Manaoag is a town in the province of Pangasinan, located in the northern part of the Philippines. It is known for its centuries-old church, the Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary of Manaoag Church, which is considered as one of the most significant religious sites in the country.
The history of Manaoag began in the early 1600s as a small settlement called Cawili, located in what is now known as the town of San Jacinto. It was a peaceful community by the banks of Baloquing Creek until the Augustinian Fathers established a Christian mission, which was later taken over by the Dominican Fathers.
The Dominican Fathers had a deep devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary and they placed the settlements under her protection as the “Queen of the Most Holy Rosary.” It was believed that the Virgin Mary appeared to a farmer, asking for a church to be built in her honor. This story spread, and people began to visit the place to verify the story of the “Virgin Mary who calls.”
The town’s name, Manaoag, is derived from the Pangasinan and Ilocano dialects, which mean “to call.” It is often referred to as the Catholic Mecca in the northern part of Luzon.
Manaoag is situated at the meeting point of the Sierra Madre mountain range and the wide level plain of Central Luzon. The town is traversed by three narrow rivers and several smaller streams that swell during the rainy months, often causing floods that can cause havoc to life and property.
The town has an area of about 9,660 hectares and a population of around 7,000 (as of 1976). The main industry of the people is farming, with rice and sugar cane as the primary crops. Other crops include tobacco, vegetables, peanuts, and corn. The town had the first mechanized sugar mill in the country, but it is now the smallest in the Philippines due to the absence of large sugarcane lands. The people have developed minor industries such as handicrafts, livestock raising, and quarrying.
However, Manaoag is best known as a pilgrimage town. Every Saturday and Sunday, thousands of people converge in this town to hear mass in the Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary of Manaoag Church. The center of devotion is the Lady of the Rosary, also known as Nuestra Señora de Manaoag or “Apo Baket” in the local dialect. The ivory image of the Lady, which is enshrined in the high altar of the Church, is said to possess miraculous powers.
Pilgrimages to Manaoag reach their peak during the Lenten Season, in May and October, during the Feast of the Holy Rosary. The town’s significance as a religious site has become a significant source of income for the locals. Numerous stalls selling various religious items, including rosaries, statues, and candles, line the streets leading to the Church.
The history of Manaoag is a testament to the deep religious faith of the Filipino people. Its significance as a pilgrimage site is a source of pride for the locals and a source of inspiration for visitors who come to seek spiritual solace and enlightenment.