One of the Catholic spiritual centers of Novaliches is the Franciscan Our Lady of the Angels Seminary (OLAS), which was founded in 1962. For more than five decades, the Franciscan priests of Order of Friars Minor (OFM) at the OLAS served the nearby communities, and the small chapel was where the residents of the many nearby barangays would come to attend their Sunday mass, and conduct the sacraments of baptism, the first communion, confirmation of faith, and weddings. Slowly, the priests of the OLAS would help establish small community chapels, which would grow into parishes in time; such as the Parokya ng Pagkabuhay (Parish of the Resurrection, 1978), the Banal na Sakramento Parish (Holy Sacrament Parish, 1981), the San Bartolome Parish (1985), the Parish of San Jose: Ang Tagapagtanggol (1997), the Christ: King Of The Universe Parish (2004), and the San Antonio de Padua Parish (2011).
With so many new parishes and community chapels growing, many people from the barangays of San Bartolome, Talipapa and Bagbag would still come to the chapel of the OLAS to hear mass; and the priests found the venue too small to contain the growing populace. Thus, on the 2nd of August 2014, the Santuario de Nuestra Señora de los Angeles, also known as the Our Lady of the Angels Porziuncola Chapel, was formally opened and blessed to the public.
The chapel was named after a small chapel found inside the Papal Basilica of Saint Mary of the Angels (Santa Maria degli Angeli) in Assisi, Italy; to which the OLAS is named after. Porziuncula means “a small portion of land” in Italian, which refers to the small area of land given by the Benedictine monks in 1211, to Saint Francis of Assisi (born Giovanni di Pietro di Bernardone, 1181- 1226), for his use to star his mission. In that small parcel of land was the abandoned and derelict Chapel of Our Lady of the Angels, which St. Francis restored, and would use as his base. In this very chapel, St. Francis penned the “Regula primitiva” (Primitive Rule), which would be the basis of the Franciscan Order and the Second Order of the Poor Ladies Poor Clares.
St. Francis would travel extensively, to evangelize in Egypt, Rome, Spain and Jerusalem. However, in all his travels, he could return to the Chapel of Our Lady of the Angels, where he would eventually pass away in 1226. After St. Francis’ death, more buildings grew around the chapel, making it a monastery for his followers. This would soon become a pilgrimage site, with hundreds to thousands visiting the small chapel. To accommodate the many visitors, as well as the growing population of monks and people settling around the area, Pope Pius V (born Antonio Ghislieri, 1504-1572) had the surrounding small structures demolished, to make way for the construction of the Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli to be built. Starting construction in 1569, the basilica grew around the chapel and Cappella del Transito, where St. Francis had died. The basilica was designed in the Mannerist style by the Italian architects Galeazzo Alessi (1512-1572) and Giacomo da Vignola (1507- 1573), whereas the basic structures of the chapel was maintained, but embellished Baroque decorations. Since the passing of St. Francis, many paintings were added to the Porziucula, by such artists as the Italians Pietro Perugino (born Pietro Vannucci, 1446-1523) and Prete Ilario, as well as the German artist Johann Friedrich Overbeck (1789-1869).
The Our Lady of the Angels Porziuncola Chapel continues to share the teaching of St. Francis, starting with the plaza, where seven faux marble tablets of the Franciscan Crown are placed around the plaza, for visitors to mediate upon. The Franciscan Crown is also called the Seraphic Rosary, which commemorates the Seven Joys of the Blessed Virgin Mary. This tradition began around 1422, after an apparition of the Virgin Mary to a Franciscan novice, where she taught him the meditation on the seven Joys. Soon this practice spread among the many Franciscans, and was promoted by the likes of St. John of Capestrano (1386-1456) and St. Bernardino of Siena (1380-1444).
The order of the seven Joyful Mysteries goes as follows:
The First Joy: The Annunciation
The archangel Gabriel visits Mary to announce to her that she is to conceive by the Holy Spirit, and bear the savior, Jesus.
The Second Joy: The Visitation
Mary visits her cousin Elizabeth, who is also pregnant with the child, John; who will be later called “John, The Baptist”.
The Third Joy: The Nativity
The child Jesus is born in Bethlehem, and is visited and hailed by shepherds and three magi, who are led to the child by a star in the heavens.
