I’ve been to many churches in the Philippines and I’ve seen quite a lot of images and amazing religious architecture , but my journey to Our Lady of Caysasay is probably the most memorable I’ve had (so far). I’ve never heard about this place until about a year ago after friend told me about it and planned to go there. After doing research about this place, it quickly got a lasting impression on me.
Apparently, not a lot of people including Catholics, know about this place. In 2012, the shrine of the Our Lady of Caysasay received special status from the Vatican City, granting pilgrims who visit there, the same plenary indulgence as those who visit the ancient basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome. In the Philippines, there are only two churches given that special status by the Vatican; one being the famous Our Lady of Manaoag in Pangasinan and the Our Lady of Caysasay.
The Church of the Our Lady of Caysasay is located in a remote town in Taal Batangas. It was about a 5-hour drive from Manila and it was not easy to navigate to the site even in a private vehicle as there were no road signs leading to the church. Navigation apps were helpful but we were constantly stopping to ask locals for directions the entire time. After passing by the Taal Lake and passing through small barangays, we finally reached our destination.
We were greeted by a small, simple church in the middle of a wide patio. The walls were painted in pale yellow with white details. It was a Friday, and we got there close to noon so the sun was at its peak.
The church interior was a humble site. The decor was simple, not much intricate gold detailing nor wood carvings. The walls were painted in white and appeared to be weathered. The altar was a simple display of the image of Our Lady of Caysasay in the center. It was easy to think that the church was not well-known. There were only less than five other people when we came to visit. The peace and quiet surrounding the church walls was deafening. I felt a deep sense of sadness and belonging as I knelt down and said my prayers before we continued.
The most fascinating piece of decor inside the church was a painting of a fisherman holding a net with the image of the Lady on it. This is how the wooden image was found in 1603, when it was caught on a man’s net while he was fishing on the Pansipit river. It was considered the oldest image of the Virgin Mary in the Philippines and the first Marian apparitions to be documented by Spaniards. Until today, the image is deemed to be ‘miraculous’.
The back part of the church is where you can get up close with the image. It serves as a prayer room and also souvenir shop. It was then that the lady in the souvenir shop told us that the image displayed at the church altar was a replica of the original Our Lady of Caysasay which was currently housed at the Basilica of St. Martin of Tours. Nevertheless, we took turns in saying our petitions to our Lady.
Our pilgrimage did not end there. Apparently, The Shrine of Our Lady of Caysasay was located couple of blocks away from the Church where the original apparitions took place. With the help of a couple of kids selling sampaguitas, we walked from the church and into a village where a narrow path led us. Banana trees surrounded a walkway to the shrine which gave a little shade for us. An old, carved stone marker stood at the end of the road which was called a ‘sacred place’ where twin wells stood at the center dubbed the ‘Well of Saint Lucy’.
Pilgrims travel from afar to pray at the well of St. Lucy. The water from the well is said to be holy, miraculous and has healing properties. A man was fetching a bucket of holy water when we got there, and a family was praying at the grotto beside it. The man said that the family came back to offer flowers and thanked the Our Lady of Caysasay for their answered prayers. He said that everyone who came to Caysasay always come back to offer flowers for their answered petitions. It was an overwhelming experience just by standing in front of the marker and witnessing religion, history and culture clash into one amazing moment.
I left the shrine with a grateful heart and in good spirits. Somehow my troubles seemed to be lighter after my encounter with Our Lady of Caysasay. It was a long trip ahead of us but every moment I’ve had in that church and shrine gave me the new strength to carry on. People who have visited that place probably had bigger problems and perhaps more serious petitions that I do, but the devotion to Our Lady of Caysasay does not have boundaries. Everyone who comes to this place can experience personal and spiritual healing. I strongly advise everyone to visit this place and experience the miraculous Caysasay.
The Church of the Our Lady of Caysasay is located in Brgy Labac, Taal Batangas. We rented a private car from Pampanga to Manila. With the help of navigational apps, we were able to find the church and shrine. A replica of the image of the Virgin Mary was displayed on the church altar, with the original being housed at the Minor Basilica of Saint Martin of Tours in Lipa, Batangas. The original wooden image is sometimes displayed at the church of Caysasay to cater to prilgrims.