The feast of Our Lady of Peñafrancia is celebrated on the third Saturday of September in Naga City, Bicol Philippines. All roads and routes will lead to Naga City in Camarines Sur where six million Bicolanos from here and abroad will flock to that progressive city to pay honor to the Virgin of Peñafrancia, miraculous patroness of the Bicol Region. Bicolanos from all walks of life will be in Naga City to meet their relatives and partidarios, share food, drinks, and prayers with them, and most of all, to pay homage and make thanksgiving to the Virgin of Peñafrancia, whom the Bicolanos fondly call Ina. Viva la Virgen, they will shout to high heavens. The feast day is headed by a novena, nine days of prayer, in honor of the Virgin. On the first day, the image of the Virgin, a copy of the Madonna in Peñafrancia, Spain, is brought from its shrine to the Naga Cathedral where the novena is held. On the last day, the image is returned to her shrine following the Naga River route. The colorful evening procession is lit by thousands of candles from followers in boats escorting the image. When the flatboat reaches its destination, the devotees shout “Viva la Virgen” (Long live the Virgin!) and the image is carried back in a procession to the cathedral.
Millions of Bicolanos will once again show to the whole Christian world their strong faith and loyalty to their Heavenly Mother. amongst triumphant sounding shouts of Viva la Virgen , Bicolanos and pilgrims, with lighted candles in their hands, will kneel on the ground and bow their heads in prayer as the colorful fluvial procession carrying the Virgin plows through the Bicol River in downtown Naga.
A multicolored pagoda carrying the images/icons of the Virgin of Peñafrancia and the Divino Rostro will pass through the Bicol River. Male, sunburned devotees of the Virgin will adhere to the huge pagoda in a heartwarming display of faith and devotion. Actually, the fluvial procession marks the return of the Virgin from the Naga Metropolitan Cathedral to her home shrine at the Basilica. Upon its arrival, the Virgin will be received in formal religious rites by Roman Catholic dignitaries of the Bicol Region.
Considered the biggest and most popular religious event in the Philippines, the Peñafrancia fiesta is in fact a one-week affair that starts on the second Friday of September when the miraculous Ina is transferred from her shrine to the centuries-old Naga Metropolitan Cathedral where a nine-day novena and prayers are held in her honor. Ranking government officials, Cabinet members, ambassadors, governors, mayors, senators, diputados , business/industry leaders, landlords, etc., vie for the distinct honor of sponsoring a nightly novena and prayers at the Naga Cathedral.
A procession, locally called traslacion (is the transferring of the miraculous Image of the Virgin, Our Lady of Peñafrancia and of the Divino Rostro to the Metropolitan Cathedral of Naga City for a Novena and Holy Masses. This begun in 1885.), ushers in the weeklong festivities which include civic and military parades, sports competitions, agro-industrial fairs, cultural shows, and the coronation of Miss Bicolandia beauties.
During the traslacion, which passes through the main streets of Naga, the miraculous Ina of the Bicolanos is borne on the rugged, muscular shoulders of barefooted voyadores who form a human barricade to protect the Virgin from the unruly crowd. Call it absolute coincidence or plain superstition, but any Bicolano will swear to high heavens that the presence of a woman, Filipina or foreigner, aboard the merrily decorated pagoda will surely spell disaster. Whether this belief is true or not, only the Bicolanos know. But past events and experiences support their claim.
A Spanish government official from Peñafrancia, Spain, a native of San Martin de Castanar, the Covarrubias family, settled with his family in Cavite in 1712, according to locals. One day, A son, Miguel Robles de Covarrubias, a seminarian studying in the Universidad de Santo Tomas, Manila got very ill. He and his family prayed to Our Iady of Penafrancia whose picture he was clutching to his breast for his recovery and to spare his life. He also made a vow that if cured, he would construct a chapel by the bank of Pasig river in Manila, in gratitude to Her. Miraculously cured, he eventually was ordained a priest not in Manila but in the Ciudad de Nueva Caceres (now known as Naga City) by Bishop Andres Gonzalez. To fulfill his vow, Padre Miguel, the ftrst diocesan priest to be ordained in Naga, did two things: one, he mobilized the natives along the slopes of Mt. Isarog to construct a chapel made of local materials, nipa and bamboo this time by the bank of the Bikol river in Naga, not by the Pasig river as earlier envisioned; two, he ordered a local artisan to carve an image patterned after the picture of Our lady he always had with him. Miracles happened then and there. Among them was the story of a dog killed, its neck slashed in order to take out the poor animal’s blood that was used to coat/paint the newly carved image. Dumped into the river, the dead dog began to swim once again alive with hundreds of people witnessing this prodigy. News of many other miracles spread like wildfire so was the devotion to Nuestra Senora de Penafrancia. The letter of Padre Miguel to the Dominican Fathers of Salamanca, Spain in 1712 reported many miracles through the intercession of Our Lady. In the meantime, the devotees grew in number as the devotion spread fast far and wide, even outside the Diocese of Nueva Caceres which before comprised not only the Bikol region but including Tayabas (now Quezon), Marinduque, Laguna up to Palanan, Isabela along the cordillera ranges. Like the biblical “mustard seed” the Penafrancia devotion today is like a “giant tree” whose branches extend to other parts of the world like America, Europe, Australia and Asia. The love story between our lady of Penafrancla we lovingly call “Ina” and us, her children is never ending.
The famous Madonna is said to have miraculous powers. On her feast day, pilgrims gather at her shrine to pay her homage for favors received.