Cavite City’s San Roque Church is most known for enshrining the image of Our Lady of Porta Vaga, one of the most venerated Marian images in the Philippines. The image is so revered that in 1978, Pope John Paul II canonically crowned the icon as the Queen of Cavite. In the same year, it was declared a Natural Cultural Treasure by the National Museum of the Philippines.
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In March 1984, the icon of Our Lady of Porta Vaga was stolen from its altar. Locals say that it rained continuously until the mayor found the icon at an antique shop in Cebu. It was recovered on the Feast of the Assumption, on August 15, 1984.
During the Spanish Colonial Period, Cavite was a thriving port town and walled settlement, similar to Intramuros. Because of its strategic location, several different religious orders set up churches, convents, and hospitals in the cosmopolitan town.
At one point, the fortified town contained eight churches: San Pedro (Augustinian), San Diego (Franciscan), Nuestra Señora de los Remedios (Augustinian), Nuestra Señora de Loreto (Jesuit), Santa Monica (Recollect), San Pedro Telmo (Dominican), San Juan de Dios (St. John of God), and Nuestra Señora de la Soledad de Porta Vaga (La Ermita).
However, during World War II, the historic city was flattened by bombing, and most of the structures were destroyed. Today, only the bell tower of the Santa Monica Church and two bastions of Fort San Felipe (a Spanish-era military fortress) remain of the walled city.
One of the most famous Marian devotions in the country, the devotion to Our Lady of Porta Vaga has an origin story that is shrouded in mystery. Local legend has it that on a stormy night, a Spanish sentinel at the Vaga Gate of Cavite Port saw a bright light on Cañacao Bay. Fearing that it was pirates, the sentry called out to the light source, demanding it to stop and identify itself.
A sweet, melodious voice replied, “Soldadito, porque el alto me das en noche tan fria? Dame paso. No conoces a Maria?” (Soldier boy, why challenge me on a night so cold? Let me pass. Don’t you recognize Maria?) Awestruck, the sentinel immediately begged for forgiveness.
The next morning, the storm had subsided. Fishermen and workers found a framed painting of Our Lady of Porta Vaga along the beach, near the area where the Virgin appeared to the sentry the night before. Some claimed that it had washed up from a Spanish galleon that sank during the storm.
The natives took the icon to the parish priest, who installed it temporarily in the parish church. Eventually, the Ermita de Porta Vaga was constructed along the port’s walls. During World War II, the Imperial Japanese Army ransacked the church and threw the image into a junkyard. Father Pedro Lerena y Lerena, the parish priest at the time, recovered the icon and deposited it in the Archbishop’s Palace in Intramuros, then the Philippine National Bank.
After the end of the war, the icon returned to Cavite. The Ermita de Porta Vaga was destroyed during the war, and so Our Lady of Porta Vaga was re-enshrined at the San Roque Church, where it remains to this day.
Travel west on CAVITEx until you reach the Binakayan-Kawit Toll Plaza. Then, take the exit on the left toward EPZA. Merge onto Binakayan Diversion Road, and after 4 kilometers, take a sharp right onto EPZA Diversion Road. At the end of EPZA Diversion Road, turn left, then turn right onto M. Salud Road. Turn right onto Magdiwang Highway, then turn right onto Manila-Cavite Road. After 5.3 kilometers, continue onto J.Felipe Boulevard. Take a slight right toward Lopez Jaena, then continue along Lopez Jaena. Turn right at Dra. Salamanca. Turn right at the L. Rojas Building onto P. Burgos Avenue. You should see the San Roque Parish Church on your left.
Sources: Jose, Regalado Trota. “The Eight Churches of Cavite Puerto (1586-1800).” Philippine Quarterly of Culture and Society, vol. 15, no. 4, 1987; “The Porta Vaga and the Apparition of the Virgin of Solitude”, Pagina Oficial de la Virgen de la Soledad