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A visit to Our Lady of Turumba

By BṺM TENORIO JR., The Philippine STAR Published Oct 01, 2021 5:00 am

The day goes by as it is. Quiet. Serene. Even the few motorists driving past the centuries-old San Pedro de Alcantara Church in downtown Pakil, a municipality in Laguna, slow down in deference to the tranquil, pious atmosphere. The parish is also known as the Diocesan Shrine of Our Lady of Turumba.

The midday sun in Pakil is cooperative, friendly even. Cool, sweet breeze blowing from the mountain behind the church is a treat. In the plaza are one or two candle vendors sharing a table with a fruit vendor. A narrow road separates the vendors from the church. There’s stillness in the air.

When Nezlee Alimagno, a dear friend who is like a sister to me (she’s the sister of my bosom buddy Mye Alimagno-Pascual), and I walk from the parking lot to the church, the threat of a downpour becomes imminent with the tug-of-war between rain clouds and azure sky right above us. Earlier, we were in Paete, the woodcarving capital of the country and home to beautiful, world-class takaor papier-mâché.

 ‘Merry Christmas’ from Paete, which is also famous for its taka or papier-mâché.

Faith brought us to Pakil. It is true that we don’t need to leave the house to have faith, to find it, to celebrate it. But faith also allows us to wander. To wonder. Faith allows us to discover the beauty of a place.

(A road trip to Laguna, for Cabuyenos like Nezlee and me, is awesome. It’s a welcome respite to be treated to highways lined with old dipterocarps and other hardwood trees, coastal roads that showcase the beauty of Laguna Lake, fresh breeze from the mountain and yummy treats like kinulob na itikin Victoria and the famous halo-halo in Aling Taleng’s restaurant in Pagsanjan. The well-preserved old houses in Pagsanjan are also a roadside delight as well as the exquisite barong Tagalog made of jusi and piña in Lumban.)

 The roadside of Lumban is lined with makeshift stores selling fruits of the season like rambutan, lanzones and marang.

“It’s my first time to see the image of Our Lady of Turumba,” Nezlee tells the 73-year-old Domingo “Ka Domeng” Garcia, a member of Alagad ng Birhen, a group of the faithful in Pakil devoted to spreading the devotion to the Virgin. We chance upon Ka Domeng with a feather duster in his hand inside the church that is undergoing construction.

It is said that anyone who keeps a piece of the Lady of Turumba’s old clothes is protected from ‘accident, personal injury, fire and calamity.’

“The image of Our Lady of Turumba is actually an oil painting on canvas, measuring 9x11 inches. It was found floating in Laguna Lake until some fishermen caught it in their nets in 1788,” begins Ka Domeng in the vernacular as he leads us to the second floor of the convent where there is a chapel that houses the original painting.

The chapel has an opulent retablo. Its centerpiece is the original painting encased in glass. The painting depicts the face of Mary. The painting is not opulent as her facial expression is replete with pain. A dagger is plunged into her heart.

 The original image of Our Lady of Turumba, an oil painting that was found floating in Laguna Lake in 1788.

I stare at the image for a long time, maybe 10 minutes. The feeling it gives me is the calm and peace I get every time I am inside the Adoration Room where the Blessed Sacrament is exposed. But the chapel of the Our Lady of Turumba also pinches my heart; I wonder no more why it is also called Our Lady of Sorrows of Turumba.

According to oral history, as related by Ka Domeng, the image was carried by a group of missionaries crossing the lake in a boat. The boat capsized and some fishermen retrieved the image one Friday morning. To their surprise, the painting was so heavy it was weighing down the boat. So they decided to leave it on a slab of rock near Pakil Church and then went back to the lake to continue fishing.

There’s a certain kind of tranquility that permeates the soul after saying a prayer to Our Lady of Turumba. The spirit experiences an unexplainable calmness. The heart is enveloped with gratitude and kindness.

Come Sunday morning, added Ka Domeng, a group of sakadoras  (women fish buyers) found the icon lying on the rock. The canvas was dry even though it had rained the night before. They tried to lift it but found it very heavy. They called the parish priest, sacristans and the faithful attending the Mass to carry the image. Finally, they were all able to carry the painting. It was at that moment when they were bringing the image to the church that people started to sing and dance — giving birth to turumba.

“We were told that turumba came from a Latin word tarum, which means to go into a trance, to sing and dance without any choreography,” says Ka Domeng, adding that earlier tradition saw men and women of Pakil dancing on the streets while clapping their  bakya (wooden sandals).

According to the etymology of turumba, it is from the Tagalog phrase “natumba sa laki ng tuwa (had trembled in great joy).”

 The author with Nezlee Alimagno at the promenade area of Paete church.

Devotion to Our Lady of Turumba is popular among people from Quezon province, says Ka Domeng. It’s becoming more popular in other parts of Laguna as a replica of the painting of Our Lady of Turumba is now being venerated at the Shrine of St. Vincent Ferrer in Mamatid, Cabuyao, Laguna and will be transferred to a nearby parish in Calamba after.

Enshrined in the altar of the church in Pakil is the centuries-old statue of Our Lady of Turumba, fashioned after the image on the painting. It was said to be sent by Spain after church authorities learned about the discovery of the 9 x 11-inch painting in the lake. The statue is usually dressed in the color of Lent, violet, to signify that the faithful will also honor the Passion of Christ, the way the Blessed Mother did.

Old dresses of Our Lady of Turumba are shredded, said Ka Domeng. Each shred is put in a small plastic container and with it the prayer to the Virgin on a piece of paper. This serves as a token to every pilgrim who visits the church. It is said that anyone who keeps a piece of the Lady of Turumba’s old clothes is protected from “accidents, personal injury, fire and calamities.”

There’s a certain kind of tranquility that permeates the soul after saying a prayer to Our Lady of Turumba. The spirit experiences an unexplainable calmness. The heart is enveloped with gratitude and kindness. The mind is clear — as clear as the raindrops that pour heavily the minute Nezlee and I receive our religious tokens from Ka Domeng.

In times like this, when the silent enemy is still on an invisible rage, our faith is our song of praise, and our dance of hope.