an enthusiast myself, I always take time to scour Youtube for these videos. These are often American collections now available to the public. Please feel free to browse and read through my blog.

      I graduated from the Ateneo, my school since Prep until College, just last March and I miss it a lot! It is my dream some day to teach Philippine History (History 165) in the LS.

      Many thanks again for your appreciation!

  4. hechoayer says:

    Likewise, the above-mentioned video is not mine and it totally belongs to another person, Youtube user JJAVATO

  5. IL Bambino says:

    The oldest and the greatest surviving feast of Old Manila which has retained to this day its magnificence – though much toned down according to my old folks.

    La Naval de Manila is still the “procesion de las procesiones” in the elegance, decorum and good taste by which the Dominicans has continued to mount this annual feast of thanksgiving and devotion.

    The Santo Rosario will always be the Queen and Mother of the Philippines – La Gran Senora de Filipinas who through the good and bad times has been with her people for over four hundred years…

    Congratulations and best wishes for making her better known and loved…

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