Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Si Santa Marta at ang Alamat ng Buwaya ng Pateros


(Note from the Author: English version is available below.)


Nuong ako ay musmos pa, buong pananabik kong hinihintay ang pista ni Santa Marta tuwing ikalawang Lingo ng Pebrero at ika-29 ng Hulyo. Di tulad ng malungkot na prusisyon ng Semana Santa, ang prusisyon tuwing pista ni Santa Marta, na kung tawagin ay Pagoda sa Daan, ay masayang idanaraos sa pamamagitan ng pagsasayaw ng pandango sa saliw ng musika ng banda. Naiiba rin ang pagdiriwang na ito sapagkat mismong ang andang nagtataglay ng imahen ng Santa ay buong giliw na isinasayaw ng mga kalalakihang may pasan dito. Habang pinagmamasdan ko sa kalayuan ang parating na prusisyon, animo'y umiindak si Santa Marta kasabay ng kanyang mga sumasayaw ding mga deboto!

Bukod sa masayang sayawan at ang paghahagis ng mga kakaning kung tawagin ay pasubo, ang tuwina'y pumupukaw sa aking pansin ay ang kakaibang anyo ng Santa Marta ng Pateros. Kung karamihan ng mga imahen ng mga santo ay may mahahabang kasuotan na nagkukubli sa kanilang mga paa, ang kay Santa Marta ng Pateros ay sadyang nagpapakita sa mga ito. At ang lalong nakapagtataka ay kung ano ang nasa kanyang paanan – isang malaki at nakakatakot na buwaya.

Maraming mga alamat at salin-kwento sa Pateros tungkol kay Santa Marta at sa buwaya sa kanyang paanan. Sinikap kong maghanap ng anumang nasusulat na nagtataglay ng salaysay tungkol sa kung papaanong ang imahen ng Santa Marta ng Pateros ay nagkaroon ng buwaya sa kanyang paanan, ngunit walang akong natunton.

Ayon sa isang matandang kwento, nuong unang panahon ay isang maunlad na pamayanan ang bayan ng Pateros. Ang ilog nito ay malawak at malinis, at naging sentro ng kalakalan na naguugnay sa lalawigan ng Morong sa Maynila. Dahil sa mayaman sa mga suso at ibang lamang-tubig, ang ilog ay naging mainam na kanlungan ng mga pato o itik na inaalagaan ng mga nakatira sa pampangin ng ilog. Ang itlog ng mga patong ito, na lubhang mas malinamnam kung ihahambing sa yaong mga nanggagaling sa ibang dako, ay ginagawang balut - na siya namang lalong nagpatanyag sa bayan ng Pateros. Nabuhay ng maunlad at matiwasay ang mga taga Pateros.

Ngunit ang kasaganahan at katahimikan ng Pateros ay ginambala ng isang malaking buwaya na nanalanta sa ilog. Kinakain nito ang mga itik at pato, at nanganib na maubos ang mga ito at mawalan ng kabuhayan ang bayan. Nang sa kabila ng lahat ng paraan ay hindi mahuli at magapi ng taong bayan ang mapanirang buwaya, sila ay taimtim na nanalangin kay Santa Marta. Sila naman ay di nabigo at kapagdaka ang buwaya ay nahuli at pinaslang. Bilang pasasalamat, ipinagdiwang ng buong bayan ang pista ni Santa Marta sa pamamagitan ng pagsasayaw sa mga lansangan (pagoda sa daan) at maging sa kahabaan ng ilog ng Pateros (pagoda sa ilog). Sa ilog man o sa daan ay laging nakasunod ang isang buwaya na gawa sa yero bilang paggunita sa pagliligtas ng Santa sa mga itik ng Pateros. Sa ibabaw o tabi ng malaking buwaya ay may sumasayaw na mag-iitik at may hawak na tabak o bolo, bilang pahiwatig ng pagtatagumpay ng mga taga Pateros laban sa salot sa kanila kabuhayan.

Marahil, ang kwentong ito at katulad ng iba pa ay mananatiling buhay na lamang sa pamamagitan ng mga salaysay na isinasalin sa bawat salin-lahi ng mga taal na taga-Pateros. Nakakalungkot isipin na sa hinaharap ay maari ng tuluyang maglaho ang mga kwentong ito katulad ng pagkamatay ng ilog ng Pateros at ang unti-unting paglaho ng mga kinaugaliang tradisyon katulad ng pagpaparangal kay Santa Marta sa kanyang kapistahan.

