Jose Rizal, a true nationalist and a polymath. Rizal was a man of incredible intellectual power. He is a doctor, painter, sculptor, architect, novelist, poet, sociologists, polyglot, and a lover among others.
The Life of Young Pepe
On June 19, 1861, Francisco Rizal Mercado and Teodora Alonzo y Quintos welcomed their seventh child into the world at Calamba, Laguna. They named the boy Jose Protasio Rizal Mercado y Alonso Realonda.
The Mercado family were wealthy farmers who rented land from the Dominican religious order. Descendants of a Chinese immigrant named Domingo Lam-co, they changed their name to Mercado (“market”) under the pressure of anti-Chinese feeling amongst the Spanish colonizers.
From an early age, Jose Rizal Mercado showed a precocious intellect. He learned the alphabet from his mother at 3, and could read and write at age 5.
Jose Rizal’s Education
Jose Rizal Mercado attended the Ateneo Municipal de Manila, graduating at the age of 16 with highest honors. He took a postgraduate course there in land surveying.
Rizal Mercado completed his surveyor’s training in 1877, and passed the licensing exam in May 1878, but could not receive a license to practice because he was only 17 years old. (He was granted a license in 1881, when he reached the age of majority.)
In 1878, the young man also enrolled in the University of Santo Tomas as a medical student. He later quit the school, alleging discrimination against Filipino students by the Dominican professors.
Rizal in Madrid
In May of 1882, Jose Rizal got on a ship to Spain without informing his parents of his intentions. He enrolled at the Universidad Central de Madrid.
In June of 1884, he received his medical degree at the age of 23; the following year, he also graduated from the Philosophy and Letters department.
Inspired by his mother’s advancing blindness, Rizal next went to the University of Paris and then the University of Heidelberg to complete further study in the field of ophthalmology. At Heidelberg, he studied under the famed professor Otto Becker. Rizal finished his second doctorate at Heidelberg in 1887.
Life in Europe
Jose Rizal lived in Europe for 10 years. During that time, he picked up a number of languages; in fact, he could converse in more than 10 different tongues.
While in Europe, the young Filipino impressed everyone who met him with his charm, his intelligence, and his mastery of an incredible range of different fields of study.
Rizal excelled at martial arts, fencing, sculpture, painting, teaching, anthropology, and journalism, among other things.
During his European sojourn, he also began to write novels. Rizal finished his first book, Noli Me Tangere, while living in Wilhelmsfeld with the Reverend Karl Ullmer.
Rizal wrote Noli Me Tangere in Spanish; it was published in 1887 in Berlin. The novel is a scathing indictment of the Catholic Church and Spanish colonial rule in the Philippines.
This book cemented Jose Rizal on the Spanish colonial government’s list of troublemakers. When Rizal returned home for a visit, he received a summons from the Governor General, and had to defend himself from charges of disseminating subversive ideas.
Although the Spanish governor accepted Rizal’s explanations, the Catholic Church was less willing to forgive. In 1891, Rizal published a sequel, titled El Filibusterismo.
