a most unusual saint
the title Black Magic Mary is enough to conjur images of a witch draped in black robes similar to that of the Virgin Mary albeit with a more sinister aura. in Sta. Maria Church in Siquijor, a saint wearing a black habit holds a skull in one hand and an "inverted cross" in another is fast gaining a reputation that is probably influenced by the mystic history of the island itself.
locals have speculated that the skull is actually her husband's and that she murdered her husband for reasons that seems to have been lost in history. a bit of research show that the locals refer to the saint as Santa Rita de Siquijor, probably a Filipino convention where we name the Virgin Mary with annexes related to places (e.g. Our Lady of Guadalupe).
my own research led me to discover this particular "myth" in an effort to know more about Santa Rita de Cascia who is the patron saint of a church and town named after her in Pampanga.
The first thing that caught my attention was the skull. you don't see many saints holding on to a skull unless you go to one of those demon worshiping places. my travel companions and host don't have answers to my questions and we went around the place to look for a picture worthy tableau. internally, i've already made up my mind that i was going to do a bit of research after my trip.
in one part of the church grounds, i saw the a bust of Santa Rita surrounded by roses. Upon closer inspection, one would notice that she had a red dot on her forehead. ignorant fool that i am, i assumed she must have been indian. and yes, a number of indians are catholics and carry catholic names.
going to the front of the church, i came upon a statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus (the one where he has the exposed bleeding heart). i felt a slight crawl on my skin as i looked at the structure as i noted that he had very dark almost black eyes that contrasted with the overall white paint. it was more disconcerting that he had streaks of black that dripped from his forehead, through his eyes and cheeks all the way down to his chin. it was only when i processed my pictures and zoomed closer that i discovered that his eyes were actually very life like with a bluish gray cast. the details was enough that you can distinguish the pupil from the iris.
a friend of mine speculated that the original statue was probably painted intricately but was washed over at one point.
the church structure itself is not that spectacular considering that the interiors have been repainted and redone in such a way that took away much of the details one would expect from a structure that had its start in 1726 and completed in its current structure in 1868.
what made the church special is that it holds an actual relic from Santa Rita that was ensconced in the church last August 17, 2008. Unfortunately, no one seemed to know what exact "relic" is kept in the shrine.
so far the stories are not that "interesting" compared to that of apung tiago in betis and san guillermo in bacolor.
but then again, i still have to do my research about Santa Rita de Cascia.
to answer the question about the skull, it is purported to be her husband's, that much is assumed to be true. what is myth is that she killed her own husband. sources disagree but generally, she was wedded to Paolo Mancini at the age of 12 (or 14 as some literature claim) despite her wishes to enter the convent.
the husband is an abusive man and she bore two sons from the union. despite this, she persevered and eventually turned her husband from his evil ways and they lived a home life in relative bliss. it is to this fact that she is the patron saint for troubled marriages as well as lost and impossible causes.
at one point, her husband was murdered violently and following the old Italian tradition of La Vendetta, her sons plotted to avenge their father despite her insistent pleas to "forgive and forget".
when she failed to convince her sons to abandon their wicked plan, she prayed to God for the death of her sons and they died within a year because of dysentery, thus "saving" their soul.
at this point i was feeling rather queasy over the fact that a mother wishing the death of her own son is something that is alien in a filipino family concept. furthermore, her "prayers" sounded more like a killing curse - the catholic equivalent of harry potter's "avada kedavra" - perhaps this is the real reason why she is referred to as the Black Magic Mary in Siquijor.
her story does not end at this point. free from her marriage and with no family, she sought to enter the convent where she was denied a number of times due to the fact that she is not a virgin, she was previously married and had kids.
eventually she was admitted in Saint Mary Magdalene's convent in Cascia where she led a life of prayer and sacrifice.
there goes my "indian" saint theory.
as stories go, there is reason why her bust in the church grounds had a red dot on her forehead. this is where things get a little creepy.
in one of her meditation in the convent, she prayed "Please let me suffer like you, Divine Saviour" and a thorn from the crown of thorns adorning the crucifixion of Jesus Christ fell and hit her in the forehead, leaving a gaping wound that never healed and became a full stigmata.
at this point i was scrambling to check my pictures and came up with the image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus with the black stains on His forehead. coincidence? creepy?
nevertheless, the story continued that in her death bed, Santa Rita asked her cousin for a rose and a fig from her old house. her cousin probably thought her senile as it was January and supposedly the winter season would have long killed the plants in her yard. still, the cousin obliged Santa Rita and visited the house only to find a single rose in full bloom as well as a ripe fig ready to be plucked. this is the reason why the fig and the rose are considered as her symbols.
which ties in to her bust in the church grounds surrounded by flowering roses. again the series of coincidence is just astonishing although i would attribute this to people who probably did their own research and came up with the same story, hence that nice "rose" detail in the garden.
i wished that i did a bit more inspection of the structure considering the story of a most unusual saint that watches over the church. perhaps another trip, this time to Siquijor so i can close the loop of this fascinating story.
note : photo credits to adamgm in flickr.com for the first pic.