Muling napukaw ang aking pansin sa kakaibang imahen ni Santa Marta ng Pateros ng minsang nakapagsimba ako sa parokya ng San Pablo sa Timog, Lungsod Quezon. Aba, mayroon din itong malaking buwaya sa kanyang paanan! Dili kaya't taga-Pateros ang naghandog ng imaheng ito sa parokya ng San Pablo? Nagtanong ako, ngunit walang makapagsabi kung paanong ang imahen ni Santa Marta na akala ko ay sa Pateros lamang matatagpuan ay napadpad sa Lungsod Quezon.

Gayun din ang aking pagkagulat ng minsang ako ay nakapagsimba sa Estados Unidos, napansin ko ang imahen ni Santa Marta. Katulad din ito ng imahen sa Lungsod Quezon ngunit hindi isang buwaya ang nasa kanyang paanan, kundi ay isang nakakatakot na dragon. Maliban dito, ang pagsasalarawan ay katulad ng Santa Marta ng Pateros - may hawak na Krus sa isang kamay at sangang may mga dahon sa kabila. Ito ang nagbunsod sa akin upang saliksikin kung may kinalaman ang mga nakagisnan kong tradisyong sa Pateros sa mga pagdiriwang ng kapistahan ni Santa Marta sa ibang lugar.

Sa aking pananaliksik, nalaman ko na ang pagsasalarawan ng mga taga Pateros kay Santa Marta ay hindi naman pala nalalayo sa kanyang tradisyonal na pagsasalarawan mula pa nuong ika-labintatlong siglo. Ang pagsasalarawan kay Santa Marta ay bunga ng mga alamat at saling-kwento tungkol sa naging buhay niya, at ng mga kapatid na sina Santa Maria Magdalena at San Lazaro, pagkatapos ng muling pagkabuhay at pag akyat sa langit ng ating Panginoong Hesus.

Ayon sa mga alamat ng simbahan, si Santa Marta at ang kanyang mga kapatid ay mula sa mga dugong bughaw ng Hudea, sa Betania at Magdalen. Ayon sa tradisyon, ang Panginoong Hesus ay madalas na bumibisita sa kanilang tahanan at naging mabuting kaibigan ng pamilya lalu ng ng kanyang kapatid na si San Lazaro. Ito ay pinatunayan ng mga salaysay na napapaloob sa Banal na Aklat ukol sa mga magkakapatid at ang mabuting pakitungo sa kanila ni Hesus. Ngunit nang ang Panginoon ay umakyat na sa langit ay wala ng nabangit pa tungkol sa magkakapatid.

Ayon sa mga kwentong pinagsalin-salin sa mga nanampalataya nuong mga unang panahon ng Kristianismo, ang mga labi ni Santa Marta ay nakalagay sa maliit ngunit napakagandang bayan ng Tarascon sa lalawigan ng Provence sa Pransya. Ayon pa rin sa tradisyon, si Santa Marta ay dumating sa lugar na ito nuong ika-49 taon ng unang siglo. Ang pinakamaagang nasusulat na sumusuporta sa paniniwalang ito ay mula kay Arsobispo Raban Maur ng Mayence, na nagsulat ukol sa buhay ni Santa Marta nuong ika-9 na siglo. Nuong taong 1275, si Arsobispo Jacobus de Voragine ng Genoa ay isinulat ang aklat na "Ang Mga Gintong Alamat at Buhay ng mga Banal".

Sa aklat na ito ay itinala ang mga salaysay ukol sa buhay ng mga banal na tagasunod ng Panginoon, na sa mga panahong iyon ay napatiling buhay lamang sa pamamagitan ng pagsasalin-salin ng mga salaysay sa pagitan ng mga nananampalataya. Kasama na nga sa mga isinalaysay ang naging buhay ng tatlong magkakapatid na sina Marta, Maria at Lazaro.

Matatandaang nasusulat sa Banal na Aklat na ang tatlong magkakapatid ay matatalik na kaibigan ng Panginoong Hesus. Nang si Hesus ay dumalaw sa kanilang tahanan, si Santa Marta ang nag-asikaso sa pangangailangan ng mga bisita, lalo na ng Panginoon, samantalang si Santa Maria Magdalena ay nasa paanan ni Hesus at nakikinig sa kanyang mga pangaral. Nang mamatay ang kanilang kapatid na si San Lazaro, ipinatawag ni Santa Marta ang Panginoon at buong pagpipighating sinabi na kung Siya ay dumating lamang ng mas maaga, ay hindi sana pumanaw ang kanyang mahal na kapatid. Ang Panginoon ay di nag-atubili na tawagin ang ngalan ni San Lazaro at utusan siyang tumayo at lumabas mula sa kanyang pinagkalibingan. Ang himalang ito ay patunay sa matalik na pagkakaibigan ni Santa Marta at ng ating Panginoong Hesus!