Here’s a list of his other works:
Novels and Essays
- Noli Me Tángere, novel, 1887 (literally Spanish for ‘touch me not’, from John 20:17)
- El Filibusterismo, (novel, 1891), sequel to Noli Me Tángere
- Alin Mang Lahi” (“Whate’er the Race”), a Kundiman attributed to Dr. José Rizal
- The Friars and the Filipinos (Unfinished)
- Toast to Juan Luna and Felix Hidalgo (Speech, 1884), given at Restaurante Ingles, Madrid
- The Diaries of José Rizal
- Rizal’s Letters is a compendium of Dr. Jose Rizal’s letters to his family members, Blumentritt, Fr. Pablo Pastells and other reformers
- “Come se gobiernan las Filipinas” (Governing the Philippine islands)
- Filipinas dentro de cien años essay, 1889-90 (The Philippines a Century Hence)
- La Indolencia de los Filipinos, essay, 1890 (The indolence of Filipinos)
- Makamisa unfinished novel
- Sa Mga Kababaihang Taga Malolos, essay, 1889, To the Young Women of Malolos
- Annotations to Antonio de Moragas, Sucesos de las Islas Filipinas (essay, 1889, Events in the Philippine Islands)
- A La Juventud Filipina
- El Canto Del Viajero
- Briayle Crismarl
- Canto Del Viajero
- Canto de María Clara
- Dalit sa Paggawa
- Kundiman (Tagalog)
- Me Piden Versos
- Mi primera inspiracion
- Mi Retiro
- Mi Ultimo Adiós
- Por La Educación (Recibe Lustre La Patria)
- Sa Sanggol na si Jesus
- To My Muse (A Mi Musa)
- Un Recuerdo A Mi Pueblo
- A Man in Dapitan
- El Consejo de los Dioses (The council of Gods)
- Junto Al Pasig (Along the Pasig)
- San Euistaquio, Mártyr (Saint Eustache, the marty)
As mentioned, Rizal’s also a sculptor. His most famous sculptural work was “The Triumph of Science over Death”, a clay sculpture of a naked young woman with overflowing hair, standing on a skull while bearing a torch held high. The woman symbolized the ignorance of humankind during the Dark Ages, while the torch she bore symbolized the enlightenment science brings over the whole world.
He sent the sculpture as a gift to his dear friend Ferdinand Blumentritt, together with another one named “The Triumph of Death over Life”.
The woman is shown trampling the skull, a symbol of death, to signify the victory the humankind achieved by conquering the bane of death through their scientific advancements. The original sculpture is now displayed at the Rizal Shrine Museum at Fort Santiago in Intramuros, Manila.
A large replica, made of concrete, stands in front of Fernando Calderón Hall, the building which houses the College of Medicine of the University of the Philippines Manila along Pedro Gil Street in Ermita, Manila.
Both in his novels and in newspaper editorials, Jose Rizal called for a number of reforms of the Spanish colonial system in the Philippines.
He advocated freedom of speech and assembly, equal rights before the law for Filipinos, and Filipino priests in place of the often-corrupt Spanish churchmen. In addition, Rizal called for the Philippines to become a province within Spain, with representation in the Spanish legislature (the Cortes Generales).
Rizal never called for independence for the Philippines. Nonetheless, the colonial government considered him a dangerous radical, and declared him an enemy of the state.
Rizal’s Exile in Dapitan
In 1892, Rizal returned to the Philippines. He was almost immediately accused of being involved in the brewing rebellion, and was exiled to Dapitan, on the island of Mindanao. Rizal would stay there for four years, teaching school and encouraging agricultural reforms.
During that same period, the people of the Philippines grew more eager to revolt against the Spanish colonial presence. Inspired in part by Rizal’s organization, La Liga, rebel leaders like Andres Bonifacio began to press for military action against the Spanish regime.
In Dapitan, Rizal met and fell in love with Josephine Bracken, who brought her stepfather to him for a cataract operation. The couple applied for a marriage license, but were denied by the Church (which had excommunicated Rizal).
Rizal’s Trial and Execution
The Philippine Revolution broke out in 1896. Rizal denounced the violence, and received permission to travel to Cuba in order to tend victims of yellow fever in exchange for his freedom. Bonifacio and two associates sneaked aboard the ship to Cuba before it left the Philippines, trying to convince Rizal to escape with them, but Rizal refused.
He was arrested by the Spanish on the way, taken to Barcelona, and then extradited to Manila for trial. Jose Rizal was tried by court martial, charged with conspiracy, sedition and rebellion.
Despite a lack of any evidence of his complicity in the Revolution, Rizal was convicted on all counts and given the death sentence.
He was allowed to marry Josephine two hours before his execution by firing squad on December 30, 1896. Jose Rizal was just 35 years old. This is, however, a subject of controversy.
The Hero’s Legacy
More than streets, schools, towns, provinces, and people named after Rizal, Jose Rizal is remembered today throughout the Philippines for his brilliance, his courage, his peaceful resistance to tyranny, and his compassion.
