I've written about this incident before in the past, but it remains one of the most intriguing and colorful in the entire history of the Philippines under Spanish rule, certainly one of the most scandalous as far as Church-state relations go. Sometimes there is a tendency among many Catholics especially of the traditionalist bent to idealize even confessional states as immaculately of the same mind as the Church; this conflict between Sebastian Hurtado de Corcuera, then governor general of the Philippines, and its archbishop, Fernando Guerrero, however, immediately puts that myth to rest. The archbishop who repelled armed soldiers with the Blessed Sacrament-- you just don't see that every day!
Governor vs bishop in 1636
DO WE sometimes mistake the conflict between individuals for something bigger? In 1636, the governor-general, Sebastian Hurtado de Corcuera, ordered the archbishop of Manila, Hernando de Guerrero, arrested and banished to Mariveles. While there were unresolved issues of jurisdiction and privilege that led to this state of affairs, was this really a conflict between Church and State or simply personal enmity between Don Sebastian and Padre Hernando? The fascinating part of the story is how the bishop stayed his arrest without an army, and without arms or ammunition. He kept the arresting officers at bay with a piece of unleavened bread. When the governors troops stormed the archbishop?s palace in Intramuros they found Guerrero in full regalia holding a monstrance with the Blessed Sacrament.
The exciting events of May 1636 began with the bishop declaring an interdict on Manila all churches were closed and all sacraments were denied the faithful. The governor requested, in writing, that the interdict be lifted so life in the distinguished and ever loyal city would return to normal. Guerrero sought the advice of the superiors of the different religious orders and all but the Jesuits agreed on keeping the interdict. When the governor ordered the Cathedral surrounded by soldiers, a host was sent for and carried to the bishop in a lunette from the Franciscan convent. This was then placed in the hands of the bishop who was described as "bathed in tears. Messengers called on the governor, warning him of more ecclesiastical censures if he proceeded with the banishment of the bishop. While the bishop's letter was being read, the governor ordered soldiers to extinguish the candles being used by the messengers. This was done with the wave of a hat.
Unable to execute the arrest order because the bishop was holding the Blessed Sacrament and was surrounded by representatives of all the religious orders (except the Jesuits), a constable was ordered by the governor to ask the religious to return to their convents and to arrest the bishop as soon as he released the Blessed Sacrament. Naturally, the priests and religious around the bishop refused to leave; some assisted the bishop, ?relieving him at times by easing him of the weight of the lunette, by placing their hands on those of the tired old man, whose eyes were turned into two fountains of tears when he reflected on the acts of desecration that they were practicing on the Supreme Lord.
Growing impatient, the governor went to the archbishops palace in the middle of the night and, seated by the door, ordered all the priests around the bishop to be physically removed, by force if necessary. When the soldiers refused to comply, they were beaten with fists and the flat of their swords. Thus some of the priests and religious, taking pity on them, allowed themselves to be seized and carried outside. Those who resisted were pushed and hit by soldiers who begged their pardon, saying they were under orders. As the religious were torn away from the bishop, the monstrance fell and the lunette broke. There was a gasp and silence. Lightning did not strike. The monstrance was returned to the bishop, with a strap attached to keep it in place.
To come to the bishop?s aid, the religious organized and attempted to go to the palace in a procession supposedly to take hold of the Blessed Sacrament, but they were not allowed to pass. Soldiers were stationed on all streets leading to the palace, and the religious were forced to return to their convents. Back in the palace the governor ordered a soldier, Juan de Santa Ana, to push the hand of the bishop. He refused and ?answered boldly that he would kill himself before he would commit such an act of sacrilege. Then drawing his sword, and placing the point (on) his breast, he fell upon it. By the permission of Divine Providence, the sword doubled up in such a manner that when the soldier fell upon it, he was not wounded at all. That incident caused great surprise to all the bystanders; but the governor was so little moved by it that he ordered the soldier to be arrested.
At 1 a.m., the thirsty bishop asked for water. The governor refused him food and drink. Armed soldiers were stationed around the bishop and the vigil continued. A Franciscan, on the pretext of tightening the strap that kept the monstrance in place, applied wet cloth on the bishop?s parched lips. This was the only nourishment he got for a day and a half. At dawn of May 10, 1636, the exhausted bishop released the Blessed Sacrament, took off his pontifical robes and was arrested by an adjutant and 50 armed soldiers. This was a bit of an overkill considering that the bishop was a tired old man of 60 years. He was led on foot toward the Pasig where a boat was waiting to take him to Mariveles. Before boarding the ?champan? the bishop, following the Gospel, shook the dust from his shoes, picked up five little stones and threw these at the ?ingrate walls of Manila.? One of these pebbles hit Don Pedro de Corcuera (sargento-mayor) on the leg. Later, it is said, in a battle in Jolo he was hit by a cannon ball on the same spot and died. This is but one of many other engaging episodes in the unwritten history of the Philippines in the 17th and 18th centuries.