Ayon sa aklat ni Arsobispo Jacobus de Voragine, dahil na rin sa pagkakaibigang ito ay naging lubos at matibay ang pananampalataya ni Santa Marta sa Panginoon. Nang Siya ay umakyat na sa langit, si Santa Marta kasama ng kanyang mga kapatid at ibang mga nananampalataya ay nangaral sa mga pagano at Hudyo tungkol sa kaligtasang handog ni Hesus. Dahil dito, sila ay dinakip at isinakay sa isang bangka na walang sagwan at walang layag upang sila ay anurin sa karagatan ng walang tiyak na paroroonan hanggang sa mamatay.

Ngunit dahil na rin sa pagtatakda ng Diyos, sila ay napadpad sa Pransya, sa lugar ng Marseilles. Mula doon ay nagtungo sila sa Aquense, kung saan maraming tao ang humanga sa pangangaral ni Santa Marta at itinakwil ang kanilang mga diyos-diyosan upang manampalataya sa ating Panginoon.

Taong 48 ng mapadpad si Santa Marta sa maliit na bayan ng Nerluc na malapit sa ilog ng Rhone, sa pagitan ng mga bayan ng Arles at Avignon. Hindi lubusang makapanirahan ang mga mamamayan ng Nerluc sa lugar dahil sa isang malaki at nakakatakot na halimaw na nagkukubli sa ilog. Ang halimaw na ito, na tinawag na Tarasque, ay pinaniniwalaang isang malaking buwaya, ngunit isinalarawan bilang isang dragon sa mga panulat alinsunod sa nakagawian na ng mga panahong iyon. Ang kinatatakutang dragon ay pumapatay at kumakain ng mga taong naliligaw sa dakong iyon, at naging sanhi ng lubos na pagkatakot ng mga mamamayan sa bayang ito. Ang mga mamayan ng Nerluc ay nakiusap kay Santa Marta na sila ay tulungan na mapuksa ang halimaw.

Buong tapang at puno ng pananampalataya sa kapangyarihan ng Panginoon, tinungo ni Santa Marta ang kinaroroonan ng dragon at doon ay nasumpungan niya ito habang nilalapastangan ang isang kaawa-awang tao. Umawit ng mga papuri sa Panginoon si Santa Marta at ipinakita sa dragon ang tangan niyang Krus, sabay wisik ng Banal na Tubig na galing sa sisidlang tangan niya. Kapagdaka'y naging animo'y maamong tupa ang Tarasque at ito ay mapagkumbabang nanikluhod sa harap ni Santa Marta. Ang halimaw ay iginapos niya gamit ang sinturon ng kanyang damit. Dinala niya ang napaamong dragon sa mga mamamayan ng Nerluc na lubha namang natakot sa halimaw at kagyat na kumilos upang ito ay mapaslang sa pamamagitan ng kanilang mga sibat. Hindi nanlaban ang halimaw at namatay na payapa sa piling ni Santa Marta.

Ipinangaral ni Santa Marta ang Kristianismo at marami ang nanampalataya at nagpabinyag. Naawa ang mga taong-bayan sa sinapit ng Tarasque at sila ay nagsisi sa pagkakapaslang nila dito. Bilang paggunita sa milagrong ito, ang bayan ng Nerluc ay tinawag nilang Tarasconus bilang ala-ala sa napaslang na Tarasque. Mula nuon ay nanatili ng payapa at ligtas ang ilog ng Rhone at ang bayan ng Tarasconus at nanatili duon si Santa Marta hanggang sa kanyang pagpanaw.

Naging tanyag at mapagmilagrong pinuno ng mga mananampalataya si Santa Marta, at maraming mga simbahan at kumbento ang itinatag sa kanyang karangalan. Sa kanyang pagpanaw ay lumawig ang pananampalataya sa Panginoon at tuluyang kumalat ang Kristianismo sa Pransya at sa buong Europa. Maraming tanyag na mga tao, kabilang ang mga hari at obispo, ang naglakbay ng malayo upang madalaw ang kanyang libingan. Ang kanyang ulo ay inilagak sa isang rebultong nililok na kahawig niya at gawa sa 25 kilong ginto! Bilang pagdakila sa kanilang tagapagligtas ay ipinagdiwang ng mga mamamayan ang pagpapaamo at pagkagapi ni Santa Marta sa dragon.

