SAN RAFAEL, Bulacan, Philippines — For many of this town?s residents, Jose Rizal?s unforgettable fictional characters Sisa, Crispin and Basilio not only existed in his 19th century novel ?Noli Me Tangere,? they actually roamed the streets here. According to local lore, the bloodstains on a wall in the convent of the San Juan de Dios church were actually Crispin?s, Sisa?s youngest son whose disappearance and probable death caused her to lose her mind. The story, told and retold by the older townsfolk, goes like this: The head sacristan had Crispin whipped over some missing cash. The boy?s bloodied body was thrown into a well at the convent, never to be seen by his mother. This supposedly true-to-life account would be immortalized in Rizal?s ?Noli Me Tangere? published in Berlin in 1887. ?Noli Me Tangere? (Touch Me Not) and its sequel, ?El Filibusterismo? (The Reign of Greed), exposed the abuses of the Spanish friars and earned for Rizal the ire of the Spanish authorities. Rizal was executed on Dec. 30, 1896, and his two books are now required reading for Filipino high school and college students.
Cory Valero-Vergel de Dios, 71, said she first heard the story from her parents and older relatives. Born in 1936, Vergel de Dios spent many summers offering flowers at the church, often playing at the convent after the traditional Flores de Mayo rituals. She said she and her playmates used to gaze at the bloodstained wall and wander near the well. ?The stains were red and clear,? Vergel de Dios said. Gigi Valderrama, who works at the municipal hall, said she heard the story from her mother, who is now in her 80s. She also heard the story from her grandmother, now deceased. ?It?s just a story,? said Valderrama, who is active in parish activities. Tina, a Manila-based professional in her 20s, heard the tale from her grandparents and described the account as ?vague and sketchy.?
Nonetheless, the room in the convent where Crispin was supposedly tortured to death now has a tableau which has a mannequin resembling Rizal. The Rizal mannequin sits behind a desk, writing. He faces the well where Crispin?s body was supposedly dumped. In the Noli, Rizal described Crispin as ?a timid boy with large black eyes.? He and older brother Basilio were employed in the church as ?bell ringers? to help their mother Sisa. Their father was a man who liked going to cockfights and beat their mother. The boys? unhappy life turned worse when the head sacristan accused Crispin of stealing ?two ounces? which was then equivalent to P32. On the day the loss was discovered, Crispin was not allowed to leave the convent, while Basilio was allowed to leave only after 10 p.m., which was past the 9 p.m. curfew.
Crispin begged Basilio not to leave him because, he said, ?they?re going to kill me.? The head sacristan dragged Crispin down the stairs from the bell tower and into the shadows. That was the last time Basilio saw his kid brother. Leaving the convent past curfew, Basilio was met by the guardia civil (the police then) who fired shots. A bullet grazed Basilio?s head. Though bleeding from a head wound, he managed to go home to his mother that night. This is the background to the heartbreaking scene of the madwoman Sisa, who wandered the streets, looking for her sons Crispin and Basilio. Some San Rafaeleños believe this scene actually happened here during the Spanish colonial era.
Founded as a Spanish settlement in 1750, San Rafael is a deeply Catholic town. Residents make sure they get married in the same church where they were christened. When church bells peal at 6 p.m., residents pause to say the Angelus. Located some 150 kilometers north of Manila, the town is accessible via narrow, badly paved roads. According to the 2000 annual census, San Rafael has a population of 169,776 with 14,659 households. Msgr. Filemon Capiral said the town has a rich heritage. ?The residents, although most have gone abroad, are helping preserve the heritage,? he said. Four years ago, Fr. Dennis Espejo, who was then the parish priest, organized the Committee on the Cultural Heritage of San Rafael.
Espejo raised funds from residents who made good here and abroad and established a museum. The museum, located on the second floor of the convent, showcases a collection of religious icons and vestments, antique furniture and furnishings. The room with the bloodstained wall is part of the museum. There is a not so well-known historical fact about the San Juan de Dios Church. It was the site of one of the bloodiest battles between the Katipuneros and the Spanish troops. According to the church?s historical marker, Katipuneros led by Gen. Anacleto Enriquez and Spanish troops under Lt. Col. Lopez Arteaga fought fiercely at the site. When the smoke cleared, an estimated 800 men were dead, among them the 20-year-old Enriquez, who was a good friend of another Bulakeño, the boy general, Gregorio del Pilar.
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