I visited the Simala Shrine in May 2011, making this post nearly four years delayed and entirely deserving of a procrastination award. I was then in my former hometown, Cebu, for a blogging summit and my mother suggested a quick side trip, reminiscent of days of old when my family and I used to go on spur of the moment trips to wherever we fancied. As with most of our impulse trips, this one was a mad flurry of sensory stimuli, leaving me with a case of mild visual indigestion, slightly uncertain of what I’d ingested.
The Marian Monks
The shrine, also referred to as the Monastery of the Holy Eucharist, sits atop a hilly portion of Upper Lindogon in Simala, Sibonga, Cebu and is home to Our Lady of Lindogon. Various accounts say that the lady’s image originally came from Pampanga and was handed over to the Marian Monks of the Eucharistic Adoration after the Mt. Pinatubo eruption. The monks then brought the image with them to Simala in the 1990s, where they purchased a piece of land with the inherited wealth of one of their members.
The welcome mat wasn’t quite rolled out for the monks. The locals supposedly weren’t very accommodating at first and the rough terrain was unsuitable for planting. The general outlook towards the monks may have taken a turn for the better however, when the Virgin Mary was said to have interceded through the Penitential Rosary Walk in 1998 to stave off an epidemic that had already claimed the lives of several local children.
Building the Shrine
The construction of the shrine was reportedly made possible in part by the donations of faithful pilgrims. At the time of my visit, the structure already resembled a sprawling castle, but there were still traces of unfinished portions. I assumed they weren’t quite done building and that they may have proceeded in gradual phases.
To my unskilled eye, the shrine’s façade appeared European inspired, but too diverse to pin to a particular period or unifying theme. It was almost as if various sections were put together at random, straining the boundaries of architectural styles. I came to imagine that perhaps construction may never decisively finish, that the shrine would continue to encompass more of the hillside in an almost unending organic growth.
To those who came on a spiritual journey, perhaps the shrine’s continually expanding form may only be a concrete representation of a deeper, less visible meaning understood only by personal faith.
Miracles of the Virgin
Despite having spent all of my formative years in Catholic schools, I have never become a serious devotee of Mary or of any saint. If anything, my liberal arts education taught me to be discerning about what I choose to believe. That, and my pretensions to art connoisseurship, is perhaps the reason why my interest was drawn first towards the physical structure rather than the stories behind it. I must admit though, I eventually found the accounts about Mary quite absorbing.
Aside from interceding during the epidemic, Our Lady of Lindogon is also credited for numerous miraculous occurrences and prayers answered. Most notable is of her statue shedding tears resembling oil on various instances in 1998, first in August 17, and then in September 8, October 13 and December 29. She was said to have wept again a year later in September 8, 1999.
One need not witness miraculous tears however, to experience a sense of amazement. The space adjoining the chapel where mass is held, houses hundreds of letters and remembrances sent by devotees testifying to prayers answered. I felt the hair at the back of my neck standing on end as I read through numerous rows of testimonies. Of course, one only has to look around to be even more astounded. There is no end to the press of people coming in droves to visit the Lady.
What I witnessed then reminded me of accusations I’d read on various occasions that we Catholics are idol worshipers. I’ve been told by my professors in theology that this is not an accurate assessment. In our belief, statues of the Lady or of saints are treasured keepsakes, like photos of loved ones we hang on a wall. We do not worship the images themselves. It is perhaps the visibly extreme devotion shown by some of the faithful that lead observers to think otherwise.
Moreover, it’s worth noting that in Catholic teaching, Mary does not grant prayers. She simply intercedes or prays for us. I hope I’ve made the nuns and professors at my old school proud for remembering that.
Whatever the case may be, the throng of people in serious contemplation or deep prayer in Simala is a powerful sight, perhaps enough to coax respect even from the skeptical.
Masses are celebrated in the shrine Mondays through Fridays at 12 noon, Saturdays at 10:30 a.m., Sundays at 12 noon and 3 p.m. and every 13th of the month at 10:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m.
Those who simply wish to visit and pray can light candles at a designated area. I bought a packet of colored candles, each one representing an intention: red, love; blue, perseverance; black, souls; green, prosperity; gold, healing; violet, achievement; white, purity; cream, conversion; pink, thanksgiving; yellow, peace; orange, reconciliation; brown, vocation; gray, deliverance.
As with any place of worship, visitors are asked to dress appropriately as a sign of respect. Form fitting clothes, sleeveless shirts, tubes, shorts, mini skirts and the like aren’t allowed.
Getting to the Simala Shrine
Simala is a little over two hours away from Cebu City. To get there, you can grab a bus at the Cebu South Bus Terminal located along N. Bacalso Avenue beside Elizabeth Mall. Tell the bus conductor or driver to drop you at the road leading up to the shrine, at which point you will have to ride a motorcycle for hire, known locally as habal-habal to get to the shrine’s entrance.
Another option is to walk past the South Bus Terminal, Land Transportation Office, Bureau of Fire Protection and the Cebu City Medical Center to get to the Citi Link Transit Station where you can ride a van that’ll take you directly to the entrance of the shrine. At the conclusion of your visit, another van waiting near the exit can take you back to the city.
I’m not sure how much the fares cost now, but to be on the safe side, prepare a little over P200 per person for the ride to and from the shrine.
Related Articles for Further Reading:
1. Biyahilo, Monastery of the Holy Eucharist at Simala Sibonga (2012)
2. Florence Hibionada, The Miracle in Lindogon (2005)
3. Mimi Ortega, Our Simala Experience (2012)
4. Jessica Ann R. Pareja, The Simala Shrine Controversy (2010)
5. Candido Ortega Wenceslao, Simala Shrine Experience (2009)
6. Janeth Pelayo Mantalaba, Birhen sa Simala the Monastery of the Holy Eucharist (2012)
7. Ding Aban, Simala Shrine in Sibonga Cebu (2014)
8. Catholic.com, Praying to the Saints (2004)