Three Weddings and a Breastfeeding Virgin

Manila, the Philippines

May 18, 2014

My grandfather must have turned in his grave. He was the first Filipino Baptist minister in my hometown in the 1930s; fast forward to about 80 years later and his daughter – my mother – declared she wanted to do a visita iglesia in Manila. As a PK (pastor’s kid), Mom could count with one hand the times she had been inside a Catholic church. Perhaps because of this blog, she finally caught on to my fondness for religious art in these colonial era churches.

Wedding @ San Agustin Church, Manila

A Sunday visit to San Agustin Church was both a boon and a bane. The carved molave doors were flung wide open, the nave and altar gloriously lit, and the whole church abuzz with people. The church was not merely a static historical tourist attraction, as one might see it on any given weekday. More importantly, its famous ceiling trompe-l’oeil was illuminated by sparkling chandeliers. So far, so good.

Gatecrashing a Wedding @ San Agustin Church, Manila

It was precisely this beauty and history that made the church a popular venue for Sunday weddings. We chanced upon three ceremonies, skewered in overlapping succession. Barely had a bridal procession reached the altar when the next wedding’s entourage filled the holding area and occupied Monoblock chairs scattered by the front door. Headset-sporting wedding coordinators barked orders at sweaty sponsors dressed to the nines and restless flower girls and ring bearers. Taking a spot on the back pew, Mom decided to gatecrash the weddings. We caught the first’s newlyweds’ exit to a shower of rice, the second’s bridal march, and the third’s entourage waiting in the wings. She ditched the church museum tour in favor of witnessing a cougar bride wed her young groom.

DoorMom and an Augustinian Priest in Bas-Relief @ San Agustin Church, Manila
Mom Admiring the trompe-l’oeil ceiling @ San Agustin Church, Manila

The raison d’etre of our visita was the Manila Cathedral. Mom had read about its reopening after months of restoration work in the papers, still her main source of information despite being a lola techie. First off, we checked out the replica of La Pieta, cut from the same Italian marble of the Michelangelo original. My sister later posted a photo of the original on Facebook for comparison, and I couldn’t tell them apart!

La Pieta @ Manila Cathedral (L) and San Agustin Church (R)
The Arches of Manila Cathedral
Mom @ Manila Cathedral

Our most memorable find, however, was in another chapel. An unusual depiction of the Virgin Mary – with a breast bared to suckle baby Jesus – was one we had not seen elsewhere. A more common sight was Jesus stripped down to a loincloth, but an exposed female breast, especially that of His mother, seemed too avant-garde for a church.

Virgen de la Leche y Buen Parto (Virgin of the Milk and Good Delivery) @ Manila Cathedral
La Virgen de la Leche y Buen Parto (Virgin of the Milk and Good Delivery) @ Manila Cathedral
Mom and La Pieta @ Manila Cathedral

Our Lady of La Leche beautifully conveyed Mary’s humanity, unlike that of her depiction as the Mother of God. Although the image retained her gold crown as the Queen of Heaven, the act of breastfeeding averted attention to her actual (read: earthly) role in the life of Jesus – as a vessel for His physical birth and nurturing. Surprisingly, conservative Protestants, not Catholics, objected to the mammary exposure. Of all people, I thought Protestants, who did not venerate Mary as Catholics, would celebrate such humanizing depiction of the Virgin. Apparently, an exposed lactating breast had exposed their malicious minds.

Stoup for Holy Water @ Manila Cathedral
Mom and Ki with a Guardia Civil @ Manila Cathedral

It seemed only these Protestants got the drift. And for that, my grandfather could very well rest in peace.

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7 thoughts on “Three Weddings and a Breastfeeding Virgin

  1. yeah, surprisingly malicious; of all people, eh? as if they had never suck any breast all their “.ucking” lives, huh?

    hmm, anyway…it’s nice to be back; back in the world of elecs, electricity, electronics, electronic communications; yap, i really missed the internet – the emailing and the researching, haha! whoa, how glenda can make life miserably crazy for bicolanos! hmm, anyway…manila! hinahanap-hanap kita manila; ang ingay mong kainis sa tenga…

    hi, sir?

    1. Wow, shocked at that “_ucking” word! Never imagined you use such vocabulary. I mistakenly thought you were prim and proper. What speech act is it? 🙂 Anyway, welcome back to kabihasnan. Love how you put it – the world of elecs.

      See you soon for the handouts!

      1. hey, hey, hey…
        the missing letter is “s”. i wonder what letter did you fill in the word “_ucking”; haha, “__inking _irty?” hehee…

  2. Hi AJ! I am Danny Mendiola, an Inquirer senior citizen occasional contributor (High Blood column). I recently wrote about the story of our family’s antique image of the Breastfeeding Virgin. I quoted part of your article, not knowing that I need your permission to do so. I read your copyright claim after I have used the quote. Here are the pertinent portions of the quote from your blog: “Our Lady of La Leche beautiflully conveyed Mary’s humanity…..the act of breastfeeding averted to her actual (read: earthly) role in the life of Jesus — as a vessel for His physical birth and nurturing.” I also mentioned your blog as my source. I hope you don’t mind. Thank you so much. I enjoy your blog….

    1. Sorry Danny but I have to take legal action for your oversight. Just kidding hehe. Thanks for the heads-up, albeit belatedly. At least you still cited me in your article, which, by the way, I would like to read. Please post the link to the online version here. Thanks sir!

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