Bilang pag-gunita sa kasaysayang ito, isinasalarawan si Santa Marta sa kanyang mga imahen na nakatayo sa ibabaw o malapit sa isang dragon. Sa isang kamay ay hawak niya ang dahong aspergillum na gamit sa pagbabasbas ng Banal na Tubig, at sa kabilang kamay naman ay ang Krus na ipinakita niya sa Tarasque upang ito ay mapaamo. Ang mga sinaunang pagsasalarawan ni Santa Marta ay nagpapakita rin ng sinturon sa kanyang baywang o sa leeg ng dragon, na ginamit niya upang igapos ang halimaw, at ang sisidlan ng Banal na Tubig.

Karamihan sa mga makabagong imahen ni Santa Marta ay di na makikita ang sisidlan ng Banal na Tubig at ang sinturon ay nag-ibang anyo, ngunit ang dahon at Krus ay nanatili sa paglipas ng maraming taon. Sa imahen ng Santa Marta ng Pateros, kalimitan ay makikitang ang sinturon ay nakasukbit mula sa balikat o dibdib pababa sa baywang (tignan ang unang larawan sa itaas).

Mula pa noong unang panahon hanggang sa kasalukuyan, nananatiling laganap at masidhi ang pagkilala kay Santa Marta sa mga lugar na nabanggit sa salayasay na ito. Tulad ng mga sinaunang panahon, patuloy pa ring ipinagdiriwang ang kapistahan ni Santa Marta sa bayan ng Tarasconus sa pamamagitan ng pagpaparada sa lansangan ng imahe ng Santa at ng dambuhalang dragon. Ang mga larawan sa ibaba ay hango sa mga lumang postcards mula sa Pransya na naglalarawan ng kahintulad na prusisyon sa Pateros. May kaugnayan kaya ang ating pagdiriwang sa tradisyong ng bayan ni Santa Marta?
Ang masayang paggunita sa pagkakapaslang sa halimaw ng Tarasconus, na ngayon ay kilala na bilang bayan ng Tarascon sa lalawigan ng Provence sa Pransya, ay tanyag sa buong Europa. Tuwing huling araw ng Lingo ng Hunyo, ang mga mamamayan ng Tarascon ay nagsusuot ng makukulay na tradisyonal na kasuotan at ipinaparada ang isang dambuhalang manyika ng halimaw ng Ilog Rhone na kung tawagin nila ay "Tarasque". Ang Tarasque ay animo'y isinasayaw ng mga kalalakihan, na tinaguriang mga "Chevaliers" o "Tarascaires", dahil hinihila nila ito ng pakaliwa't pakanan sa saliw ng musiko ng isang banda habang sumasayaw ang mga taong kasama sa prusisyon.

Sa lungsod naman ng Venice sa bansang Italya ay mayroon din kahintulad na pagdiriwang ni Santa Marta sa Canale della Giudecca. Ang simbahan ng Santa Marta ay nasa pangpang ng ilog, at ang kanyang kapistahan ay ipinagdiriwang sa pamamagitan ng masasayang tugtugan, awitan at sayawan sa bisperas ng kanyang kapistahan. Sa bayan ng Pontevedra, lalawigan ng Galicia sa Espana, ay ipinagdiriwang ang kapistahan ni Santa Marta sa pamamagitan ng prusisyon sa dagat.

Sa bansang Espana pa rin, may naiiba namang pagdiriwang ng kapistahan ni Santa Marta. Sa tabing-dagat na bayan ng Villajoyosa sa Valencia ay may masaya, magarbo at makulay na pagsasadula ng digmaan sa pagitan ng mga Kristiyano at mga Moro kung saan ang pagkapanalo ng mga Kristiyano ay dahil umano sa pangangalaga ni Santa Marta. Ayon sa kasaysayan ng bayan, nanalangin ang mga mamamayan kay Santa Marta nuong 1538 ng sila ay lusubin ng mga Moro. Nagkaroon ng malaking pagbaha at naanod ang mga Moro pabalik sa dagat! Mula noon ay ipinagdiriwang ng mga taga-Villajoyosa ang milagrong ito ni Santa Marta.

