by Francis A. Gealogo, PhD

Associate Professor sa Department of History, School of Social Scienes, Ateneo de Manila University

Birhen ng Balintawak

This is an excerpt from the article, “Time, Identity and Nation in the Aglipayan Novenario ng Balintawak and Calendariong Maanghang” by  Francis A. Gealogo, PhD of the Journal,Philippine Studies, vol 58 nos. 1 & 2 (2010): 147-168, Ateneo de Manila University, Loyola Heights, Quezon City, 1108 Philippines.

Ang Virgen sa Balintawak ay ang Inang Bayan, or more popularly referred to as the novenario ng Balintawak (Aglipay 1925), was one of the most popular and widely circulated and reproduced religious texts of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente. It was written in Spanish and translated to Tagalog and English.

The novenario contained prayers and readings to be said in parts for nine days, culminating on 26 August of the year, commemorating the Cry of Balintawak that signified the official start of the Philippine Revolution. Although specially written to commemorate the church’s connection with the Philippine revolution, it was also recited on almost all occasions celebrated in the church, including the novena before Christmas and All Saints’ Day, for the feast days of patron saints of various parishes, and was a regular feature of household novenas recited in the private homes of its adherents done almost throughout the year. In the preface to the novenario, Aglipay mentioned that the vision of the Virgen sa Balintawak came when Andres Bonifacio and Emilio Jacinto were sleeping in the house of Tandang Sora in Balintawak and one of them “saw in a dream a beautiful Mother dressed in the style of the farmers of Balintawak leading a pretty child by the hand, dressed like a farmer with short red pants and holding a shiny bolo shouting ‘Kalayaan! Kalayaan!’” 2 Aglipay (1926, i) mentioned thatthe Mother of Balintawak reminds you constantly of your sacred and inescapable duty to make every effort possible to obtain our longed-for Independence; and she is the sacred image of our country.

The voice of the people will constantly resound from our pulpits, reminding you of the great teachings of Rizal, Mabini, Bonifacio and other Filipinos, and these teachings of our greatest compatriots will form the special seal of our National Church.The image of the Virgen sa Balintawak ) became one of the most popular figures of Aglipayan iconography and religious portraiture that was prominently displayed in a number of prewar, preconcordat Aglipayan churches across the archipelago. The resonance of the Virgen sa Balintawak to the Marian image with the child Jesus was not accidental. With the invocation to religious imagery of the national church, the cultivation of the image was primarily a reiteration and continuation of the Catholic tradition of religious devotion to the Marian image and to the image of the Holy Child.

But what contributed to the uniqueness of the religious image was the indigenized physical features and local peasant costumes of both the Virgin and the child, and the call to freedom with which it became associated. The balintawak as a peasant costume of both the mother and the child, and the prominent bolo in the hand of the child that took the place of the usual globe (as in the Santo Niño) and the story of the child shouting Kalayaan, not only indigenized the universal Catholic image of the Virgin with the child, but also appropriated the revolutionary call to arms of the Katipunan and oriented the icon toward a more militant and revolutionary dent.

Balintawak was both the location of the virgin apparition and the type of peasant attire worn by the virgin and the child. By locating the revolutionary apparition of the virgin and the child in Balintawak, with the two dressed in balintawak peasant outfit, the Virgen sa Balintawak was being projected with its revolutionary orientation and peasant origin.With the Virgen sa Balintawak, Aglipayan religiosity, class orientation, and nationalism became incorporated into one iconic representation. As Ileto (1979, 131) has pointed out, for the popular mind, with the Virgen sa Balintawak, “there was no clear distinction, no crisis of meaning as one image flowed into another.

One of the reasons why . . . religiopolitical groups and the Philippine Independent Church swelled with peasant members during the days of the republic and the succeeding years was because ‘nationalist’ and ‘religious’ idioms merged in them.” This loss of perceived boundaries between the “nationalist” and “religious” idioms is consistent with what Ileto advanced as his main point of evaluation for popular movements, from the Cofradia de San Jose of Apolinario de la Cruz, the Katipunan of Andres Bonifacio, to the Republika ng Katagalugan of Macario Sakay.

