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The San Mateo Church: the Diocesan Shrine of Our Lady of Aranzazu

Text and photos by John Paul Egalin Abellera

The San Mateo Church is formally known as the Diocesan Shrine of Our Lady of Aranzazu.

The 2018 National Historical Commission of the Philippines marker on the church's façade states that Padre Juan Echazabal, SJ introduced the devotion to Nuestra Señora de Aranzazu to San Mateo residents in 1705. The church, however, was finished ten years later or in 1715 and a year after that, Padre Juan Pedro Confalonier, SJ dedicated the church to the Nuestra Señora de Aranzazu.

Historical Highlights

In September 1896, Dr. Pio Valenzuela was imprisoned in the convent of the church. Two months later, Katipuneros under Andres Bonifacio attempted to take the town. The Spaniards sought refuge in the church and they were eventually helped by additional Spanish forces.

The church was damaged during the Philippine-American War and American forces occupied it from 1899 to 1903. It was damaged again during World War II.

In 2004, the church was elevated to a diocesan shrine. The image of the Nuestra Señora de Aranzazu received a canonical coronation in 2017.

Augustinians & Jesuits

Volume XLIII of Emma Helen Blair and James Alexander Robertson's "The Philippine Islands, 1493-1898" contains Casimiro Díaz, OSA's "The Augustinian in the Philippines, 1670-1694." Here, Padre Díaz wrote about the convent of San Mateo being added to the territory of Mariquina and Jesús de la Peña around 1687. In 1696, the Augustinians exchanged the ministry of San Mateo for that of Binangonan.

The website of the Shrine and Parish of Our Lady of Aranzazu, citing Padre Murillo Velarde SJ's "Historia de la Provincia de Philipinas de la Compañía de Jesús" as a source, states that the Jesuits accepted San Mateo in order to convert the Aetas in the area to Christianity. It also mentions that after the expulsion of the Jesuits from the Philippines in 1767 following the Suppression of the Jesuits, the secular clergy handled the parish. It was later transferred to the Augustinian Recollects, then back to the secular clergy. The church was later on enlarged in 1992.

St. Ignatius

Another interesting fact: the Nuestra Señora de Aranzazu in Guipúzcoa, Spain was built on the site where Rodrigo de Balzategui, a Basque shepherd boy, found an image of the Blessed Virgin Mary in a thorny bush with a cowbell in 1469. In 1522, San Ignacio de Loyola visited the shrine on his way to the Abadía de Montserrat. He made a night vigil, placing his pilgrimage to Jerusalem under the care of Nuestra Señora de Aranzazu. He later wrote a letter to San Francisco de Borja where he expressed receiving spiritual grace during his stay in the shrine.

The New Eve

The Nuestra Señora de Aranzazu de San Mateo is an image of the Blessed Virgin Mary holding an apple, which symbolizes her role as the "New Eve" (La Nueva Eva). The image depicts the 1469 apparition where the Blessed Virgin Mary was seen standing on a thorn bush with a small quadrilateral bell hanging from it.

The original image in the Sanctuary of Arantzazu in Oñate, Spain shows the Blessed Virgin Mary seated, while the image in San Mateo is depicted standing up. Apples and white handkerchiefs are blessed during her feast day, and these things are given to those in need of healing.The San Mateo Church is one of only two shrines dedicated to this Marian image. The other one is the chapel of Colegio de San Juan de Letran in Intramuros.

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