Sunday, September 11, 2016

Hidden: The scattered gems of Quiapo

A FEW are familiar with this image: The "Birhen sa Eskinita", and far fewer know the story that accompanied the image, of how this large image of the Virgin Mary on top of a globe ended up in the middle of the urban jungle of Quiapo. 

Hidden away in the shanties, behind walls and in the middle of homes, lies the few gems of what was once the majestic Ocampo garden, a one hectare property that was filled with religious icons, fish ponds, and statues of female nudes of different races, all surrounding the Pagoda-like structure that stands as the centerpiece of Don Jose Mariano Ocampo's "fantasy land" of sorts. The Birhen was his ode to the patron of the local parish, Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, and it was his own version of a grotto (a grander one at that; compare it with the grottoes we had in our own homes)

Don Ocampo had a great fascination for Asian Culture but has never traveled abroad: All the designs he used on the Pagoda were taken from what he had read and seen in the various books about Asia, hence giving birth to the mix to a whole compound adorned with various designs. Shachis, which is seen in most parts of the compound, are said to invoke aid against fires.

Come to think of it, this may have worked. The compound, according to the residents, has never suffered any serious incidents of fire. But they attribute this mostly to the Birhen de Eskinita. So ardent was their faith to that image that one could frequently see candles laid out at its base. The smoke of the candles blackened the globe's bottom. At times one could also find strings of sampaguita and rosaries hanging from the fingers of the male nudes holding up the globe on which the Birhen de Eskinita sits. The marble base of the image had prayers, in Latin, English, Spanish, and Filipino (and maybe some other languages too) all etched in markers. A sample of one of these markers could be seen in one of the pictures in this post.

During the time when the Birhen de Eskinita was being transferred, they still feared that some form of misfortune would befall them. 

The residents have lived with the religious images. It had become part of their lives. At times, the residents would even be happy to show the curious travelers their hidden treasures and tell their tales: How it was once a cemetery (dubious, but plausible), and how they knew men who once worked on the making of the Ocampo garden. They would even happily show people a tarpaulin that had an old picture of the Pagoda in its heydays, still intact and pristine. They still even use the flower pots that Ocampo made for his garden, playing basketball where his fish pond and bridge once was, gossiping beside the perimeter wall of the garden, and going about with their lives under the gaze of the statues of the saints, in the presence of gems that time had forgot.

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