About 33 kilometers away from Cagayan’s provincial capital, Tuguegarao, in the town of Piat, is a historic church that attracts thousands of pilgrims yearly—Basilica Minore de Nuestra Señora de Piat.
One of the eighteen minor basilicas in Cagayan, the shrine is considered the “Pilgrimage Center of Cagayan Valley.” It’s where the centuries-old figure of Our Lady of Piat is located and is the purpose of the visit of devotees and tourists.
Its history dates back to 1604 when the Dominican friars brought from Macau a black image of the Virgin Mary with the infant Jesus. It was initially called Nuestra Senora del Santisimo Rosario or Our Lady of the Holy Rosary.
At the time, the friars were having difficulty settling down in the area because of the local Itawis who were clannish and always at war. To pacify the locals, the Dominicans then presented the image of the dark-skinned Virgin Mary. This was to convince the people that they have a common mother, and that they are all brothers and sisters in Christ. That is why it’s called “a mother to us all.”
“The people fell in love with the image, perhaps because of the dark complexion,” says Fr. Fredel Agatep, rector of the Basilica Minore of Our Lady of Piat. “If you look at the Blessed Mother here, she looked exactly like one of the natives.”
In just 25 years of evangelization work, the image attracted thousands of pilgrims. “She was the lady who converted the first Christians in Cagayan,” Agatep adds.
From a small sanctuary, a more spacious church was built in the 1700s. Rev. Fr. Diego Pinero later built a new sanctuary, while Fr. Jose Gurumeta restored it in 1875.
But it was only in 1999 that the Vatican elevated the church to its current status as a minor basilica. It was the first deemed as such in the region and only the fourth in the Philippines at the time.
Inside the church
Located on top of a hill to avoid the seasonal overflowing of the Chico River, the Baroque-style church—made out of red bricks—has a simple facade with a tall belfry on the left.
Inside, the wood ceiling bears historical images and accounts. At the altar, the Blessed Virgin Mary can be seen in a glass case. A staircase accessed from the back of the church leads to a window behind the image. Here, devotees can touch the dress of Our Lady of Piat.
Within the compound, a Piat Basilica Museum houses artifacts related to the Basilica or Our Lady of Piat. There’s also a surrounding garden-like sanctuary, the parish convent, and life-sized Stations of the Cross.
Apart from the church’s rich history, it was Our Lady of Piat’s miracles that kept pilgrims coming.
Of the hundred or so miracles attributed to her image, early Cagayan chroniclers captured and documented the following: the end of the 1624 drought; the saving of a full-passenger boat from Pamplona to Aparri on June 2, 1735; the healing of a lunatic boy in Abulug; the survival of a Piat native from a crocodile attack while crossing the river; and the numerous floods that wreaked havoc over the plains of the Itawes region.
Today, Roman Catholics continue to come to ask intercession for their personal woes.
Open to visitors
Unlike pre-pandemic when thousands flocked to the church, masses these days are only at a limited capacity and socially-distanced, or conducted entirely online.
Visitors, however, are welcome all-week long, during the morning or afternoon masses. Health and safety protocols like wearing of face masks at all times are strictly implemented.
All tourist destinations in Cagayan have health and safety protocols in place to protect locals and visitors alike. Everyone is expected to comply by wearing face masks, regularly washing their hands, and practicing physical distancing.
To check out up-to-date information regarding local destinations that are open and the safety protocols and requirements needed for each location, you may visit www.philippines.travel/safetrip or download the Travel Philippines app at app.philippines.travel or the Google Playstore.