Of History, Religion and Art


PHOTO: The image of Our Lady of the Pilar,
patroness of the city, sitting high atop the
historical walls of the shrine
ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines – The Fort Pilar Shrine is considered as one of the centers of catholicism in Zamboanga City. Adorned by many in honor of our Lady of the Pilar, the shrine’s rich history is something which makes locales and tourists mesmerize and attracted.

Historically, in 1635, upon the requests of the Jesuits, Spanish Governor in the Philippines Juan Cerezo de Salamanca approved its building. It served as a Spanish colonial defense fortress against the forces of the pirates and Moros from Sulu.

Due to lack of manpower, workers from Bohol, Cavite, Cebu and Panay had to be imported to help finish its construction. It is also during that time when, eventually, the development of Chavacano into a full-pledged creole language for Zamboangueños.

It was in 1734, when a relief of the Our Lady of the Pillar was placed above the eastern wall of the fort making it an outdoor shrine with an altar for praying. Tradition reveals the Virgin Mary appeared to a soldier on December 6, 1734, at the gate of the city. Not recognizing her, the soldier asked her to stop. Upon recognizing her, he fell down to his knees.
On September 21, 1897 at 1:14 PM in the afternoon, a strong earthquake struck the western region of Mindanao. The Virgin Mary made an apparition, according to the people who witnessed it, they saw the virgin standing mid-air over the Basilan Strait, she had her right hand raised to signal the onrushing waves to stop, saving the city from a tsunami. (via Wikipedia)

Today, the fort is not just a tourist attraction, it also serves as a museum as well where the history, culture and the arts of the early Zamboangueños are preserved.
Outside its walls, at the newly built  Plaza del Pilar, vendors are seen selling candles, figures of the Sto. Niño, Virgin Mary, crucifix, rosaries and other souvenirs. Most locals living near the shrine and have secured permits to sell are generating income through selling stuff at Plaza del Pilar.
The agimat or anting-anting is a Filipino word for “amulet” or “charm”. Antinganting is also a Filipino system of magic and sorcery with special use of the above mentioned talismans, amulets, and charms. It is part of a wider South-East Asian tradition of tribal jewelry, as “gantung” (meaning “hanging“) in Indonesian/Malayandanting-anting” (meaning “ear pendant”) in Javanese .
Earliest reports of anting-anting are from the records of Spanish priests in the early colonial period. Pardo de Tavera defines the anything-anything as “an amulet, of supernatural power, that saves lives.” With the Christianization of the Philippines, anting-anting appropriated the forms of the new religion, and incorporated as well the esoteric symbolisms of Freemasonry.
Aside from this, there are religious artifacts being sold at Plaza del Pilar as well. These religious artifacts are the dominant souvenirs being sold outside the walls of the fort.
The fort is also known for some other attractions. Recently, the administrators of the fort built the Las Campanas del Santuario de la Virgen del Pilar. It is a musical freestanding bell tower, or the belfry of a church or other municipal building. The bell tower consists of at least 20 cast bronze, cup-shaped bells, which are played serially to play a melody, or sounded together to play a chord. Other than the bell tower, the fort also houses the human-friendly birds – pigeons. These pigeons are everywhere giving joy to children and adults, too. The feeds are sold at some stalls at Plaza Del Pilar, enabling visitors to attract pigeons near them and feed them giving you the exact feeling when you are in a plaza in France or at St. Peter’s Basilica in Italy.


The plaza also houses stalls that sell souvenirs as what was mentioned above. What is amazing about these souvenirs is they were crafted by the prisoners at San Ramon Penal Colony. It does not only showcase their talents in crafting and handiworks, it also gives them incentives whenever their product/s is/are sold. Some, also, were created by locals. These souvenirs showcase the creativity of Zamboangueños. 

Recall that Zamboanga has been battered by recent calamities – first the siege and then the floods caused by the monsoon. It crippled the city’s economy by large and people were affected. Some were evacuated because of the possible danger they may be subjected if they remain in the areas of concern – Sta. Barbara, Sta. Catalina, Talon-Talon, and Kasanyangan.

Today, Zamboanga is gradually getting back on track with the collective efforts of the city officials and the people of Zamboanga, our city will be great again.

This video clip features some spots in Zamboanga City.

Directed and written by Juseph Elas


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