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The following articles were published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer. If you wish to respond to these articles, you may do so by sending me an email of your response and I will be glad to place it it here in my website. you could email me at: or


Only women
in hell

By Denis Murphy


     I HOPE my women friends will not mistake the messenger for the message when I report what I saw during Holy Week in the church of Pakil, Laguna.

Inside the church hangs a two-century-old painting meant to teach ordinary parishioners the basic truths about heaven, earth and hell, and how a person gets from one place to another. There is nothing unusual about the painting artistically or with its subject matter, except that all the people in hell are women.

The bottom third of the painting is a flaming red to portray the ocean of fire that is hell. In this fire and screaming in pain and throwing out their arms to the viewer pleading to be saved from unbearable pain are the women. All women; no men. The latter are all up in heaven with the saints.

I asked my wife to look at the people in hell and tell me what she noticed. She studied the picture and remarked, ''They're all women.''

When the realization sank in, she added, ''That's crazy. What kind of mixed-up person would do that?''

Since we saw the painting, I have told numerous women about it, including a female taxi driver. Each of them were shocked, angry and wanted to know who the miserable, miscreant artist was, as if ready to take it out on him if he were still alive.

Listening to some of these women, I was reminded of the reaction of a group of religious sisters when I told them what I had observed among the lions in Africa. I told the sisters, my own sister among them, that the lionesses did all the hunting while the male slept. But when the lionesses killed an animal, they allowed the lion to eat first.

''That's not right,'' one of the sisters said. ''That's terrible. Someone should . . .''

This was followed by silence, and then everyone laughed. Some things are not in our power to make right.

But this is not about one man, if it really was a man. There are also communal problems. As far as we have been able to ascertain, there has never been any controversy over the painting, meaning the women of Pakil have studied the painting for two centuries and never complained.


painting.jpg (33970 bytes)
The painting that is being talked about in the articles of Mr. Denis Murphy and his daughter Ms. Marifel Murphy. This painting was said to be one of the works of  Jose Dans, a famous painter from the neighboring town of Paete.

Is such indifference understandable? Is it possible that no woman or group of women has demanded a change?

What change? Well, add a few men to the souls in hell, for example. There is no doubt I think that in this country for every one woman fit to be in hell there are at least 10 men who also are fit to be condemned to hellfire.

There has been a terrible bias against women in the Church, more so in the past than now, but no theologian has ever suggested that only women are in hell, even if he believed terrible things about them.

And what about the priests? We are not talking here about one eccentric priest. Over the centuries, there must have been 20 to 30 parish priests and as many assistants. How come no one among them did anything to correct such an obvious social and theological error? Many were Franciscans who had a vow of obedience and were subject to review by the superiors all the way to Rome. Yet none of their superiors ever tried to correct this.

And what about the men of Pakil, didn't they realize the painting was an insult to all women? What about the bishops and the whole of Pakil society? What kind of town was it 200 years ago that could tolerate such a painting? Was it the work of one family so powerful it could prevail against all common sense?

Finally, why don't the liberated and educated women of Pakil complain now? It's as if they don't care about such matters anymore.

The question arises: What, if anything, should be done now? Somebody suggested that a solemn ceremony should be held in church during which an artist will add men to the souls in hell.  That seems to me to be too little, too late.

    But maybe we shouldn't worry. When we were inside the church, nobody else looked at the picture. The people in Pakil probably don't care if whether there are some men in hell or not. They probably don't believe in hell.leabul3e.gif (135 bytes)

Only women in hell

By Marifel Murphy

WE had the surprise of our lives at the Pakil church during Holy Week. Only women were in hell, a painting showed. The men were sinless and happy in heaven.

I agree with my mother that that's crazy. What kind of mixed-up person would paint something like that?

How could such a painting stay on a church wall for two centuries long after ideas about the inequality of men and women have been junked? Women were considered inferior to men in the past. We struggled to prove we are capable of doing things people thought only men could do. Why the painting still hangs there is disturbing.

Maybe the people of Pakil still believe men are better than women. Maybe the painter was a male chauvinist, in which case we have every right to get mad at him. But then maybe it hangs there for historical purpose. Maybe we misinterpreted the painting. Maybe there were men in hell that we didn't see. Maybe I am entirely wrong.

I don't think the picture is intended to hurt the female ego, like my father said. Women used to represented seduction and they were equated with sin. The women in hell might have been used as symbols of this.

It's wrong, but maybe women accepted the idea in the past. Wasn't everything that the Church said then considered to be right? There are cultures that still believe men are better than women. Do we condemn them? It wouldn't be right to condemn people if their beliefs are different.

It is not that I agree with such beliefs. All I mean is that we don't fully know how life was not only in Pakil but in the whole Philippines when the painting was made.

I think my father goes too far when he says we have to do something. Doesn't a painter have the right to express his ideas and feelings? No law says that only correct ideas should be painted. Don't we all have the freedom of expression?

I don't think we should make a big deal out of it. My father sometimes exaggerates. No one else noticed the painting. Everyone else in the church that day seemed to be worrying about more important things like politics, their families or even money to be bothered by the opinion of one man expressed in his painting.

The painting is unfair, but not everything in life is fair. We don't have to have opinions about everything. For all we know, in some other part of the world, there may be a painting where only men are in hell.

I hope I won't be considered a traitor to my gender. You may or may not agree with me. We can all air our opinions and we should hear them out even if we do not agree with them. It doesn't bother me to see a painting like that. I know men and women are equal and no painting can change my mind about that. I've learned to appreciate art for what it is. And did I mention that the painting was one terrific work of art? leabul3e.gif (135 bytes)


The articles written here were published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer in the Opinion section.
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Copyright 2001
Revised: March 07, 2001 .