On July 16, 1251, the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to St. Simon Stock in a vision while he was Prior General of the Carmelite monastery of Aylesford in England. Holding a brown scapular in her hand, she promised that whoever wore it until his death would be saved. So goes the Carmelite tradition which spreads the scapular devotion through the ages and firmly establishes Mary as mediatrix between faithful souls on earth and our Lord Jesus Christ – Him being the Way, the Truth and the Light. Ultimately, its fruit has been the high esteem and fervent love offered to Our Lady of Mount Carmel whose maternal help has become a living spring of eternal hope and deep consolation to the Order and to the Flock.
Arrival in the Philippines
The image of Our Lady of Carmel was bought to Manila by Fr. Rodrigo de San Miguel, OAR in 1681. On his way to the Philippines from Spain he stopped in Mexico where the discalced Carmelite nun of San Jose Monastery gave him the image as testimony of reciprocal confraternity between the Recollect province of San Nicholas de Tolentino and their community. Many believed the image to be miraculous and not without good reasons numerous miracles had already been attributed to it.
The image of Our Lady of Carmel was enshrined in the newly built San Sebastian on May 5, 1621. This was the only Shrine of Our Lady of Carmel for more than 200 years, as the Carmelite order was not yet established in the Philippines.
The image of Our Lady of Carmel has touched people in different ways as evidenced by millions of people who wear the brown Scapular. As she is also known Patroness of the souls in Purgatory some people wear Her scapular as they want a peaceful death. There are many devotees who can attest that this has been granted. Others wear the scapular because they would like to be saved by Our Lady in sudden or unexpected death.
An extraordinary event in the seventeenth century helped increase the people’s devotion to Her. There was a gravely ill prelate, Msgr. Juan Velez, dean of Manila Cathedral and later Bishop of Cebu. Who had given all hope in doctors? He had earlier heard of the miraculous cures brought about through Our Lady’s intercessions. The ailing prelate requested the Augustinian Recollects to bring the miraculous image to his residence and they acceded. “So evident was the protection of the Virgin in that case (Msgr. Velez’s) that in a matter of days the ailing man was completely healed, relates Recollect chronicler Licinio Ruiz.”
In deep gratitude of the extraordinary favor attributed to of Our Lady of Carmel’s intercession,. Msgr. Velez soon spread the news of the miraculous healing. He likewise urged everyone to develop special devotion to her. The image of Our Lady of Carmel remains unscathed in spite of the various disasters she had been through.
According to historian archivist Fr. Rafael Garcia OAR, the original church built by the Augustinian Recollects, which housed the Virgin was burned down during the uprising of the Sangley’s in Manila. They built a stone church that was also leveled to the ground by a violent earthquake in 1645. Another edifice was again constructed for the Virgin, which was also destroyed by another earthquake. The church was rebuilt but even stronger quake in 1863 destroyed it. Though all these earthquakes the image of Our Lady of Carmel was unharmed.
The main devotion to Our Lady of Carmel was the wearing of the Brown Scapular. As early as 1650, the superior of the Carmelite province of Andalucía in Spain authorized the prior of San Sebastian to bless and impose the scapulars. Msgr. Juan Velez set up the Cofradia del Carmen (Confraternity of Our Lady of Carmel).
In 1691, the Prior General of the Carmelite Order sanctioned this earlier organization. Since the Carmelite Order was not yet established in the Philippines, the Augustinian Recollects were the ones authorized to canonically set up the Cofradia.
To date, we have set up units of Confraternity in the different schools within the parish. At the moment, the use of the Brown Scapular in honor of Our Lady of Carmel, has been spreading nationwide, especially among students, and in particular, among Recollects students, friends and benefactors. This only proves that people’s devotion to Our Lady of Carmel, is by no means confined within the perimeter of San Sebastian Church, where the image had been enshrined since 1621. These devotees are secured in themselves that the Brown Scapular that they wear, at any time or any place they are safe from harm, by her protective arms.
Apparently because of the enshrined image of Our Lady of Carmel at San Sebastian Church, the bombings of Japanese war planes during the opening phase of the last war and the violent shelling’s during the liberation time which leveled to the ground numerous buildings in the City including the old legislative building, and practically all the churches in Intramuros, San Sebastian Church was spared from the ravages of World War II.
Even the Japanese invaders, known for their ruthlessness, seemed to have developed respect for Our Lady of Mount Carmel, treating in very humane manner some of the refugees housed in the church. Then came the bloody Coup d’état last December 1989 when the entire was transformed into a veritable battle ground. San Sebastian Church remained untouched and unharmed. On the contrary, residents around the Malacañang palace. For fear of being caught in the crossfire between government forces and the rebels, flocked to San Sebastian church seeking refuge.
And the irony of it is that the disastrous earthquake which occurred in the Philippines last year 1990 happened on the Feast of Our Lady of Carmel (July 16). Yet in Spite Of being a regular school day with thousands of students in classes at the University Belt area, which is within her domain thousands of people flocked to San Sebastian for the procession a few minutes after the earthquake.
Through the centuries, surviving wars, calamities and church privations, the image of Our Lady of Mount Carmel remains an object of ardent love and affection to her Quiapo parishioners and pious devotees who flock to her for thanksgiving and intercession. In 1983, a perpetual novena to Our Lady of Mount Carmel was initiated by then parish priest of San Sebastian Fr. Nicolas Salvatierra, OAR and is prayed every Saturday. Likewise, much honor is given her especially on the last Saturday of January and on her feastday which falls on July 16 by which a novena and a procession are celebrated. For the numerous miracles attributed to the image of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, she was given the papal honor of being canonically crowned on August 18, 1991, edifying her as truly the Queen of Heaven.
Within the silent walls of San Sebastian Basilica is the altar to Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Her image, bedecked in a richly regal robe, breathes forth the purity and innocence of a virgin handmaid of God.
O beautiful Flower of Carmel … Most Faithful vine … Splendor of Heaven … holy and singular … Flos Carmeli