Nuestra Señora de Guia (Our Lady of Guidance) in Ermita Church is the oldest Marian image in the Philippines.

On 19 May 1571, a Saturday, Miguel Lopez de Legazpi took possesion of Manila in honor of the King of Spain, Felipe II. On this occasion, one of his soldiers roamed and reached as far as the seashore in what is now the site of Ermita Church. There he witnessed the natives’ pagan worship to a beautiful statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary placed on top of a trunk surrounded by pandan leaves.

Commemorative Stamp

Stamp commemorating the 400th anniversary of the finding of the image of Nuestra Señora de Guia. From philippine-trivia.com

It was believed that the image must have been brought to the Philippines in 1521 by Magellan’s own ships and was later sent by Cebu chieftains as a gift to one of the many rajahs in Manila.

In a Royal Decree dated 9 August 1578, the King of Spain declared Nuestra Señora de Guia as the “Sworn Patroness” of Manila by reason of the continual favors that the Blessed Virgin lavished on the city.

Foremost among Marian shrines

Ermita Church, where the statue stands, is  historically foremost among Marian shrines in the Philippines.

With the designation of 1954 as Marian year, Nuestra Señora de Guia took on added relevance. The Marian year celebrated the centenary of the proclamation of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception — and Nuestra Señora de Guia is the first statue of the Immaculate Conception ever set eyes upon by Filipinos.

Patroness of Seafarers

Since the Spanish colonial times, Nuestra Señora de Guia has shown abundant favors, especially to navigators of ships from Spain. It is in this light that she was given the title “Guia” (guide). Whenever a galleon was scheduled to sail for New Spain, the navigators would make a novena of Solemn Masses with the attendance of the Cabildo Eclesiastico, alternating with the religious committees.

Similarly, when the galleons were delayed in coming, they carried the image in procession, from her temple in Ermita and ending up in the Manila Cathedral. This resulted in another solemn nine-day festival during which ships from New Spain would arrive safely in spite of turbulent seas. They attribute the arrival of these vessels to the protection given by the Virgen de Guia.

The image of the Virgin is about 50 cm tall, including its pedestal. The lining of its dress on tunic is of dark red silk with white parallel strips. From the waistline to its tunic, it has a kind of tapis, similar to that worn traditionally by Tagalog women.

History of the church

When the Church was finished in 1953, the renowed image was transffered from the Cathedral to its new site with solemn pomp and rejoiced that lasted for eight consecutive days.

On this event a loa (praise) was composed, dialogued in regular verses by three speakers, one representing the city of Manila, another the people of Ermita, and the third the guardian angel of the town.