The Fourth Joy: The Presentation at the Temple
Mary and St. Joseph bring the infant Jesus to the temple in Jerusalem, for the ritual of purification. There he is greeted and blessed by the aging priest, Simeon, who declares Jesus as the messiah.
The Fifth Joy: The Finding of Jesus in the Temple
Thetwelve year old Jesus accompanies his parents to the Passover pilgrimage to the Temple of Jerusalem. Jesus gets separated from his parents, and they search for him. After three days, they discover the young Jesus in the temple, discussing scripture with the scholars.
The Sixth Joy: The Resurrection
Three days after Jesus’ death at the cross, he is raised from the dead.
The Seventh Joy: The Ascension of Christ
From the Mount of Olives, Jesus rises to Heaven. Another version is the Assumption and Coronation of the Virgin, where Mary rises to heaven, body and soul, and is crowned a Queen of the Universe.
Coming from the plaza, the visitor climbs the stairs of the Porziuncola Chapel, to be greeted by a memorial plaque, with text on the foundation of the chapel. The concrete plaque is flanked by two angels, which could be reminiscent of the angels on top of the Ark of the Covenant.
Entering the chapel, visitors are greeted by a large mural of “The Indulgence of St. Francis” above the altar. Painted by the children of Jose Blanco, of the artists’ town of Angono, the mural is an interpretation of the original mural in the Porziuncola Chapel, which was created by Italian monk Prete Ilario of Viterbo, in 1393.
The different panels of the mural tell of St. Francis’ life, and his rebuilding of the Porziuncola and the institutionalization of the “Pardon of Assisi”. The story starts in 1216, when St Francis is tested by God, as he fights lustful temptation, by stripping of his clothes and rolled in the snow, and then he throws himself into the thorny brambles of a briar plant (lower right panel). Once St Francis has proven his piety amidst temptation, and the briar bush blooms with thornless roses. Then two angels appear, and accompany him into the chapel (upper right panel). Upon entering the chapel, St. Francis has a vision of Jesus Christ and the Blessed Virgin Mary enthroned and surrounded with angels, to whom he offers the roses from the briar plant. In this vision, Chirst and the Madonna give St. Francis the “Pardon of Assisi”, an indulgence of mercy from temporal punishment due to sin, to all who come to the Porziuncola (upper central panel). After receiving the vision, St. Francis immediately travels to Rome, with Brother Masseo of Marignano. St. Francis has an audience with Pope Honorius III (born Cencio Savelli, 1150-1227), where he implores for the Confirmation of the Indulgence for pilgrims to the Porziuncola. The Pope approves of the Indulgence, granted it is only applicable on every Vespers of the 1st of August (upper left panel). Upon obtaining the written approval for the Indulgence, St. Francis is accompanied by Brother Peter Zalfani and seven Bishops of Umbra, as they consecrate the Porziuncola and promulgate the Indulgence to the people of Rome, and back to Assisi (lower left panel).
There are more panels of the mural that feature other aspects of St. Francis’ life and Franciscan teaching. At the upper central panel is the large painting of “The Annunciation”, which reflects the Franciscan devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Prete Ilario’s version of the Annunciation has a clear influence of Simone Martini’s (1285–1344) gilded gold 1333 Gothic painting of “The Annunciation with St. Margaret and St. Ansanus”, once placed at the Cathedral of Siena and now exhibited at the Uffizi Gallery. The distinctive reluctant post of the Blesses Virgin Mary is one of the defining characteristics of the earlier painting, which had inspired Hilarius (English for Ilario). It is also noted that Lippo Memmi (1291-1356) painted the side panels, featuring St. Margaret or Maxima of Rome (died 304 AD) and St. Ansanus of Siena (285-304 AD), Christian martyrs of the Roman persecutions, during the reign of Emperor Diocletian (born Gaius Aurelius Valerius Diocletianus Augustus, 244-312 AD). The use of pink in at Archangel Gabriel’s robe may be attributed to Ambrogio Lorenzetti’s (1285–1348) 1344 version of the Annunciation for the Ufficio della Gabella, being one of the first works to employ this color on the angel’s robes.