Kung ating susuriin, ang mga alamat at saling-kwento sa Pateros ukol kay Santa Marta ay may pagkakahawig nga sa mga sinaunang salaysay at tradisyon. Ang pagdiriwang ng kanyang kapistahan ay maihahantulad sa mga pagdiriwang sa Europa. Sa halip na Ilog ng Rhone ay ang Ilog ng Pateros ang pook ng pagtutuos ng halimaw at ng Santa, at sa halip na isang nakakatakot na dragon na kumakain ng mga tao, ang ilog ng Pateros ay mayroong malaking buwaya na kumakain ng mga pato at itik na inaalagaan sa pangpang nito. Nang ang dragon ay pinaslang ng mga taong-bayan ng Tarasconus, gumamit sila ng mga sibat. Ang buwaya ng Pateros, ayon sa mga alamat, ay pinaslang sa pamamagitan ng tabak.

Maaaring ang pagkakahawig ng mga pangyayaring ito ang dahilan kung bakit malapit sa puso ng mga taga-Pateros si Santa Marta, at kung bakit sa paglipas ng panahon ay itinugma nila sa kanilang kasaysayan ang pagsasalarawan kay Santa Marta. Maliban sa dragon, na sa imahen ng Santa Marta ng Pateros ay isang buwaya (na siya namang tamang pagsasalarawan kung pagbabatayan ang pagsusuri ng mga mananaliksik), naroroon pa rin ang mga simbulo na nagpapaalala sa kadakilaan niya - ang Krus na ginamit niya upang paniwalain sa Panginoon ang mga pagano sa Pransya at upang paamuin ang dambuhalang halimaw ng Ilog ng Rhone, ang dahon ng aspergillum na ginamit na pangbasbas ng Banal na Tubig sa halimaw, at ang sinturon na ginamit na pang-gapos sa halimaw upang ito ay tuluyan ng magapi sa pamamagitan ng sibat ng mga taong-bayan.

