Shrine of the Blessed Virgin of the Rule



Facade of Shrine of the Blessed Virgin of the Rule

It was in the year 1735 when Fr. Francisco Avalle, an Augustinian Monk, became the first parish priest of Opon, of the historic island of Mactan, opposite Cebu Island. As a true son of St. Augustine, and having lived for ten years in the Monastery of Nuestra Senora de Regla, in Chipiona, Andalucia, he showed the people of Opon a small picture of the miraculous Virgen de Regla, so well known in his native land, Spain. St. Augustine himself had venerated this particular image during his lifetime and when the great Bishop of Hippo, Africa died in 430, his spiritual sons continued the devotion until the Vandals invaded Africa in 443. They had to flee taking with them the image of the Virgen de Regla to Spain where for several centuries the fame of the Blessed Mother spread under the name of Virgen de Regla, Virgen Libica, Virgen del Sagrario, Estrella de los Mares, La Virgen Morena or Morenita. Then another invasion took place in Spain in the year 711 when the Saracens or Moors persecuted the Church in Andalucia, destroying churches and images. Then the prior of the Augustinians, a certain Simeon decided to conceal the image in a cave in which he and his monks, after fervent prayers, lighted a small oil lamp and placed the image in a box on an improvised altar.

Altar of Shrine of the Blessed Virgin of the Rule

Centuries passed by and the hidden image was almost forgotten, until the year 1330. Our Lady appeared to another priest of the same Order of St. Augustine residing in the City of Leon where King Ferdinand, after reconquering Spain, had dedicated the Cathedral to the Queen of Kings, Santa Maria de Regla. This Augustinian saw the Blessed Virgin, with black complexion, holding a child in her arms, speaking the following words: Stand up and proceed to the east till you reach the Sea of Cadiz. It has been many years since an image of mine has been hidden away in a cave near its shores. Go and get it, and place it in my church. I will show you the way by a celestial light.

With the superior's permission, the faithful priest set out on the long journey to find the blessed image. Exhausted, on day, he reached a tree where he intended to rest for a while and soon he fell into a deep slumber. In his sleep he heard a sweet voice saying: This is the place. He awakened and knew that he had come to the end of his sacred quest. He prayed and asked the Blessed Virgin to show him the exact spot, a ball of fire fell from heaven to the place where he was resting. Miraculously the fire did not burn the tree. He called together the people living nearby and told them what had happened. They willingly assisted him in digging up the soil around the spot, until they came to a big rock. When the heave stone was lifted they held the opening of a cave. Entering it they found an altar with a wooden case on it and a lamp burning in front. The priest found the Statue of Our Lady, the very same image that appeared to him while still in Leon. A large church was constructed by the devotees of Mary on the spot where her Image was then permanently enshrined.

Image of the Blessed Virgin of the Rule

When the people of Opon heard this wonderful story, they wanted at once to make the Virgen de Regla their Patron Saint. A large picture was framed and placed in the church and at once several miraculous happenings took place, showing to the people how right they were in invoking their Blessed Mother under this title. It was decided that the 21st of November of each year would the official feast day, which has remained until now. Although no records were left of the growth of the devotion in these islands, after two hundred years, the Redemptorist Fathers who came to Opon in 1906 would write: The church of Opon contains a very famous shrine of the Blessed Virgin Mary, under the title of Nuestra Senora de Regla, Our Lady of the Rule. This famous statue is said to be a copy of the one St. Augustine had in his study. It is about two and a half feet high. The face is rather dark, the hair long and flowing, and she holds the Divine Infant in a standing position before her in her arms. The statue is richly dressed, both figures having rich crowns on their heads, and many rings on her fingers. The people, not only of this Island of Mactan, but of all the neighboring islands have a great devotion to this statue and it has made Opon famous in all the Visayas. On the 21st of November, when the feast is celebrated, thousands of pilgrims come here from far away places. Moreover, every Saturday morning there is a sung Votive Mass of the Blessed Virgin. After the Mass the statue is venerated by the people in a special room set apart for this at the back of the Shrine.

As we write these lines in the Marian Year, 1954, a very special honor has been bestowed upon the Shrine of Our Lady of the Rule, as His Grace, Archbishop Julio R. Rosales, D.D. designated it as the official Archdiocesan Pilgrimage Place, and at the same time urged all Parishes of Cebu to make at least one official pilgrimage to the Shrine. About two hundred thousand pilgrims flocked to Opon, from January 1 till October 15. And as the climax of this Marian Year, Nuestra Senora de Regla will be canonically crowned by His Grace, the Archbishop, during the Archdiocesan Marian Congress on November 27 of this year.

May the Virgen de Regla deign to accept our humble tribute of thanks for the many graces given to her people. May she continue to protect her children who flock to her now famous Shrine, and may our devotion and confidence in her grown from day to day.

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

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