Tuesday, December 8, 2015


In Chamorro, we say kamalen.  The stress is on the first syllable. KA - ma - len.

But the original Spanish word is camarín. The stress is on the last syllable. Ca - ma - RIN. You can see the Spanish word in the street sign above. It says, "Street of the Camarin of Our Lady of Mount Carmel."

Kamalen, or Camarin, is the name given to the famous statue of Our Lady, found, it is said, in the waters off Malesso' many years ago during Spanish times.

Unfortunately, we have found no documentation about this statue that go back to the very early history of this statue.

But this post focuses on the name of the image. Why was she named Our Lady of Camarin? Who named her this?


In Spanish, the word camarín can mean several things. But all these meanings point to a special place.

A Religious Camarín

It can mean, for example, a niche or alcove where a special religious statue, often of the Blessed Mother, is placed. In big churches, there is often a circular wall behind the main altar which forms an alcove, or camarín. In this camarín, a special statue of the Virgin or another saint was often placed.

camarín did not always have to be an alcove behind the main altar. A camarín could also simply be a niche for the statue, positioned anywhere convenient. Sometimes it was located at or around the main altar. In Guam's case, the niche for Our Lady of Camarin was mainly* placed directly above the tabernacle, right in the center of the sanctuary.

The niche (or camarín) of Our Lady of Camarin
in the Agaña Cathedral before the war

Sometimes, a camarín was a room used to store religious statues that were not used all year long in a church. When that statue's feast was approaching, the church would take the statue out of the camarín and prepare it for the feast.

Or, a camarín was a room used all year round for the veneration of an important statue. Sometimes the camarín for a special statue wasn't a room at all, but rather an entire building, such as a chapel. This is what, I think, the Camarín of Our Lady of Mount Carmel is which is indicated in the street sign above.

A Storage Room, Shed or Barn

As mentioned, camarín could mean a room where religious statues were stored for future use.

From there, the word expanded to mean a storage space for other things and not just religious images.

In the Philippines, two provinces, North and South, are called Camarines, after the agricultural storage sheds prominent in that area. Camarines is the plural of camarín.

In Chamorro, kamalen can likewise mean a barn or storage room.

Thatched sheds on the beach to shelter canoes were also called kamalen

Ok, so now what?

According to tradition, the statue of Our Lady of Camarin was found in Malesso', in the lagoon really that surrounds the waters off the village. Dåno (Cocos Island) is part of the reef that forms the lagoon.

Either very quickly or not long after, the statue was taken to Hagåtña. In the capital city, it was placed, at least during one chapter of the statue's life, in the soldier's barracks. Some people say, it is from the barracks that the name Camarin arose.

The thing is, though, that camarín does not mean barracks. The barracks were called the cuartel in Spanish.

Another version says that the statue was placed in a tool shed belonging to the barracks. Why? The cuartel or barracks was being built at the time and not finished yet. So, off to the tool shed she went. A tool shed could have been called a camarín (storage room), but I don't think the Spaniards would have allowed her to stand there with axes and saws and nails. If they really did put her in a tool shed, it was cleared out of the tools so that the structure itself could become the camarín of the statue.

But how then do we account for the stories that when the soldiers got drunk, the statue would turns its back on the drunken men? Were they all sleeping in a tool shed? Unlikely.

So, perhaps, she eventually made it into the barracks with the soldiers when the barracks were finally built.

It's also possible that there was a camarín in the barracks; a camarín in the religious sense. A niche, alcove or room in the barracks that was a camarín for the statue.

Maybe the church itself?

In time, the statue was then put in the Hagåtña church itself.

Since, in Spanish, a  camarícan be a niche where statues are placed, it could also be that the camarín in her name refers to the niche where she was placed above the tabernacle or somewhere in the sanctuary.

Unfortunately, almost nothing was written down in those days about the statue, at least that we know about today. So we cannot come to any definite conclusions about why this statue is named Our Lady of Camarin and who named her this.

But, at least, we only have several possible answers to keep in mind, and not 100 possible explanations.

1. The tool shed could have been called a camarín and she may have been there for some time.

2. The soldiers barracks (cuartel) could have had a camarín inside or attached to it, and she could have been placed there for a time.

3. She is called Our Lady of Camarin because, when she was finally placed in the church itself, she was placed in her own special nice, or camarín.

Since the statue had no name, it would have been a natural thing when someone asked, "Which statue?" for someone to answer, "Our Lady over there in the niche, or the tool shed...."

To make it easier :


TOOL SHED connected to soldiers’ barracks

Can a tool shed be called a camarín? YES

NICHE or ROOM inside/attached to soldiers’ barracks

Can a niche or room be called a camarín? YES

NICHE connected to the main altar inside Hagatna Church

Can a niche in church be called a camarín? YES


In the present Cathedral-Basilica, built in 1959, Our Lady of Camarin sits in a - camarín! In a niche in the center of the sanctuary.

Truly, she is Our Lady of Camarin....of the Niche.

* I say mainly above the tabernacle in the Hagåtña Church because there is some photographic evidence that the statue was not always above the tabernacle. Perhaps, the statue's position to the side of the altar was temporary, due to some liturgical observance or maybe maintenance/improvement of the altar.

In the photo below of the sanctuary of the Hagåtña Cathedral in the 1930s, Our Lady is not in the niche above the tabernacle. She seems to be on the left. I wonder if that image is actually a substitute, and the reason why she is not in her usual spot is because she was being repaired.

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