Tunay ngang makulay at hitik sa kasaysayan ang pista ni Santa Marta, hindi lamang pala sa Pateros, kundi saan mang sulok ng daigdig kung saan siya ay kinikilala bilang tagapangalaga. Ang mga taga-Pateros ay buong pusong niyakap ang mga kasaysayan, alamat at tradisyong may kaugnayan kay Santa Marta at isinaliw sa kanilang sariling kasaysayan at pagkatao. Nawa'y mapanatili nating buhay at masigla ang mayaman nating kultura at tradisyon, at sa pangangalaga ng ating mahal na Pintakasing si Santa Marta, ay maging maayos, mapayapa at maunlad ang bayan ng Pateros.

~~~ oOo ~~~~~~ oOo ~~~

In my younger days, I always look forward with great anticipation and excitement to the twin celebrations of the feast of St. Martha every second Sunday of February, and again on the twenty-ninth of July each year. Unlike the somber processions during Holy Week, the procession in honor of St. Martha in Pateros was joyously and exuberantly celebrated both in the streets and in the river with people dancing a native folk dance called the "Pandanggo" accompanied by lively music from brass bands.

What makes this celebration more unique is that the dimunitive image of the saint is carried on a flower-bedecked platform that was borne on the shoulders of the town's menfolk while they swayed to the rythm of the pandanggo beat of 1-2-3-step-1-2-3-4-step! Looking at the procession from afar, the saint's image appears to be graciously dancing with her devotees as they make their way through the narrow streets and alleys of the town.

Aside from the lively street dancing and the traditional throwing of foods and other goodies called the "pasubo" (offering) to the people joining the procession, what caught my attention and curiosity was the iconography of the St. Martha in Pateros. While most, if not all, saints of the Catholic realm are traditionally garbed in long robes that flow past their feet and pedestal, the robe of the town's beloved patron saint has a shorter cut. Even more interesting is what is revealed by the shorter robe - a big and nasty-looking crocodile at her feet!

This interesting variation in the iconography of St. Martha in Pateros has spawned many stories and legends. I attempted to look for early writings about these stories and legends surrounding the town's devotion and tradition relating to the saint. Unfortunately, I found none so far. What currently exist are quite recent writings by writers in Pateros who have the good intentions and foresight to write down these oral traditions before they completely disappear.

According to one oral tradition, Pateros was a previously known as "Aguho", a prosperous settlement by the bank of a tributary of the Pasig River. The Pateros River, as it was called then and now, was wide and clean, and was a center of commerce between the capital city of Manila to the west, and the settlements of Morong (now Rizal province) to the east. The river was a natural and rich source of snails and other water creatures that were the main source of food for the ducks raised by people living on the banks of the river. Thus, duck-raising became an important industry of the town. The eggs laid by these ducks were reputed to be far more better-tasting than those found anywhere else and spawned the most famous product of the town - the balut (boiled fertilized duck egg). The town and its people enjoyed a peaceful and abundant life.

The peace and prosperity of the town was shattered when a huge crocodile came to stay in the river and terrorized the ducks and the people. The crocodile had a voracious appetite and devoured the ducks to the point of endangering the livelihood of the town. The townspeople tried mightily hard to get rid of the pesky crocodile but failed each time. Desperate, they prayed earnestly to St. Martha for deliverance from the monster of the river. Their prayers were heard, and the crocodile was slain by a local hero not long after. Some variations of the story says the crocodile simply disappeared and was never seen again.

In gratitude for the miracle, the entire town celebrated the feast of the saint by dancing on the streets and even along the meandering Pateros River. They created a huge replica of the slain crocodile and had this follow the image of Saint Martha whether the procession was on the streets or on the river. So huge was this mock crocodile that people can actually stand on its back while dancing the pandanggo. The highlight of the parade is a man, presumably a balut-maker (magbabalut) who dances either on top or ahead of the mock crocodile while brandishing a local sword called an "itak" or "bolo". It was symbolic of the triumph of the people of Pateros against what seemed to be an insurmountable adversity.

This story may well be lost among the younger residents of the town like its other traditions, and can only survive when passed on through generations. Unfortunate as it may look, the rich traditions of the town's devotion to its patron saint may soon be lost and forgotten - going the way of the Pateros River which has died due to abuse and neglect of the very same people it had served and nurtured so well.

After many years, I again became interested in the story of St. Martha when I happened to attend mass at the St. Paul Church in Quezon City - in the Timog area to be precise. There I saw an image of the saint, and I was quite surprised to see that it also had a huge crocodile at its feet. Curious, I asked around about the image, but no one could provide me information on its provenance. Could it be that it was donated by someone who used to live in Pateros? No one could tell me how such an image that is so peculiar to the town of Pateros had found its way to this church in Quezon City.

A bigger surprise awaits me across the seas. When I had the chance to travel to the United States, I went to hear Mass in a church that also had an image of St. Martha. It was similar to the image I saw in Quezon City but instead of a crocodile upon her feet, the saint was standing on top of a fiery dragon. Other than this, the image was pretty much the same as those in Pateros - with one hand holding a branch with leaves and the other holding up a cross. These
variations in the iconography of St. Martha inspired me to find out if there are other places in the world where similar stories and traditions about the saint can be found.

Thanks to the Internet, I found out that the iconography of the St. Martha image of Pateros did not stray too far from the traditional representation of the saint since the medieval ages, around the 13th century, when devotion to her was at its peak. Her iconography was a direct offshoot of the legends and stories about her life and those of her siblings - Lazarus and Mary. As the Bible only mentions three events of their lives prior to Jesus ascending into heaven, most of the stories about their life after the resurrection of the Lord was culled from apocryphal writings and oral traditions.

According to the traditions of the church, St. Martha and her siblings were descended from a noble family from Judea, in Bethany and Magdalena (although the part about Mary being a Magdalene is now in question). Based on biblical accounts, it was presumed that Jesus was a frequent visitor to their household, and would have been very good friends with Lazarus, if not with all three siblings. However, after the accounts of the resurrection and ascension into heaven of the Lord, the Bible is silent on what came to be of the siblings.

The early church did not have written records and relied on oral accounts of what happened to the disciples of Jesus after he ascended to heaven. Tarascon in the province of Provence in France holds on to the tradition that the mortal remains of the saint is in the Collegiate Church of St. Martha in this town. According to local history, St. Martha arrived on this tiny settlement by the Rhone River on 49AD.

The earliest writings supporting this tradition were from the 9th century by Archbishop Raban Maur of Mayence, who wrote that he had knowledge of the life of the saint and those of Mary and Lazarus. In 1275, the life story of St. Martha was included in the book "The Golden Legends - Lives of the Saints" written by Archbishop Jacobus de Voragine of Genoa. Up until that time, all accounts of their lives and missionary exploits remained mainly as oral traditions passed on from one generation to the next.