The early Aglipayan devotion to the Virgen sa Balintawak may be similarly situated and contextualized.Some editions of the novenario ng Balintawak also included a textual benediction of the Mother of Balintawak (Aglipay 1926, 32). The benediction served to clarify Aglipay’s regard for the image of the Virgen sa Balintawak when he mentionedthe Virgin-mother is the Country, for the Country is the only mother that can truly be called virgin, virgin as it is of lust. The Katipunero child represents the people, eager for their liberty, and their spokesmen, prophets and evangelists are the great Filipino teachers Rizal, Mabini, Bonifacio and our other countrymen whose modern sapient teachings will form the best national Gospel.

To this, he elaborated, “all great teachers of mankind have preached that every people should use all their most fervent efforts and all their resources down to the last centavo to liberate their country, and Rizal has given us the example of how a patriot should die for the redemption of his people.”This benediction would expand the religious explanation of the iconography of the Virgen sa Balintawak. To Aglipay the image of the Virgin Mother is the motherland herself while the holy child assumed a Katipunero identity, with bolo and the cry to Kalayaan further strengthening its revolutionary roots.

The Virgen sa Balintawak with a child beside it became the symbolic representation of the inang bayan (motherland) and bayan (people)—and no longer confined to Catholic imagery of the Virgin and the Holy Child. Most editions of the novenario ng Balintawak, therefore, would have as its cover the religious image of the inang bayan and the people, transposed and indigenized from the original image of the Virgin and the Holy Child. The obvious blurring of the boundaries between the sacred and the revolutionary, between the religious and the secular, and the spiritual and the political were all to be found in the Virgen sa Balintawak.This blurring of the boundaries between the religious and the political was manifested not only in the iconography of the Virgen sa Balintawak but also in the contents of the novenario ng Balintawak.

Like most novenarios, the novenario ng Balintawak included specific sections for prayers to be said for all the nine days of the novena celebration and particular readings related to each and every prayer. All in all, there were twenty-seven readings that were spread throughout the nine prayer days of the novena.The first eighteen readings to be read in the first seven days focused on religious exegesis and clarification on the stance of the new church vis-à-vis a number of church issues, including the debate between creation and evolution; the idea of the soul; purgatory; and the role of scientific knowledge in clarifying popular knowledge.

These the novenario clarified by citing biblical passages interspersed with citations from disparate nonreligious texts from the disciplines of history, astronomy, ethnography, folklore, biology, anthropology, and other fields. The presentation always took the form of biblical passages presented as the base knowledge, and the explanations from the other disciplines as elaborations of biblical passages.Most of these first eighteen readings were actually condensed versions of earlier Aglipayan texts often attributed to Isabelo de los Reyes, particularly the Oficio Divino (De los Reyes 1906) and the Biblia Filipina (De los Reyes 1908a).

As I have noted in an earlier study (Gealogo 2006, 154), the texts clarified the position of science not only in the production of knowledge but in the clarification of religious issues, while ethnography and folklore presented religion based on scientific inquiry to best locate the position of Philippine religiosity and the emerging Philippine nation in relation to other religious communities outside the country. In a way, Oficio Divino and the Biblia Filipina were presented togive an assessment of the various religious traditions of the world, and contextualize indigenous belief systems in these traditions. This theme, that of the Philippines-as-part-of-the-world, presents both the appreciation of de los Reyes of the universality of belief systems and the place of the Philippines in this system, as well as the uniqueness of the Philippine communities in expressing their specific and particular religious traditions.

The Philippine nation as a religious community,therefore, is both located/related in this universal world and at the same time unique in this world. (ibid., 153)Although extensive in its treatment of religious and academic issues, it was doubtful whether the Oficio Divino or the Biblia Filipina ever attained any significant level of popular acceptance among the majority of adherents of the early Iglesia Filipina Independiente. The voluminous texts written in academic Spanish rendered the texts difficult to realize a significant level of popular appreciation by the majority of its non-Spanish reading members. The highly technical jargon and the nonintegration of the readings to day-to-day religious observance rendered it beyond the reach of most of the adherents of the church. One must also take into account the ordinary members’ apparent lack of physical access to the books, which were published in Spain and apparently printed in fairly limited number of copies.

What the Oficio Divino and the Biblia Filipina failed to achieve in terms of popular acceptance was fulfilled by the novenario ng Balintawak. The readings in the Novenario, although these retained the major ideas propounded in the earlier Oficio Divino and Biblia Filipina, were brief, crisp, and direct to the point. Printed and widely circulated in the Philippines and with translations in the vernacular languages, the Novenario was able to reach the readers that the Oficio Divino and the Biblia Filipina failed to reach. Moreover, the integration of the readings to the religious practice of the novena ensured that the passages would at least be repeatedly read and recited by the majority of the adherents of the new church.

