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Leonor Rivera (Leonor Rivera-Kipping) was a cousin and object of affection of the Philippine national hero, Jose Rizal. She was born in Camiling, Tarlac on April 11, 1867. She was a “pretty woman with a high forehead, soft and wavy hair, almond eyes, small and pensive mouth, and engaging dimples." She was described as a talented, mature, and intelligent lady. She played harp and piano and also sang. She could write and read Spanish. She died on August 1893.
Rivera was Rizal’s childhood sweetheart for eight years. She was what prevented Rizal from falling in love with other women during his travels. She was also the inspiration for Noli Me Tangere’s iconic character Maria Clara. Unfortunately, Leonor’s mother was against her daughter’s relationship with Rizal because he was known as a filibuster. She was forced to marry Henry Kipping, one of the engineers of the Manila-Dagupan Railway (Ferrocarril de Manila).
Family, Residence and Education
Leonor's father was Antonio Rivera, Rizal’s uncle. He brought Rizal’s passport when he went to Spain. He was also the manager of Casa Tomasina, the boarding house in Intramuros where Rizal stayed when he was studying in the University of Santo Tomas. Leonor Rivera was technically Rizal’s cousin because of Rizal's mother Teodora Alonso's lineage on her father’s side, making their relationship a secret; they communicated only through letters.
The Riveras first lived in a house along Torres Bugallon Avenue. It was under the ownership of a couple related to their family, Don Alejandro Venteres and Doña Rosario Laurel Villamil. Her family later moved to Don Andres Palaganas’ house. They were natives of Pangasinan. She studied in Concordia College.
Relationship with Rizal
Leonor Rivera was only 13 years old and Rizal was 19 years old when they first met in Intramuros, Manila where Rizal was boarding in a house managed by Leonor’s father.
Being in love for the first time, Rivera was greatly affected by Rizal’s departure for Europe on May 3, 1882. They only communicated through letters and exchanged photographs. This began with the poem Rizal left for Rivera saying farewell.
José M. Cecilio or Chenggoy, Rizal’s friend, wrote him constantly about Leonor’s situation in the Philipines.
In their first exchange of letters, it was apparent how smitten the two were with each other. Since Rivera's mother disapproved of their relationship, Rivera used a code Rizal gave to her, which was Taimis. Their exchange of letters lasted 6 years. The two were known as “lovers by correspondence” because of their countless love letters written in different languages such as Filipino, English, Spanish and French. The shift in the languages used by Rizal was to prevent interception of the letters by the Spanish authorities.
Rivera sent Rizal an autographed photo three years after his departure. It had an inscription on the back saying, “To José from his faithful cousin Leonor”—which when decoded, really meant: “To my unforgettable and dearest lover, this picture is dedicated by his devoted Leonor”.
But after some time, Leonor stopped receiving letters from him. Leonor wrote a letter to Rizal expressing her sadness over this. She indicated that she was convinced that Rizal was “a newly opened rose, very flushed and fragrant at the beginning, but afterwards it begins to wither” and that she was too resentful because of what Rizal had done.
In 1882, Antonio Rivera moved his family to Dagupan. With her disapproval of the relationship, Mrs. Rivera bribed two post office clerks to give her all the letters so that they, along with gifts, which had been coming by every boat, would not get to Leonor. She thought her fiancé must have been ill.
The last letter Leonor ever received from José was written March 30, 1884:
"Today I visited your family (relatives in Madrid). I do not know whether it is my patriotism or what but this family is very dear to me. The children are charming. One of the children, José, talked until I had a good laugh. The oldest girl has been in Concordia (College) and knows many girls there. [Then he writes in French] The girls of my own country please me greatly, but I have found one back home who has charmed and who makes me dream. Whenever I am overcome with pensive melancholy I unfold all my past before my vision. I am going to be like that traveler who goes down the road smelling flowers; he passes without touching them for fear they may prove unreal. . . My days pass swiftly and I see that I am becoming old for my age, as many people tell me. [This at twenty-three!] I do not have the smiling face of those with tranquil hearts, and hopes for the future; yet I have done nothing that would not meet with your approval. My conscience does not trouble me, for I have deprived myself of many pleasures. I believe my heart has not lost any of its power to love, -- only the one I love most is not here."
Because Mrs. Rivera blocked all the letters, Rizal only got information from his friends.
Mariano Katigbak, wrote in June, 1884, how down Leonor was:
You would not know Leonor if you now saw her. Your sweetheart is going down very much, no doubt because of her worry. She, who, I think, knew love for the first and only time, has sacrificed the man of her heart, and sees that instead of the approach of a happy ending, that ending is getting farther away with gigantic strides.
Meanwhile, Chenggoy wrote, on 1885:
I congratulate you on your good choice of the woman who is to be your faithful companion. She is no longer in Concordia College but in Dagupan, Pangasinan, beside her parents -- and I do not know whether she will return to finish her education.
In May, 1886, Chenggoy again wrote Rizal about the result of his friend Sixto’s visit and observation of Leonor who was addressed as the Question of the Orient:
The beautiful but delicate Question of the Orient is still in Dagupan beside her parents who rave about her. Her friend Sixto Lopez told me that he had been in that town, taking supper in their home. . . This young man became most enthusiastic over the Question, whom he found each day more precious and thrifty, but according to him she is now no more to be seen with as much finery as when we were together in their house.
Rizal decided to go back to Manila via Suez Canal on August 3, 1887. He tried visiting Leonor but his parents did not allow him. Without a word of anger or even a protest, he bowed his head and said, "Very well, father, I will not go."
Rizal’s letters to Leonor were burned but the ashes were kept inside a box with a cover featuring the lovers' initials. The box was donated to Yuchengco Museum located at RCBC Plaza, Makati City by the descendants of the Kipping family for display during the month-long Rizal exhibit, Rizalizing the Future.
Marriage with Henry Kipping
Henry Kipping was a young English engineer who took charge of the completion of the railroad from Bayambang to the Manila-Dagupan Railway (Ferrocarril de Manila). He fell in love with Leonor, and begged her to marry him, which Leonor refused, saying that she was engaged to Rizal.
But despite Leonor’s refusal, Mrs. Rivera forced her daughter to marry Kipping, whom the mother liked more than Rizal. To persuade Leonor, she told her that Rizal was engaged to Dr. Ferdinand Blumentritt’s daughter.
When the wedding was fixed, Leonor received a letter from Rizal while her mother was on a business trip to Manila. She learned about what her mother did, which the latter later admitted. Rivera was married to Kipping on June 17, 1891, two days before Rizal’s birthday. She asked for the letters from her mother but her mother told her that it was not good for her to keep the letters because she had a husband. Leonor was only allowed to burn the letters and keep the ashes. She put it inside a box covered with a dress she had worn when she was thirteen years old with the letters "J" and "L" embroidered on it.
- “Chapter 5: Home”. The Life and Writings of Jose Rizal.  (Accessed July 27, 2011)
- “Chapter 11: El Filibusterismo(The Revolutionist)”. The Life and Writings of Jose Rizal.  (Accessed July 27, 2011)
- “Miscellaneous Letters Exchanged Between José Rizal and Others in 188”. The Life and Writings of Jose Rizal.  (Accessed July 27, 2011)
- “Leonor Rivera: Rizal's first love, inspiration for 'Maria Clara'”. Yahoo News.  (accessed July 27, 2011)
- Reyes, Raquel A.G. Love, Passion and Patriotism: Sexuality and the Philippine Propaganda Movement, 1882-1892. NUS Press, National University of Singapore. 2009
- “Leonor Rivera”. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.  (Accessed: July 27, 2011)