José Protasio Rizal Mercado y Alonso Realonda, also known simply as Jose Rizal, was the Philippines’ national hero.
The pride of the Malay race and esteemed all over the world as one of Asia’s greatest leaders, there are numerous monuments to him across the globe—from several states in the USA, to Canada, Tokyo, China, Hong Kong, Sydney, Germany, and of course, the one in Madrid, Spain, which is a replica of the monument that stands before you now.
Designed by Swiss sculptor, Dr. Richard Kissling, this 14-meter high monument was dubbed “Motto Stella,” which means guiding star.
How did a Swiss come to build this iconic Philippine monument?
On September 28, 1901, the United States Philippine Commission approved Act No. 243, which would commemorate the memory of Dr. Jose Rizal by erecting a monument in Luneta, the very site of his execution.
It stated that the monument would not only bear a statue of the hero, but would also house his remains.
The act also created a committee on the Rizal monument, one of the members of which was Paciano, Rizal’s brother.
The committee held an international design competition between 1905-1907 and invited sculptors from Europe and the United States to submit entries.
An Italian artist, Prof. Carlo Nicoli, won the Grand Prize for his design entitled “Al Martir de Bagumbayan.”
Nicoli was reportedly unable to post a performance bond, which was why the contract was awarded to the Second Prize winner, Dr. Kissling.
It may have worked out for the best because, while Nicoli’s design would have been rendered in expensive marble, the Rizal monument we have today is made of unpolished granite and bronze—which seems to better suit the principles of our national hero.
“Motto Stella” depicts Rizal in an overcoat, holding a book to represent his novels Noli Me Tángere and El Filibusterismo, both of which were critical in the fight for Philippine Independence from Spanish rule.
The obelisk or stone pillar is often taken as a reference to Rizal’s masonic background, while the three gold-plated stars are said to represent the three main groups of islands in the country: Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao.
The figures beside Rizal—a mother rearing her child and two young boys reading—are said to signify family and education, respectively, while the leaves and pot at the back of the monument are a nod to the Philippines’ natural resources.
Prior to its transfer to the monument, Rizal’s body had been secretly buried in the Paco Park cemetery, where a marker of his original burial site remains today.
In 1898, Rizal’s remains were exhumed and kept by his mother, Teodora Alonzo, at his sister’s house at Calle Estraude, Tondo from 1898-1912.
It was only during the cornerstone laying on December 30, 1912, that the remains of Dr. Jose Rizal were interred beneath this monument.
On December 30, 1913, during Rizal’s 17th death anniversary, the shrine was finally unveiled and the name of Luneta Park was formally changed to “Rizal Park.”
The perimeter of the monument is guarded continuously by the Philippine Marine Corps and, to this day, numerous floral offering ceremonies are held at the monument for national holidays and celebrations and state visits.