On the small bottom right panels, the story of St. Francis’ life starts with his early military career and his vision to change his life as a soldier of God. The next panel shows St. Francis’ pilgrimage to Rome, where he receives the vision at the chapel of San Damiano, where the vision of the Crucified Christ tells him to rebuild his church. The third panel on the bottom right shows St. Francis’ return to Assisi, and the rebuilding of the Chapel of Our Lady of the Angels. At the bottom left panels, the story continues with St. Francis’ confrontation of the Sultan of Egypt, and the probably the miracle of the Spring in La Verna. The third panel is muddled, just like the original fresco, which has not been restored. Other images on the arch are images of people who have held significance in St. Francis’ life; including Pope Innocent III (born Lotario dei Conti di Segni , 1160-1216) who allowed St. Francis to establish the Franciscan Rule, Pope Honorius III who approved of the Porziuncola Indulgence and approved the institutionalization of the Franciscan Order in 1223, St. Clare of Assisi (born Chiara Offreduccio Sciffi, 1194-1253) who had founded the Order of Saint Clare in 1212, St. Agnes of Assisi (born Caterina Scifi, 1197-1253) who was the first abbesses of the Order of Poor Ladies, and possibly St. Anthony of Padua (born Fernando Martins de Bulhões, 1195-1231), among others. Also featured in the arch are images of seraphs, the six winged angels who appear to St. Francis during his meditations on the Exaltation of the Cross and acceptance of the Stigmata of Christ, in 1224.
Jose Villones Blanco (1932-2008) is a representational painter, from the artists’ town of Angono. Although Blanco had a granduncle who was a 19th century religious painter, Pedro Piñon, there were no other relatives who had an inclination towards the arts. Blanco took his collegiate studies at the University of Santo Tomas (UST), and soon started working in advertising. In 1971, Blanco left the design world, and started painting full time, and held his first solo exhibition at Manila Hilton Art Center. Blanco took inspiration from his hometown, and painted large canvasses of provincial life, from fluvial parades to historical events. Although he may have not received many accolades in his life, Blanco’s works have been exhibited all around the world, and has many collectors in the USA and Europe. Blanco married Loreto Perez, and their seven children all became prolific artists themselves, and founding the “Blanco Family of Artists” with a museum of their works in Angono. Blanco is also called by his folkname “Pitok Bunggan”, as the Buggan is a local fish that has also become the symbol of the family.
Looking at the base of the Porziuncola’s altar table, visitors will notice a reliquary that contains a piece of rock, from the actual chapel at the Santa Maria degli Angeli. Behind the relic is a relief of four seraphs and the Christ enfolded in the wings of an angel, which is another memento to the stigmatization of St. Francis.
Another interesting detail in the Porziuncola are the candleholders, which have relief representations of the Four Evangelists of the Gospels. Representing St. John is the eagle, St. Luke is the winged ox, St. Mark is the winged lion, and St. Matthew is the winged angel.
One the walls of the Porziuncola are the Via Crusis or Stations of the Cross, which are 14 reliefs portraying the Passion of the Christ, starting with his condemnation to death by the Roman Pontius Pilate, and ends with his death by crucifixion and his body being brought down from the cross. These intricately sculpted pieces are resin casts, painted to look like wood and metal.
Looking at the Narthex, there is a magnificent stained glass window of Jesus Christ and the Blessed Virgin Mary seated in heaven, which is a translation of Johann Friedrich Overbeck‘s (1789-1869) painting of “The Vision of St. Francis”, which is found at the very entrance of the Porziuncola, at the Santa Maria degli Angeli. The original 1830 painting was Overbeck’s translation of the Christ and the Madonna instructing St. Francis about the Indulgence.
Returning to the exterior of the Porziuncola, the chapel is topped off with a small tower, with Gothic architectural embellishments. In the tower is an image of Mary, the Queen.
At the rear of the Porziuncola is a relief of the symbol of the Franciscan Order, with the Tau Cross representing sacrifice, the crossed arms of St. Francis with his stigmata, and the laurel wreath of victory over sin. At the sides of the Franciscan seal are two angels, which remind us of the angels who accompanied St. Francis into the Porziuncola. These symbols are very apt for all visitors, who are ushered into the Porziuncola to witness the piety and sacrifice of St. Francis for the glory of God.