The history of the Archdiocese of Jaro, the iconic church that serves as its seat, and the venerated image of Our Lady of the Candles are closely entwined. Three remarkable things happened in 1587, shortly after the arrival of the Spanish missionaries to the islands. In that year, Jaro was established as a parish, its first rudimentary church was erected, and the limestone image of the Nuestra Señora de la Candelaria was found floating in the Iloilo River.
In those early days, the parish was under the Diocese of Manila, which was established just nine years prior, in 1579, and whose jurisdiction encompassed all Spanish colonies in Asia as a suffragan of the Archdiocese of Mexico. From 1742 to 1744, a second structure was erected close to the site of the present church. The structure we know today was first built in 1874, around the same year that Pope Pius the IX declared the parish an independent diocese. However, it was badly damaged by the great earthquake of January 1948 and was later restored in 1956 by the first Archbishop of Jaro, Jose Maria Cuenco.
In 1976, the National Historical Institute of the Philippines (now the National Historical Commission of the Philippines) declared the Jaro Cathedral a historic landmark. Five years later, during the first Papal visit of St. John Paul II to the Philippines, he declared Our Lady of the Candles, also known as the Nuestra Señora de la Candelaria, as the Patroness of Jaro District of Iloilo City and the whole of Western Visayas. This distinction is all the more special for two other reasons. First, after the Basilica del Santo Niño in Cebu, the Jaro Cathedral is only the second national shrine in the VisMin regions. And second, Our Lady of Candelaria is the first-ever Marian image in Asia to be crowned by a Pontiff in person.
Our Lady’s image is said to be quite miraculous. When it was first found in the 1500s, it is said that it was so heavy that the fishermen could barely lift it. But when the decision was made to bring it to the cathedral, the image suddenly budged and became easier to transport. It is also said that the image, which was originally enshrined in a small niche, has somehow grown in size over the years. According to accounts, after outgrowing the small niche, Our Lady was transferred to its present location in the church balcony.
Today, the centuries-old Nuestra Senora de la Candelaria is the only female statue among the all-male collection of images that line the inner walls of the cathedral. Each year, devotees come from far and wide to celebrate the feast day of Our Lady of the Candles on February second. The event is said to be one of the largest Marian celebrations in the country, second only to that of the Peñafrancia of Naga, Camarines Sur.
Though popularly known as the Jaro Cathedral, the iconic landmark is formally named the Jaro Metropolitan Cathedral and National Shrine of Our Lady of the Candles. However, it also has a lesser-known appellation, the Church of St. Elizabeth of Hungary, after its titular patroness.
The cathedral was placed under the patronage of St. Elizabeth of Hungary, the patroness of Catholic charities as well as the Secular Franciscan Order. Despite being of noble birth and marriage, St. Elizabeth led a life of prayer, simplicity, and sacrifice. She also showed great love and mercy for the less fortunate and ended her brief life in their service at a hospital she founded in honor of St. Francis of Assisi.(Philippine Heritage Tours)
Jaro, Iloilo City, Iloilo