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A 3 foot, 60 lb wooden statue, carved from ironwood, is known as Our Lady of Camarin. On Guam and the Marianas she is the Patron Saint Santa Marian Kamalen who stands watch over the people of Guam and the Marianas Isles in the bullet-proof glass apse of the Agana Basilica 15 feet above the altar floor and the tombs of several Spanish, American and Chaomru bishops. "Her eyes are cast down reverently and her hands are together in prayer, touching only at the fingertips. She stands in the heavens, tucked into the curve of a silver crescent moon [traditional symbol for Mary], floating on the wings of cherubs" [John Wythe White, Pacifica pg. 8-9].
Oral tradition relates that Santa Marian Kamalen, Patroness of the Marianas islands, floated into the shores of Merizo escorted by two crabs with lit votive candles on their backs over 340 years ago. Made of ironwood, which does not float, her arrival by way of sea was a miracle in of itself. It is told that the statue was brought in by a fisherman who presented her to his parish priest, who in turn presented it to the Spanish Governor. Legend relates that the fisherman drew near to the statue repeatedly but it drifted away. It was until he fully clothed himself that the floating statue could be approached and touched. Our Lady was housed in a Merizo proa shed or camarin [kamalin is the Spanish-Chamoru word for the long narrow thatched structures that served as soldiers barracks] until she could be moved to the Dulce Nombre de Maria Church in Agana where it sits in a perch above the church's altar.
This exquisite image of Our Lady, with hands, feet and face of ivory and a cap of natural hair, is bedecked with a jewel-studded crown of gold and gold jewelry. For centuries, Chamorros have held this visual image of the Immaculate Virgin which has survived fires, earthquakes, and typhoons. She was safely hidden from the Japanese invaders and otherwise protected from the ravages of World War II. Government Code of of Guam Sect.1 Chapt 10 paragraph 1000 designates Our Lady of Camarin Day as an official holiday on December 8th. Since the early 1900s, On that Feast day, the Basilica is closed, the statue is taken down from the apse, groomed by a select group of people, and is placed atop a karosa or cart of blossoms. The cart is pulled with the centuries old figure being a central visual image leading a Catholic procession around Hagatna, the capitol city of Guam. Throughout the procession, the sound of prayers in various languages weave through the thousands of faithful believers honoring Jesus [through Mary who is identified as the Immaculate Conception]. As with religious traditions in the Marianas, Catholics do not pray to statues or do not worship statues.
The tradition is a carryover from 1825 and 1834, when Guam's faithful made a "promesa" (promise) to hold a procession in Mary's honor after a series of devastating earthquakes.
Padre San Vitores built his first church in February 1669 on Hagatna land given him by Chief Quipuha who died on 1668Dec23 and buried inside the church on Christmas eve (Levesque, Rodrique. History of Micronesia Vol 4 Religious Conquest 1995; p 631-632). He dedicated it to Dulce Nombre de Maria (Sweet Name of Mary) - a name and site of the village's church (now basilica) has kept for over 340 years.
The ancient Chamorro society was one of only a handful of societies that are matrilineal in nature. Having Mary as the patroness reflects the ancient community quick acceptance of a mother figure.
According to John Whythe White, pg 8 of Continental's Pacifica magazine 1993, "She probably came from a Spanish galleon, Our Lady del Pilar 1673, that ran aground and sank in the treacherous waters off Cocos Islands Southern Guahan."
The statue had been stolen from the Basilica in 1968, May 9, 1971, Dec 28, 1992 but successfully retrieved. The Archbishop of Hagatna, Anthony Apuron, believes that the thefts of Our Lady were motivated not by the promise of monetary gain, but by proximity to the miraculous. "All of the people who took the statue did it to be close to her," he says. "They were troubled people who hoped that having her near would somehow caused her to perform a miracle."
On Dec 2, 2002, a cost saving measure for the Government of Guam was
enacted Public Law 26-157 which trims the number of govt of Guam holidays from 16 to 10. Eliminated were Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s
birthday, Presidents Day, Discovery Day, Good Friday and The Feast of
the Immaculate Conception Our Lady of Camarin Day as holidays in Guam.
In face of pressure from constituents, including legislator's mothers
and family and an impending typhoon "Ponsonga", lawmakers on Dec 3, 2002 voted to
recall Unpingco's bill from the session voting file and changed the
name of the holiday "Remembrance Day" back to Our Lady of Camarin Day.
On Dec 8 2002, on the Lady of Camarin anniversary,
one of the most devastating typhoon Ponsonga [a Korean word for a
little flower] landed on Guam.