About Leonor Rivera
(born in Camiling, Tarlac, died August 1893)
was the childhood sweetheart, first cousin, and “lover by correspondence”
of Philippine national hero José Rizal. Rivera was the “greatest influence”
in preventing Rizal from falling in love with other women while Rizal was traveling
outside the Philippines.Rivera's romanticrelationship with Rizal lasted for eight
years.She was immortalized by Rizal as the character
"María Clara" in the Spanish-language novel Noli Me Tangere.
Her original hometown is in Camiling,Tarlac.
Rivera, a native of Pangasinan, was the daughter of Antonio Rivera. Austin Coates,
Rizal’s European biographer, described Rivera in Rizal: Philippine Nationalist and
Martyr as a “pretty woman” whose physical features included having a “high
forehead”, “soft and wavy hair”, a face that supported “almond eyes”, “small and
pensive mouth”, and “engaging dimples”. Furthermore, Rivera was a talented,
mature, and intelligent lady who played the piano and was gifted with a “charming
singing voice”.Rivera studied at La Concordia College in Manila.
Rivera’s family was a resident of Dagupan from 1890 to 1891, a period when the
railroad line between Manila and Dagupan was being constructed. Her parents had a
clothing merchandise business in Dagupan. The Riveras first lived at a dwelling
on Torres Bugallon Avenue, a property belonging to Don Alejandro Venteres and
Doña Rosario Laurel Villamil, a couple closely connected to the family. The family
later moved to a house belonging to Don Andres Palaganas, a person related to Don
Venteres by affinity. The son of Don Palaganas, Ciriaco (a former Dagupan
municipal president), was the husband of Don Venteres’s relative Paula
Venteres.The second residence of the Riveras was located at a place presently
known as Rivera Street.
Rivera and Rizal first met in Manila when Rivera was only 13 years old. When Rizal
left for Europe on May 3, 1882, Rivera was 15 years of age. From then, the
relationship between Rivera and Rizal became a love by correspondence, a
communication byletters with exchanges of photographs without personally seeing
each other again. Such correspondence began with the poem Rizal left for Rivera
saying farewell. The lovers employed codes in their letters because Rivera’s mother
did not favor Rizal as a suitor for Rivera. Being in love for the first time, Rivera was
greatly affected by Rizal’s departure. A letter from Mariano Catigbac dated June 27,
1884 described Rivera’s condition to Rizal as Rizal’s “betrothed” who became thin,
deteriorated, and preoccupied. Rivera became frequently sick because of insomnia.
When Rizal returned to the Philippines on August 5, 1887, Rivera was no longer
living in Manilabecause she and her family had moved back to Dagupan,
Pangasinan. Rizal wanted to meet Rivera and Rivera also wanted to see Rizal, but
both were prohibited by their fathers. Rizal was forbidden by his father Francisco
Mercado in order to avoid putting the Rivera family in danger because at the time
Rizal was already labeled by the Spaniards as a filibustero or subversive. Rizal was
labeled as such because of the contents of his novel Noli Me Tangere. Rizal wanted
to marry Rivera while he was still in thePhilippines because of Rivera’s
uncomplaining fidelity. Rizal asked permission from his father one more time before
his second departure from the Philippines. The meeting never happened. In 1888,
Rizal stopped receiving letters from Rivera for a year, although Rizal kept sending
letters to Rivera. The reason for Rivera’s year of silence was the connivance
between Rivera’s mother and the Englishman named Henry Kipping, a railway
engineer who fell in love with Rivera and was favored by Rivera’s mother.
Rivera met Henry Kipping, the British engineer whom she later married, at Doña
Carmen Villamil’s house. Villamil was a former classmate at La Concordia College
in Manila. Kipping was associated with the engineer named Crisostomo Villamil, the
supervising engineer of the Manila-Dagupan railroad line project at the time.