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The Story Behind Holy Week's Most Visited Pilgrimage Site Edit

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Colleen Cabili  • Contributor
Opinions expressed by Explora.ph Contributors are their own.

TWO MILLION PEOPLE ARE EXPECTED to see the Minor Basilica of Our Lady of Manaoag in Pangasinan this Holy Week. Hailed as the Catholic Mecca of northern Luzon, the Manaoag Basilica is also flocked by thousands upon thousands of devotees during its feast days, which fall on the third Wednesday after Easter and the first Sunday of October.

First time to visit #Manaoag #ManaoagChurch #Pangasinan

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The statue of the Our Lady of Manaoag is carved out of ivory and dressed in golden regalia. She has half-opened, large, almond eyes and has the most pleasant, motherly face. When you gaze at her, she looks like she can bestow forgiveness to even the worst of sinners.

Upon their visit, devotees touch the helm of the Our Lady's mantle, which dates back to the early 17th century. To prevent attempts of theft and burglary, the venerated image is encased in thick bulletproof glass, save for a small window at the bottom where devotees can put a hand in.

These devotees are deep in prayer in front of the venerated statue.

The church’s origins can be traced from a miraculous encounter between the Virgin Mary and a local farmer in the late 1600s. On his way home from toiling the soil the whole day, the worker heard a woman's voice calling him from out of nowhere.

Upon looking up, he saw an apparition of the Virgin Mary herself, clothed in white on top of a tree, a rosary on her left hand and the Child Jesus perched in her left arm. She beckoned him to build a chapel in her honor.

Until now, the church stands steadfast on the exact site where the first sighting took place. Manaoag means “to call” in Pangasinan and Ilocano. 

An old lady lights a candle.

Since the Virgin Mary's first appearance, more miracles and sightings followed through the years, and along with the original apparition, some of the sightings are immortalized through murals that decorate the walls of the church.

Devotees swear by the miracles the Our Lady of Manaoag grants them. They claim that seeing her during Holy Week is not even enough of a gratitude for the good fortune and answered prayers that they have received. To them it is not a matter of testing their faith, but a simple token of thanks—an act of devotion—when they make their way to Pangasinan to touch the statue even just for a brief second.

The 17th century statue of Our Lady of Manaoag, protected by a thick bulletproof glass, looms at the altar.

How to get there

There are several bus lines in Cubao that offer daily trips to Pangasinan. The travel time used to range from 5 to 8 hours, but after the construction of TPLEX, it was shortened to less than 3 hours. Just ask the conductor to drop you off at Urdaneta City. From there, head over to the tricycle terminal near BPI and ride one to Manaoag. 

What about you? What would you make your way for this Holy Week? If you’re one of the devotees heading straight to Pangasinan this season of Lent, let us know how your trip goes! 

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