If the first eighteen readings focused on the theological, scientific, and even folkloric basis of the faith that the Iglesia Filipina Independiente tried to project as the basis of its belief, the last nine readings were undoubtedly nonreligious in orientation. Beginning with the readings on the concept of the establishment of a national church, the succeeding readings were actually compilations of writings of Filipino heroes, including the Decalogue of Mabini, the Kartilya of the Katipunan, and excerpts of Rizal’s essays and letters. The inclusion of the writings of the Filipino heroes was explained in the nineteenth reading to be read on the seventh day of the novena.

Again invoking the Virgen sa Balintawak, it statedang Virgen sa Balintawak ay sagisag ng ating Bayan at ang sanggol na katipunan na kanyang dala, ay ang Bayang Filipino, ang sumisibol na salinlahi, ang kabataang naghahangad ng pagsasarili, at ang dalawang larawang ito ang twina’y magpapagunita sa inyo sa ating tungkuling di maiiwasan at napakabanal na gawin ang lahat ng pagsasakit upang makamtan ito. Dahil dito sa simbahang ito ay mabubuhay at tuwina’y mag-uumugong na muli ang mga aral na walang kamatayan ni Rizal at iba pang mga bayaning Filipino ukol sa ating mga tungkulin sa Dios at sa ating bayan. Kaya’t mga kapatid, parito kayo’y tumulong sa dakilang gawaing ito sa pagtubos sa ating bayan at sa pagtubos ng ating budhi, sa halip na makadami sa hukbo ng mga kaaway ng bayan at ng ating pagsasarili at makaragdag pa sa kanilang puno ng kaban ng yaman.

(Aglipay 1925, 42,44)the Virgin of Balintawak is the symbol of our nation, and the Katipunan child that she bears is the Filipino nation, the rising generation, the youth that longed for independence, and the two figures are constant reminders to you of our inescapable duty to follow the sacrifices of those who suffered to obtain it. Because of this, the undying teachings of Rizal and other heroes will be kept alive by the church and will always echo in its temples, as part of our obligation to God and nation. So, brothers and sisters, come and help us in this noble task of liberating our country and our conscience, instead of enlarging the ranks of the enemies of our nation and our freedom, and adding to their vast treasures.

The inclusion of the historical and political writings of Filipino heroes, therefore, was not meant to simply rekindle the past and include the study of the nation’s history as part of the performance of religious ritual. What became more important was the institutionalization of the church as the bearer of the undying principles (aral na walang kamatayan) of those who fought for independence, and the torchbearer of the continuing struggle of the nation, as the liberation of the people had yet to be completed and the enemies of the nation were still present.

The novenario presented the role of the church not only as the repository of knowledge to be recited repeatedly through religious rituals like the novena. It presented the church as the institution that was tasked to keep constant vigilance because the objectives of freedom and liberation had yet to be fully realized by the nation. The novenario was both a text for the performance of religious ritual and a compilation of primary historical documents that would constantly remind the flock of the church’s revolutionary roots and its liberating task of attaining independence for the people.

By including the historical writings of Filipino heroes as part of the novena’s readings, the novenario ng Balintawak integrated the realm of religion with the realm of politics. The invocation of past historical works to serve as guide for future political tasks became one of the objectives of the novenario. Dios at bayan—God and nation—were fully integrated in the observance of the religious vocation. The members of the church were made fully aware of the tasks not only to fulfill religious vows but also to meet their social and national obligations.

 *Lifted from the Notes of YIFI South Luzon ,



  1. Thanks for this good information. We really need to educate our members especially those who have devotion to different Names of Mary. The IFI has our very own Birhen Balintawak! When I was assigned in IFI Sucat in 2006, it was named Our Lady of Fatima Mission but after a year of educating the congregation and following all the process in the diocesan level, in 2007 during its annual fiesta (May), our mission in Sucat was changed to Misyon ng Birhen Balintawak. That is why IFI Sucat Mission celebrates Birhen Balintawak fiesta every 3rd Saturday (now Sunday) of May. The education campaign was not limited to the IFI congregation only but to the whole community as well where our mission is located.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s