In the city of Manila, on the twentieth of May, in the year one-thousand, five-hundred and eighty-nine, Doctor Santiago de Marquina saw a girl he estimated to be about fourteen years of age rising about a foot above the floor while she made her confession. This occurrence took place in the chapel of the convent of the Barefoot Saint Clares, situated by the Puerto Real in the old fort known as Intramuros.
This scene used to be at the end of her novel, because she was going to have her MC recall it in flashback. But on second thought, she couldn’t think of a good enough reason for him to have a flashback at the end of the novel, there was no emotional pay-off. So istead she moved this section to the early pages.
There’s some quasi-mystic thing going on in self’s descriptions, it’s that way throughout.
The sails were lowered, the ship slowly nosed into the harbor. Looking down at the churning water, Matias saw it was viscous, almost metallic in aspect, as though, somewhere, silver had moltened and now lay floating on the surface. Closer and closer to the harbor the ship moved. The ship was now but one of a throng of sea vessels: galleons, tall three-masters, swiftly moving Chinese sampans, squat dinghies. There was a great tumult of activity all along the quay.
Since self is writing about an 18th century Spanish priest who is sent to the Philippines to found a mission on an island widely thought to be inhabited by demons, she has to read up on Philippine colonial history.
It begins with Magellan’s murder. Then, with Spain sending voyage after voyage. Then, the Legazpi expedition of 1571 when the 17-year-old Juan de Salcedo marched up and down Luzon, planting the One True Cross.
It amazes self to realize that the line of Spanish governor generals began in 1571 (Legazpi was the first). What was the Philippines like in the 16th century? Juan de Salcedo and his men starved in the Mountain Province. Manila was attacked by pirates from China.
Even the 17th century seems positively medieval. Yet there was an unbroken line of Spanish governors for over three hundred years. Some governor generals were better than others; some were downright awful. But Spain kept sending them. It must have been a hellacious appointment. One governor general was even murdered. By friars.
The University of Santo Tomas is the oldest university in the Philippines. The first book printed in the Philippines, the Doctrina Christiana, is housed there, in the Antonio Vivencio del Rosario Library (named after self’s great-great-grandfather). At the opening, self’s great uncle, who donated the money for the archives, cited a thesis self had written in the Ateneo de Manila, which traced the del Rosario family history back, four generations. But self wasn’t there. Her brothers went, and great was their shock when they heard her name mentioned as the reason the archives exit. (Self couldn’t go because — well, she couldn’t afford the airfare. Husband was out of work. None of her family offered to make up the fare)
She FINALLY got to drop by in January 2018, met the librarians, and took pictures. The archives survive on the generosity of individual donors. Three full-time employees are responsible for digitizing the vast collection.
“How many books have been digitized so far?” self asked.
The answer: 150.
Self is thinking about the archives because today she decided to try and work on her 18th century novel-in-progress, Blue Water, Distant Shores. Her novel — a product of over-reach, self is no historian — is about a Spanish priest who, in 1736, is sent to the Philippines to fight demons. She’s reading about books by the early missionaries, books like the Ilocano catechism of 1621, translated by Fray Francisco Lopez.
“Your books should be here, ma’am,” she remembers the librarians telling her. “We’ll add them to the display.”
What? No . . .
On second thought! She’ll contact her press right now. Please send copies to the Antonio Vivencio del Rosario Archives in University of Santo Tomas, stat!
Afterwards, self dropped by the Program in Creative Writing, and got to pose for a picture with the professors:
Dearest Mum’s only response, when self showed her the pictures: Why are you so short?
Self’s childhood home in Manila was crammed with santoses (religious statues). Dearest Mum collected them.
The santos carvers were unknown. It was an industry, like making furniture. The head and hands of the figures were usually ivory.
The caption for San Pedro Martir reads, in entirety:
Ivory head and hands on batikuling body. A bolo (machete), now missing, the instrument of his martyrdom, was originally embedded in his cranium. He is usually depicted holding a palm of martyrdom, also missing. 19th century.
Batikuling is a Philippine tree, presently listed as endangered.