National Shrine of La Virgen Divina Pastora



Facade of National Shrine of La Virgen Divina Pastora

The 400th anniversary celebration of the parish on August 28, 1996, graced no less than by His Eminence Ricardo J. Vidal, was a fitting moment to look back and review our history. 1595-1995 is quite a long span of time. According to our research it was only in May 17, 1614 that this town, until then called Ayombon, was renamed Convento delos Reyes de Gapan. Sometime in 1917 the name Ayombon was used again when the Convento was assessed an annual contribution of 30 arrobas of rice to the Monastery of San Agustin. After that, however, it was always referred to as Gapan and its patron Los Tres Reyes.

Officially, it was on August 28, 1595 that the Augustinians accepted this area de Ayombon and established a community with its own Minister. It is located across the river and bounded by Manicling, San Miguel de Mayumo and the Cordillera Mountains. It sits on a plain area and bounds in wildlife, deer, buffaloes, wild boars, labuyo, quails and wild pigeons, a hunter's paradise.

Interior of National Shrine of La Virgen Divina Pastora

Progress came rapidly because of the diligence of the people and good management of the missionaries. The tobacco grown in the area is said to be of the best quality. Soon it was decreed by the provincial council on October 31, 1636 that Gapan be divided into two vicariates: Gapan, Junas and San Miguel stayed together and the other side north of the river formed the Ayombon to the north.

Soon many Chinese came to settle in Gapan and probably this is the reason why the Governor General Domingo de Zabalburu decreed in 1704 that all Chinese living in the missions of Bongabon, Santor, Carranglan and Pantabangan be transferred to Gapan and Arayat. By 1612 Gapan had a population of 1,800 and by 1760 it went up to 3,651.

With the secularization decree, Gapan was given to the secular (diocesan) priests in 1770. Gapan became an independent parish in 1871. By the year 1896 it had a population of 15,238 and in 1990 it reached 70,048. Today Gapan has a population of around 90,000.

The present parish church was finished in 1869 by Fr. Leonardo Laneza. Made of local bricks and stones, this church is now considered the best church in the province. It was Fr. Francisco Laredo who started the construction of this church. He finished the walls, dome, presbytery and transcept. Fr. Antonio Cornejo, his successor, continued the work. In 1879 Fr. Francisco Arriola built the Rectory (Convento) which is now being used as classrooms by the Divina Pastora College.

Altar of National Shrine of La Virgen Divina Pastora

The progress of faith steadily marched on that in 1964, the Three Kings Parish of Gapan gave birth to a new parish towards the south with San Roque as its Patron Saint and Fr. Elpidio O. Sta. Romana the first pastor. In 1971 another parish was created on the west side across the highway under the patronage of St. Nicolas of Tolentino with Fr. Delfin Diaz as the first pastor.

It is in this Parish Church of the Three Kings that the popularly known Birhen Ina Divina Pastora is venerated and people from as far as Ilocos Region come to pay homage and thanksgiving for the many graces and cures received and effected. On April 26, 1964 her image was canonically crowned and on April 26, 1986 this church was declared a National Shrine in Honor of the Birhen Ina Divina Pastora.

Historical Account of La Virgen Divina Pastora

Existing records attested that there is not another Virgen Divina Pastora in the Philippines except the present patroness of Gapan in Nueva Ecija. Being one of the ancient pueblos in central Luzon, Gapan recorded the chronology of its parish priests only in 1740. The church then was built in layers of bricks in Byzantine Architecture in 1856 until 1872, replacing the old and worn-out wooden church.

Gapan is a town with two patron saints--The Divina Pastora and the Three Kings or the Magi. These two town fiestas are celebrated. The first on January 6 for the Magi and the second on May 1 for the Divina Pastora. The May 1 celebration is an appropriate opening of the month of may as pilgrims from neighboring towns and afar flock to Gapan to pay homage to the Divina Pastora.

Appearance of La Virgen Divina Pastora

Divina Pastora first came into notice sometime in 1850 in Callos, a sitio of Gapan named after the callos trees which grew abundantly in the place. It is adjoined to a river where the farmers and shepherds of the place bathed and washed their flock. There were different versions to the appearance of Divina Pastora in this place, just to show how the Blessed Virgin soothed the credulity of the rural folks.

According to believers, she sometimes appeared as a small image floating on the river. The image would disappear instantly should any farmer or shepherd bathing his cow or sheep attempt to pick her up. Other times, she would appear beautifully in a white flowing gown that reached to her ankles, sited on an embankment under a callos tree, with a shepherd's cane on one hand while the other hand tapping the head of a sheep near her.

The vision occurred twice to a group of shepherds who tried to seek shelter in the place for a short afternoon nap. They immediately went home to inform the folks. The encargado to the ranch where is occurred went to report it to the owner,a capitana residing in Gapan. The owner lost no time to go to the place. She found an image of the Virgin about one and a half feet tall near the trunk of a callos tree. She brought the image to Gapan. With the blessing of the parish priest, the image was installed on the top of the church altar where it has been the object of veneration and supplications for a long time. It was brought down only on occasions of pilgrimages.

The Catholic hierarchy, informed of the numerous miraculous cures bestowed on devotees of the Divina Pastora who are growing in faith and numbers, enthroned her as Patroness of the Diocese of San Fernando, Pampanga which comprised the provinces of Bataan, Nueva Ecija, Pampanga and Tarlac in the early 50s. When Nueva Ecija had been created a separate diocese, the Diocese of Cabanatuan, she was crowned Queen of the Diocese in the church plaza of Gapan, Nueva Ecija on April 26, 1964 by the Most Rev. Mariano Gaviola, Bishop of Cabanatuan.

Excerpt from Shrines, Incarnating Christ Today. St. Paul Philippines, 2004. Photos from monvalmonte.com.

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