One should remember that the friendship with Jesus that the siblings enjoyed was evident when He came to their house for a feast. In that gathering, Martha was the gracious host who toiled in the kitchen and who made sure everything is in order, while Mary sat by Jesus' feet and listened to His teachings. When their brother Lazarus died, she sent for the Lord and sorrowfully complained that had He came earlier, her brother would not have died. Post-haste, the Lord called on to Lazarus from the grave, and he came out of it alive. Such is their friendship that she is totally at ease complaining to the Lord!

On the other hand, according to the Golden Legends, when the Lord ascended to heaven the disciples dispersed to evangelize the people. Because of this they were persecuted by non-believers. The 3 holy siblings, together with some other followers of the Lord, were captured and put in a rudderless boat that was set afloat into the stormy sea. But with God's grace, the boat landed in Marseilles in what is now France. From there they proceeded to Aquense, where many people were amazed by the eloquence of St. Martha in preaching Christianity. Many turned their back on their pagan gods and embraced Christianity and became believers of the Lord Jesus Christ.

It was in the year 49AD that St. Martha came to pass by the small settlement of Nerluc near the river Rhone, between the towns of Arles and Avignon. The river was rich in resources but the townspeople could not get near it because a huge dragon came to live in there. The dragon, which they call the Tarasque, was believed to be actually a huge crocodile, but was represented as a dragon in legends and myths as was the custom in the medieval ages. The much-feared Tarasque killed and devoured people who strayed into the river or the woods around it. Desperate, the people of Nerluc implored the saint to deliver them from this pestilence.

With courage and faith in the Lord, St. Martha went into the woods and unto the river Rhone, and there she beheld the Tarasque about to devour a hapless man. She started singing hymns and prayers to the Lord, and brandished the cross she was carrying in front of the dragon. Thereafter, the dragon became meek as a lamb and knelt before St. Martha. She took the belt from her waist and put it around the dragon's neck as she led it to the town. Upon seeing the dragon, the people became filled with fear and slew the dragon with their spears and arrows. The Tarasque did not put up a fight and died peacefully in St. Martha's company. The saint preached about the Lord and the people were converted instantly. They pitied the dragon, and in remembrance they renamed their town Tarasconus. Since then, the town prospered in peace and St. Martha settled there until her death.

St. Martha became a great leader among the believers, and the faith flourished due to her tireless work. Churches, convents and monasteries sprung in the area, and upon her death, Christianity spread all over France and the whole of Europe. Many famous people travelled far and wide to visit her relics in the church built in her honor. One of the kings of France had a bust made of 25 kilos of gold made to encase her head! In memory of St. Martha's taming of the Tarasque, the people of Tarascanus instituted a feast to commemorate this great religious and historical event.

This is the one event that forever shaped the iconography of St. Martha. She is represented as either standing on top or beside a dragon, with one hand holding an aspergillum branch and a cross on the other hand. The aspergillum branch was used in olden times to sprinkle holy water, while the cross was what she used to tame the dragon. Other representations of St. Martha also include the belt that she used to lead the dragon into the town and the vessel for the holy water.

Most fairly recent iconography of the saint no longer includes the belt and the vessel for the Holy Water. In some images, like those used in Pateros (see image at the top of this article), the belt had evolved into a decorative sash that is slung across the chest from the waist up to the shoulder area. But no matter how her iconography had evolved, the basic elements of the cross and the aspergillum branch remains.

From the earliest days until now, devotion to St. Martha among the people of Provence, especially in the Arles and Tarascon region, have remained strong and vibrant. As in ancient times, the feast of St. Martha in the town of Tarasconus (now known as Tarascon) is celebrated by parading a mock Tarasque around the streets of the town. These early postcards show the people of Tarascon parading the image of the saint around town with the mock Tarasque in tow. The similarities in the celebrations of Pateros and Tarascon raises the possibility that there could be a link between these two towns separated by seas and
continents.

The joyous commemoration of the defeat of the dragon of Tarasconus in the city of Tarascon in Provence, France is quite a renowned festival in Europe. Celebrated on the last weekend of June, the residents dress up in medieval costumes and accompany a huge mock up of the Tarasque in a parade around the city. Selected menfolk, designated as "Chevaliers" or "Tarascaires", accompany the dragon as it is swayed from right to left in rhythmic movement along the streets, followed by dancing costumed residents.

Some other festivals in Europe honoring St. Martha appear to be all connected with bodies of water. In Venice, the people of Canale della Giudecca celebrates with singing and dancing on the eve of her feast day with festivals held at the bank of the river. In the city of Pontevedra in Galicia, Spain, they celebrate the feast of St. Martha with a fluvial procession.

Still in Spain, they have a unique and colorful festival in the coastal town of Villajoyosa in Valencia. During the festival, the entire city is transformed into one huge stage and all the residents become actors in a play that commemorates the victory of Christians against the invading Moors in 1538. According to local history, when the Moors invaded the city, the people implored the intercession of St. Martha. Thereafter, there was a great flood that swept away the invaders back into the sea. Since then, the people of Villajoyosa celebrated this miracle that they attribute to St. Martha with a colorful re-enactment of the battle between Christians and Moors.

Based on these accounts, and I'm sure there are many more similar celebrations around the Christian world that honor this great saint, it can be said that the local lore and celebrations in honor of St. Martha in Pateros is very similar to these ancient legends and traditions, albeit already imbued with local color. Instead of the Rhone River in the little town of Tarascon, we have the Pateros River in our little town. Instead of a mighty dragon devouring people, our local lore has a huge crocodile terrorizing the town and eating its prized ducks. When the dragon was slain by the people of Tarascon, they used spears and arrows. In Pateros, the crocodile was slain using the native sword called "tabak" or "bolo". No matter the context by which the story was told, it follows the same basic story line.

It is maybe because of these similarities that have endeared St. Martha to the people of Pateros, and why as this devotion grew over the years they claimed her as their own and her iconography evolved to incorporate the components of the local legends. Aside from the dragon, which in the image of St. Martha in Pateros is depicted as a huge crocodile (which historians believe is actually the more correct representation as dragons remain to be regarded as only mythological), the local image retains all the traditional representations - the cross that was used to tame the dragon and to convert the people to Christianity, the aspergillum branch used to sprinkle holy water in subduing the dragon, and the belt that was used to bind it when it was led into the town to be eventually slain by the townspeople.

The festivals honoring this great and ancient saint are truly colorful, unique and remarkable, not only in our little town of Pateros, but in many other parts of the world where she is venerated. The people of Pateros whole-heartedly embraced the stories, legends and traditions associated with her and fused them with their own traditions and legends - which to this day we try to hold on to and nurture for future generations. May we always strive to keep the rich culture and traditions that bind us a people alive in our town and everywhere else where Pateros folks have come to settle, and through the protection of our Beloved Patron Saint Martha of Bethany, may our town be always prosperous and peaceful at it should be.

