The “Birhen Sa Barangay” was the title given by Datu Antonio C. Gaston to the Filipino image of the Blessed Virgin, the patroness of the “Birhen Sang Barangay” organization founded by him.
Before the image materialized, Datu Gaston envisioned a Filipino image of the Blessed Virgin as patroness of the organization. He had a word with Bishop Emmanuel Yap, D.D. who approved of the idea, but the bishop suggested that the image, however, should give an impression of Jewishness.
Getting the icon painted posed a problem. Artists from the Salesian order as well as from graduates of prestigious art schools were asked to put to canvass the idea of Datu Gaston but the resulting works were found to be inadequate. Months later, Father Pixner sent Gaston a painting done by Crisogono Domingo, an inmate of Santa Barbara Leprosarium, a mere house painter. The painting was done not on a canvass but on a lawanit board.
One look at the painting and Gaston immediately knew that this was the image he was envisioning of. Presenting it to the Bishop, it was received enthusiastically and was approved. Bishop Yap acclaimed it to be a work of art and inspiration. On October 16, 1954, at Cadiz City, the icon was canonically blessed and installed in the diocese.
From that day onwards, the image of the “Birhen Sa Barangay” gained the love of the Filipino people. It travelled and visited the different towns and cities of the Philippine Archipelago. In June 12, 1975, the original painting of the image arrived in the Diocese of Tagbilaran for a visit. It was brought to Bohol by the Regional Datu of Davao, Lakan Olibo and his companions.
The image toured the island of Bohol, going from parish to parish, even to the remotest barrios or barangays. The last parish visited was Sikatuna and from there, she was brought to Ilihan Hill Chapel in Jagna on February 3, 1979. She stayed there up to January 12, 1981. Two days later, on January 14, 1981, she was brought back to Bacolod City. Her visit to Bohol lasted for 6 years and 15 days.
During the historical visit of the Holy Father in Bacolod City, the image of the Virgin was personally blessed by His Holiness, Pope John Paul II on February 20, 1981 at the Bishop’s Palace.
Many miracles were attributed to the image of “Birhen Sa Barangay”. Devotion to the Blessed Virgin grew through the years, especially in Bohol. All parishes, even the remotest barrios honor the Virgin by letting her visit every household. Together with the image of the “Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal” (in the absence of this image, other images of the Blessed Virgin are used) the banner of the Birhen Sa Barangay is brought along.
The miraculous image of the Birhen Sa Barangay, although not the original painting, is toured throughout the island in the months of June. It is received with love by all Boholanos. Roads, where it passes, are lined with flowers and potted plants. Others use blue and white flaglets or buntings.
The miraculous image usually stays overnight in a chapel where the faithful offer prayers, novenas and render vigils. From the time of her arrival until she leaves, a steady flow of the faithful come to light candles; some asking for favors while others thank her for graces granted. Others bring along their hankies and wipe the image with great love while praying ardently. A Mass is solemnly held in her honor before she leaves for another chapel.
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