Location: Brgy. Rizal Interior, Monte Cueva, Maasin City
Note: This is a part of my 4-day Maasin City Trip which includes: Shrine of Our Lady of the Assumption and the Most Precious Blood of Jesus, Shrine of Our Lady of the Assumption at Jalleca Hills, Our Lady of the Assumption Parish Cathedral of Maasin, Maasin City Tour, Saint Francis Javier Shrine and Canigao Island.
Maasin City is indeed a very religious city. The proof of the matter were its two shrines of Our Lady of the Assumption in separate locations and the establishment of its first Roman Catholic church by the Spaniards in 1700. One of these two shrines is that of Our Lady of the Assumption and the Most Precious Blood of Jesus or most commonly known as Monte Cueva Shrine.
The shrine is erected on top of a hill of 172 MASL or 564 feet in elevation where the shrine faces the ocean and the whole town of Maasin. Because of its height, devotees and pilgrimes have to scale the concrete stairways on the right which serves as the entry point with 552 steps while the left one as the exit side has more than 300 steps. Why is this so? Because, the left wing has stairways with longer steps while the other one has shorter stairs.
There is a store when you reach the open chapel where you can buy refreshing drinks and religious items and souvenirs. It is a very green open garden equipped with seats. Only the altar has the roof.
With regular masses being held here, pilgrims and devotees flock in big numbers. After all, it is just 2 kilometers away from the city proper of Maasin which is 10-15 minutes drive with tricycles as the only transport going there.
Just few steps from the open chapel is the entry point to a cave with a cathedral inside. Surprisingly it was cold inside the cave. The wall stone is cold and it is equipped with lights inside.
I think the cathedral has specific schedule when it will be opened on a regular basis to the public for I noticed that the narrow entry to it has metal door casing. Considering that holy masses has regular schedule, then only by this time that it will be opened to the public. Unfortunately, by the time I was there, I need to wait for the holy mass at 6:00 P.M. but I was rushing to go to the other Shrine of Our Lady of the Assumption at the Jalleca Hills.
Even if there was no mass going on, still there were a lot of pilgrims in and out the cathedral and the open chapel. I had a short conversation from the other pilgrims there, I learned that some came from Cebu City, Davao, Ilocos and a few were American citizens of Filipino blood having their home visit to the Philippines.
It was so spiritually relaxing staying inside the cathedral. It was so solemn inside. There were so many people around but you can hardly hear any footstep. That feeling of being holy was just so contagious.
I thought then after coming out from the cathedral that I have to go down and leave the sacred hill but I noticed that people were moving to one direction for a few steps going up where it looks like an open veranda. I followed them anyway, and to my surprise, there I saw the image of Our Lady of the Assumption with arms outstretched towards the city and the ocean which according to the staff it indicates love and protection for its beloved city, Maasin.
I saw a group there with a guide I suppose telling them the details of the shrine and so I listened and according to him, the shrine was canonically established by the bishop of Maasin, it is officially called the Shrine of the Most Precious Blood of Jesus and the Our Lady of the Assumption, the city’s patroness, according to Fr. Garnet John Dy Quirong, diocesan shrine director for five years. He further narrated that the shrine was a donation by the philanthropists Odong and Loring Chung in 1992 to the Diocese of Maasin where the couple was the land owner of this site. Prior to its construction, Odong had a dream where Our Lady of the Assumption was asking him to build a shrine in Her name. He added that there was a time when Maasin City was to be hit by a tidal wave and the people had already evacuated to the highlands. A witnessed has revealed that Our Lady of Assumption had motioned to stop the huge tidal wave and gradually, it subsided.
Finally, I learned from one of the staff that residents once referred to the place as a mountain cave or what the locals call as "aghuban" while some others called it Sitio Tinibgan, meaning a carved rock shaped like a wooden basin on the lower portion of a brook. On the other hand, the cave where the cathedral was built used to be a habitat for bats and birds. Stalactites can still be seen embellished on the ceiling, but a few of them were later ripped off and sold as decorative items.
HOW TO GO THERE
The nearest airports to Maasin are Cebu City, Ormoc City and Tacloban City. But plying from Cebu City would require you to board a ship from Cebu City's Pier 4 to cross to Hilongos, Southern Leyte for P286 which is around 5-6 hours sea travel of which we boarded M/V Joyful Stars. Then from Hilongos to Maasin is a bus service of P87 for more than 1 hour road travel.
If you are coming from Ormoc City, then it is approximately 3 hours drive for 131.9 kilometers via Baybay-Inopacan Road for a fare of P150. While if you are coming from Tacloban City Airport, then it is approximately 4 -5 hours drive at P270 for 194.8 kilometers via Bato - Bontoc Road and Eastern Nautical Highway.
If you opt to take a land travel via Bicol Peninsula and Samar, take Pintados Airconditioned Bus for P1,688 fare including ferry fare in Matnog (Sorsogon)-Allen/Alegria (Northern Samar) crossing or with the same route with Philtranco airconditioned buses for P1,706 excluding the ferry fare. This is either coming from Cubao or Pasay terminals to Maasin City. The travel time is approximately 26 - 28 hours excluding the waiting time for the availability of the ferry boat from Matnog to Allen.