~~~ oOo ~~~

6 comments:

Elmer I. Nocheseda said...

But there are major changes in the present hagiography of Sta Marta. Her sister is now identified as Mary of Bethany and no longer Mary Magdalene. So the Magdalene stories are part of her legends as well as the dragon,in case of Toulouse, France, and the buaya, in case of Pateros.

We are now making a new novena for her to amend or remove the Magdalene portion.


For the Pateros Sta Marta iconography, the buaya is the most important element. If not for the buaya, Sta Marta would not have been the patron saint for Pateros. It could have been St Margarete or St George with the dragon. or the Virgin Mary trampling the dragons of Apocalypse.

Dennis said...

Yes, you are correct about the 3 siblings coming from Bethany, although there are still arguments about whether Mary of Bethany and Mary the Magdalene are in fact two different people. At least we know that there is only one St. Martha from Bethany!

And yes, the buaya is indeed what makes our image of the Sta Martha more fascinating. In fact, it could be the iconography closest to the real story behind the legend. Some historians and scholars now say that it was actually a crocodile (our buaya) that was terrorizing the people of Nerluc (now Tarascon, France) and not a mythical dragon.

By the way, I am excited by the teasers in the church announcing the "Dambana ni Sta Martha". Are you in any way connected to these activities?

Cheers!

Anonymous said...

Awesome post! A testament to the fascinating history of our small but colorful town.

jasmin said...

Kudos to you Sir Dennis!

Your entries are really interesting and informative, especially for me. My thesis is about the life of balut-makers in Pateros and I get to know more of your city's culture through your posts!

Keep up the good work!

-Anna

Anonymous said...

Believe it or not St Marta has done some wonderful stuff in my life I felt her blessings in my life its unbelievable I am amazed what she has done in my ife I felt it with so much intense in many cases
I am cl_donato@yahoo
CA,USA

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