The island of Siquijor here in the Philippines has long been surrounded with a mystic air. Called the 'Isla del Fuego'-- the island of fire by the Spaniards, it is whispered that this ancient land is home to countless witches, sorcerers, and a host of other supernatural beings. And it is by no accident that it was christened with such a name, for Siquijor's forests were home to great multitudes of fireflies, whose light bathed the island in an eerie glow.
Siquijor, too, is home to a controversial statue of St. Rita, which is said to be a favorite of the brujas and witch doctors of the islands. Here is a brief summary, from the now defunct My Sari-Sari Store website of photojournalist Sidney Snoeck.
Hidden inside the church of the village of Maria is the frightening statue of Sta. Rita holding a skull and an inverted crucifix. Leave before dark, some people claim she is a ghost...
The statue is out of view and you will not be able to see it without the authorization of the Parish Priest. Nobody, even the Parish Priest, could give me any clues as to the origin of the statue. The documents related to the statue disappeared mysteriously a few years ago.
According to local legend, the skull belongs to the woman’s husband whom she killed for reasons nobody in the island seems to know.
The decision to hide the statue from the public was taken by the bishop to protect the statue from theft and vandalism. The statue was already stolen in the past and was luckily recovered in the province of Bohol. It also seem that faith healers were scraping pieces of the skull to mix it in their magic potions.
According to the Patron-Saints Index, Rita was the daughter of Antonio and Amata Lotti. From her early youth, Rita visited the Augustinian nuns at Cascia, Italy, and showed interest in a religious life. However, when she was twelve, her parents betrothed her to Paolo Mancini, an ill-tempered, abusive individual who worked as town watchman. Disappointed but obedient, Rita married him when she was 18, and was the mother of twin sons.
She put up with Paolo's abuses for eighteen years before he was ambushed and stabbed to death. Her sons swore vengeance on their father's killers, but through Rita's prayers and interventions, they forgave the offenders.
Upon the deaths of her sons, Rita again felt the call to religious life. However, some of the sisters at the Augustinian monastery were relatives of her husband's assassins, and she was denied entry for fear of causing dissension. Asking for the intervention of Saint John the Baptist she managed to be admitted to the monastery at the age of 36.
Rita lived 40 years in the convent, spending her time in prayer and charity.
Rita is well-known as a patron of desperate, seemingly impossible causes and situations. This is because she has been involved in so many stages of life - wife, mother, widow, and nun, she buried her family, helped bring peace to her city, saw her dreams denied and fulfilled - and never lost her faith in God, or her desire to be with Him.