Ave Maris Stella: Story of a Song

By Fr. Manuel Duetao

The sun had just gone down and the lengthening shadows were now turning into a black mantle of the coming night. The full moon was about to show its beautiful face from behind the mountain range. There was a light drizzle.

Gorio was prodding his horse homeward to what is now a first-class highway towards the north. His destination was what would one day be known popularly as Banga Bante or Jalaud Norte in the province of Iloilo, Philippines. His thoughts were already with his wife, Tina, and their three little children: Francisca, Canuto, and Taciana.

A plague had struck and had been raging for more than two weeks. A hundred or so had died – young and old, men and women, in two neighboring barangays along the Jalaud River. His own sitio would be the next as the plague was spreading upwards along the river bank on their side of Jalaud.

Gorio’s thoughts of home were suddenly stirred when a voice said, “Sir, I’m so tired. Can you give me a ride?”

The moon was now up and its rays were softening somehow the shadows of the evening. When Gorio stopped his horse, he found himself face to face with a very beautiful young girl who did not seem to be of this place or of this time. A poor farmer that he was and smelling foul with all the day’s work, Gorio could not come down his horse to give way to this stranger. But he pulled himself up and said to the girl, “Why not? Climb here behind me.”

Trudging slowly down the rough roads, a ray of moonbeam suddenly illumined the solitary travelers. Gorio saw and felt something that made his hair stand on end. The girl was scaly! Her knees that reflected the moonlight were all covered with big scales, like she was a big fish or perhaps, a mermaid. Would he jump, run away like mad, and shout for help? What a shame for a man of his caliber!

Gorio tried to control himself and calmly asked the girl: “You seem to be covered with scales.” Gorio could feel her scaly skin as his elbows touched her hands and arms. In a level tone, the girl answered him: “Do not be afraid. I happen to be one of the bearers of the plague. Because of your kindness in giving me a ride, we will spare your family. Thank you so much.” With this, she suddenly jumped down and disappeared behind the bamboo thickets.

As Gorio sat down for the evening meal with his family, he narrated his experience of the scaly girl. They had mixed feelings of relief and anxiety.

As the family prepared to sleep, the moon reached its zenith. The moonbeams gave a soft, glowing light about the small nipa hut of Gorio and his little family. Their youngest could not sleep and Tina had no choice but to be on her feet and rock the baby in her arms. Gorio quickly fell asleep in his corner. As Tina was cooing the baby to sleep, she happened to peep through the little hole in the wall of their hut. She was stunned for a moment as she saw a girl coming toward their hut – a girl exactly as described to her by her husband. And the girl was not alone but two, three, four and more emerged from out of the bamboo groove.

Would she wake Gorio up? Would she shout for help? Tina could feel her knees shaking and fear was gripping her. But as if by a burst of inspiration, her faith in God took the better of her. She remembered that, about a month ago, their parish priest had taught them a song to the Blessed Virgin. It was in Latin and she did not understand a word of it. But in her simplicity, she felt it was a prayer to Mary. She started to sing it:

Ave Maris Stella Hail, thou star of the ocean
Dei mater alma Portal of the sky
Atque semper virgo Ever virgin Mother
Felix coeli porta Of the Lord Most High

Tina paused for a moment and peeped through the little hole in the wall. The girls stopped like they were struck by some unseen power. They looked stunned. Tina continued the song…

Then, she paused and looked at the strange girls. To her relief, they were turning away. Not only that; they seemed affected by her song. As Tina’s untrained country voice again echoed and soared through the stillness of the night, she could see the girls walking like drunkards, even banging against each other or against some trees on the way. It seemed that some mysterious power had blinded and struck them.

Tina woke Gorio up to witness the strange event. Husband and wife joined in the singing of the beautiful song of Ave Maris Stella, only this time it sounded no longer like a desperate plea but more like a fervent thanksgiving:

Vitam presta puram Still, as on we journey
Iter para tutum Help our weak endeavor
Ut videntes Jesum Till with thee and Jesus
Semper collaetemur We rejoice forever
Sit laus Deo Patri Through the highest heaven
Summo Cristo decus To the Almighty Three
Spiritui Sancto Father, Son and Spirit
Tribus honor unus One same glory be.

From that time on, the children and grandchildren of Gorio and Tina, even the fourth generation, came to learn Ave Maris Stella as a song to be sung in times of calamities.

When there were storms, when there were great earthquakes like Lady Caycay in 1951, when there were thunderstorms, when the Jalaud River overflowed its banks, the clan would sing the song they learned by heart as taught by their great-grandmother, Owaw Tinay.

(The author is parish priest of St. Isidore the Farmer Parish in Kalumboyan, Bayawan City, Negros Oriental, Philippines. He is the great-grandson of Gorio and Tina.)

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