The Dominicans, the Chinese in Binondo, and La Naval de Manila (part 1)


I was first introduced to the Fiesta of La Naval in high school. During October we were required to attend a grand procession that starts from Santo Domingo Church in Quezon City. It was grand because it was so long and attended by a lot of people – up to now. Quiapo procession is of course much bigger; but I think, La Naval is second to Nazareno when it comes to the volume of devotees in Metro Manila. As a high school student I did not know the significance of this fiesta, only lately did I appreciate what it is all about. Besides being simply a Marian procession, the history of La Naval de Manila is packed with wars, warriors, promises made, heroes, prayer, faith, saints, martyrdom, Filipinos, Spanish, Chinese, Muslim, Dutch, Europe and the stories could go on and on. That even Nick Joaquin was a devotee, speaks a lot about this devotion. But let us begin with the simple story of how the image of La Naval was made. But, of course! we keep in mind that the image is just an icon of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the ordinary Jew, the Mother of our Lord.

Sangleye / sangley: word used by the Spaniards to call a pagan-chinese

The La Naval statue was commissioned by Don Luis Perez Dasmarinas, governor of the Philippines and given to the Dominicans. The governor asked a sangley (no one knows the name of this Chinese) to carve the image. The sangley was assisted by the Spanish soldier, Captain Hernando de los Rios Coronel. According to Regalado Trota Jose

            “The sangley remained a pagan for many years, even as he traveled throughout the land accepting commissions from churches. Eventually, when he decided to come down from Ilocos and be baptized, it was to be in front of his masterpiece in the chapel of the Dominicans. As for Rios Coronel, he afterwards became a devoted priest.”

When was the image carved? This is an interesting footnote by Prof. Trota Jose,

            “In La Naval de Manila, written in 1943, Nick Joaquin incorrectly placed the year of the image’s carving at 1612: …Fernando Zobel de Ayala, author of the first scholarly book on Philippine religious imagery (1963) gave 1593 as the year of carving. Given Aduarte’s account, we can only assume that La Naval was carved during the Governor’s (Luis Perez Dasmarinas) tenure, i.e. 1593-1596.”

Now, following Prof. Trota Jose we know that most likely the image of La Naval was made in 1593-1596. But what about the three men responsible for the carving of the La Naval image: the sangley, Capitan Coronel and Perez Dasmarinas? Unfortunately, not much is known about what kind of life the unnamed sangley lived after his conversion. But he probably was one of the best, for he was not the only Chinese ivory carver during that time. And if he stayed in the Philippines until the end of his life, he might probably have settled in Binondo, but that is just a conjecture. However, we know something about the life of Captain Hernando de los Rios Coronel and Luis Perez Dasmarinas. The once Captain Coronel, now Fr. Coronel, had an interesting reputation. Besides being skilled in fighting – he was after all a seasoned soldier who went with Luis Perez Dasmarinas for some expeditions – he was also praised by Wenceslao Retana (Rizal’s contemporary) as “one of the greater figures of import in Philippine history, a true intellectual who combined the skills of a writer, politician, and scientist.” Coronel drew the first map of Luzon in 1597, he read Copernicus, knew mathematics, astronomy, geography, commerce and had an active voice in Spain. After he was ordained a priest, he stayed in Quiapo. He was “overtook” during the Chinese Insurrection of 1603.

Don Luis Dasmarinas was the one who obtained Binondo as a village for the Chinese in 1594. In 1595 he established the Parian outside the walls of Intramuros. After active service, Dasmarinas settled near the church and convento of Binondo. In 1603 he was killed by the Chinese during the Chinese insurrection against the Spaniards.

The three humble men in the story behind the image of La Naval de Manila surely had lives of adventure worthy to be told for generations. If Filipinos would just bother to know what was happening in the Philippines during 1500-1600s they’d know that it was not a dark age for us, it was an era of adventure.

In case you ask where the image of La Naval is, it is in Santo Domingo Church in Quezon City. It is the same statue made by the unnamed Chinese who converted to Catholicism, prayed to by Padre Coronel and Perez Dasmarinas and thousands of Spaniards, Filipinos and Catholic Chinese before us. Not to mention Jose Rizal and Manuel Quezon. This October 9, 2016 will be her grand procession. It starts at 4PM in Santo Domingo Church.

Our story still continues.


Sources for these three-part essay:

The Saga of La Naval: Triumph of a People’s Faith. Dominican Province of the Philippines, 2007. (This coffee table book is available in National Bookstore and Santo Domingo Church in Quezon City really cool book).

Villaroel, Fidel. Lorenzo Ruiz de Manila: The Protomartyr of the Philippines and His Companions. Manila: UST Press, 1987.  

Cortes, Regino. The Story of La Naval. Quezon City:Santo Domingo Convent, 1999.


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