Spurred on by Rizal’s martyrdom, the Philippine Revolution continued until 1898. With assistance from the United States, the Philippine archipelago was able to defeat the Spanish army. The Philippines declared its independence from Spain on June 12, 1898. It was the first democratic republic in Asia.
Fun Fact: Did you know that Rizal was a lover boy?
There were at least nine women linked with Rizal; namely Segunda Katigbak, Leonor Valenzuela, Leonor Rivera, Consuelo Ortiga, O-Sei San, Gertrude Beckette, Nelly Boustead, Suzanne Jacoby and Josephine Bracken. These women might have been beguiled by his intelligence, charm and wit.
Segunda Katigbak and Leonor Valenzuela
Segunda Katigbak was her puppy love. Unfortunately, his first love was engaged to be married to a town mate- Manuel Luz. After his admiration for a short girl in the person of Segunda, then came Leonor Valenzuela, a tall girl from Pagsanjan. Rizal send her love notes written in invisible ink, that could only be deciphered over the warmth of the lamp or candle. He visited her on the eve of his departure to Spain and bade her a last goodbye.
Leonor Rivera, his sweetheart for 11 years played the greatest influence in keeping him from falling in love with other women during his travel. Unfortunately, Leonor’s mother disapproved of her daughter’s relationship with Rizal, who was then a known filibustero. She hid from Leonor all letters sent to her sweetheart. Leonor believing that Rizal had already forgotten her, sadly consented her to marry the Englishman Henry Kipping, her mother’s choice.
Consuelo Ortiga y Rey, the prettier of Don Pablo Ortiga’s daughters, fell in love with him. He dedicated to her A la Senorita C.O. y R., which became one of his best poems. The Ortiga’s residence in Madrid was frequented by Rizal and his compatriots. He probably fell in love with her and Consuelo apparently asked him for romantic verses. He suddenly backed out before the relationship turned into a serious romance, because he wanted to remain loyal to Leonor Rivera and he did not want to destroy hid friendship with Eduardo de Lete who was madly in love with Consuelo.
O Sei San
O Sei San, a Japanese samurai’s daughter taught Rizal the Japanese art of painting known as su-mie. She also helped Rizal improve his knowledge of Japanese language. If Rizal was a man without a patriotic mission, he would have married this lovely and intelligent woman and lived a stable and happy life with her in Japan because Spanish legation there offered him a lucrative job.
While Rizal was in London annotating the Sucesos de las Islas Filipinas, he boarded in the house of the Beckett family, within walking distance of the British Museum. Gertrude, a blue-eyed and buxom girl was the oldest of the three Beckett daughters. She fell in love with Rizal. Tottie helped him in his painting and sculpture. But Rizal suddenly left London for Paris to avoid Gertrude, who was seriously in love with him. Before leaving London, he was able to finish the group carving of the Beckett sisters. He gave the group carving to Gertrude as a sign of their brief relationship.
Rizal having lost Leonor Rivera, entertained the thought of courting other ladies. While a guest of the Boustead family at their residence in the resort city of Biarritz, he had befriended the two pretty daughters of his host, Eduardo Boustead. Rizal used to fence with the sisters at the studio of Juan Luna. Antonio Luna, Juan’s brother and also a frequent visitor of the Bousteads, courted Nellie but she was deeply infatuated with Rizal. In a party held by Filipinos in Madrid, a drunken Antonio Luna uttered unsavory remarks against Nellie Boustead. This prompted Rizal to challenge Luna into a duel. Fortunately, Luna apologized to Rizal, thus averting tragedy for the compatriots.
Their love affair unfortunately did not end in marriage. It failed because Rizal refused to be converted to the Protestant faith, as Nellie demanded and Nellie’s mother did not like a physician without enough paying clientele to be a son-in-law. The lovers, however, parted as good friends when Rizal left Europe.
In 1890, Rizal moved to Brussels because of the high cost of living in Paris. In Brussels, he lived in the boarding house of the two Jacoby sisters. In time, they fell deeply in love with each other. Suzanne cried when Rizal left Brussels and wrote him when he was in Madrid.