Tag Archives: Virgin Mary

Guanyin, the Chinese Virgin Mary and Tampines Temple

My 19 month old son and I goes out for a walk every day. We live on a circular road. We start and end on the same spot, in front of a Chinese temple.

They say memories are attached to where our parents takes us the most. It won’t surprise me if my son develops a penchant for old Chinese architecture. He sees it everyday.

I saw an exhibit about the town’s history at the local library last Sunday. Turns out that the temple houses old religious relics. It was built three decades ago, a project that placed 13 Taoist temples together under one roof. The reason was the redevelopment of the town into a residential and commercial area (it used to host a dump site and big sand quarries along with scattered kampung villages). Understandably there were objections but eventually everyone decided to follow the government’s plan.

Guanyin and Mama Mary

I attended a wedding a few years ago and had an interesting conversation with the groom about Cavite’s history. He shared anecdotes about his ancestor, General José Ignacio Paua. He was called “intsik” by his contemporaries in the Philippine revolution. He was ethnic Chinese from Fujian. Most people remembers him for arresting and stabbing Andres Bonifacio. But the groom, of course, skipped that part.

According to him, Paua had a hand in recovering Cavite City’s Our Lady of Porta Vaga after the revolution. As proof, he said, he wrote his name on a concealed part of the Marian icon.

How true is this story? I don’t know. I sat there, listened and ate lechon. But the part I remember clearly was that according to this guy, the Chinese during those days worshipped the Virgin Mary because to them she’s the same as their deity Guanyin (Mazu). This I know but what I found interesting was that the deity Guanyin is a popular devotion among Fujian locals, the place where Paua was born. He must have been himself a devotee of our Lady of Porta Vaga because to him she’s the same as the deity Guanyin.

In Ari Dy’s book “Chinese Buddhism in Catholic Philippines,” he writes, “they (devotees of Guanyin) notes that both (Guanyin and Virgin Mary) are maternal and compassionate figures and are therefore the same in that they serve the function of heeding the cries and supplications of their spiritual children.”

Catholic clergy in the Philippines doesn’t encourage syncretism but they don’t repress it. Guanyin was originally a male, before shattering into pieces, then reappearing as a woman. Some devotees refers to her as the Chinese Virgin Mary. There are images of her that resembles that of the mother of Christ. The one in the temple near our home are seated like Buddha without a child and does not have any likeness with traditional depictions of Mary.

Perhaps the historical importance of this syncretism was its religious and cultural creations that we see in our churches and museums to this day. Jeremy Clarke in his book “The Virgin Mary and Catholic Identities in Chinese History” suggests that “the rise in the production of Madonna influenced the manner Guanyin images were produced… these deliberate borrowings become more evident when one considers the development of trade in south east asia throughout the 18th century.”

The demand for Marian and other religious images employed hoards of Chinese sculptors during the Spanish era. Their religious roots, unconsciously or maybe consciously, influenced their work. This explains the countless religious icons bearing Chinese features (like Virgin Marys with chinita eyes) in our old churches. The Chinese in the 19th and 18th century Philippines seemed to have adapted seamlessly to the Filipino way of life, like they do in business.

Elvis Presley’s “Miracle of the Rosary”

He’s such a mama’s boy. I’m not surprised he adored our Virgin Mother. He understands the spiritual bond that binds a son with his mother. People close to him believes that he never recovered from the death of his Mother, Gladys.

Dolores Hart in an interview stated that while Elvis grew up in southern protestant tradition (and most probably remained one) she believes that the King of Rock has always drawn inspiration from other spiritual traditions.




In Sibonga, there is this barrio called Simala where people flock to see the miraculous image of the Virgin (Mary Queen of Heaven and Earth). The convent and church has been attracting Catholics, not only here in Cebu, but as far as Manila.

I visited this place May 23 this year. It was one of those unexpected stopover –  I’m glad I did drop by. I wasn’t looking to go but for some reason I got curious (I was supposed to go to Barili). I heard that it was perched on a hill and has been known to heal the sick and grant wishes, well, I have a few, so I thought it was a good idea. So I did go down where countless habal-habal (motorcycles) operators eagerly awaits its passengers.

Just the other day, I was reminded of this trip when I saw one of my colleagues work station with the image of the weeping Virgin posted on his work station. He said all his blessings in life and in work (he’s been performing extremely well) is because of the Virgin of Simala. I never got close to the Virgin of Simala because the line was so long that it would take the whole afternoon before I get my turn.

From the highway to the convent (called mongha , mga Mongha ni Maria), takes about 15 minutes. The fare is 20 pesos. The roads are paved and for the most part in good condition. The ride also gave me a good view of the mountainous terrain of Sibonga. Vast lands utilized as farms.

The Monastery of the Holy Eucharist, popularly known as Simala Church was built on top of a hill. Its awe inspiring as it combines the church’s architecture and nature. Its elevation provides visitors with a panoramic view of the town and its coast.

Since it was Sunday, people in buses and private vehicles are everywhere. The convent ground is spacious. It can accommodate large numbers of devotees. There are picnic places for families. There are also spaces provided for people who just wanted to rest.

The interior of the Church

The interior of the Church

View from the elevated platform

View from the elevated platform

The colorful candles

The colorful candles


One of the many places where devotees can rest and eat

%d bloggers like this: