New Year’s celebrations aside, the first big feast/spectacle of the year this urban landscape looks forward to s the feast of the Black Nazarene held in the chaotic but colorful district of Quiapo right in the heart of the City of Manila. Without a doubt, it is Manila’s pride as far as festivities are concerned, in the same manner as Sinulog is to Cebu City and Kadayawan is to Davao City, to name a few.
What makes the feast of the Black Nazarene stand out from many other feasts in the country is that it is not the usual feast filled with dancers with colorful costumes and “Ati-Atihan” rip-offs. Rather, it proudly shows off a city’s “spiritual” side that’s unlike any other. While the “spirituality” of the feast itself is subject for debate, there’s no doubt that the devotion to the Black Nazarene is something that has already become embedded in the psyche and culture among many Filipinos, regardless of class and age.
All this began more than 400 years ago when the Black Nazarene we’ve come to know was carved originally in Mexico, albeit with a fair complexion. A Recollect priest bought the image and brought it with him to Manila in one of the galleons used for the booming Galleon Trade at that time. The story goes that the ship caught fire while on sea, damaging the once-fairskinned Christ and becoming the dark-skinned image that we have been familiar with. Nevertheless, it made its way to the Philippines in 1606, and was placed in a church run by Recollect priests in what is now Luneta (Rizal Park). It was moved 2 years later to the bigger Recollect San Nicolas de Tolentino Church in Intramuros. (where the Manila Bulletin building now stands) Then in 1787, the Archdiocese of Manila ordered the image to be transferred to the St. John the Baptist Parish in Quiapo which has been the Black Nazarene’s home ever since.
(note: the Quiapo Church is known officially as the St. John the Baptist Parish but also has another official name as the Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene. Confusing, I know; best dealt with in another day)
It may have something to do with the Recollect priests promoting devotion to the cross-bearing Christ, the stories about the Black Nazarene’s miraculous powers began to spread that attracted a miracle-loving people like us, (who doesn’t?) or how well Filipinos were able to relate to a Christ who shares the same dark skin as ours. Or maybe it’s a combination of all 3 factors. Filipinos soon began to show their devotion to the “Poong Nazareno” in a way that has evolved into something uniquely Filipino in character as far as faith is concerned. While the Catholic roots of the Black Nazarene devotion has not been lost, other elements like the pre-colonial ways of faith their ancestors practiced found its way in the game, so to speak. The result of which is the spectacle we see today, something that has been an object of wonder and derision for some who think of these festivities as “idolatrous.”
Every year, thousands of devotees (many of which walking barefoot) make their way to the Nazareno’s home in Quiapo to participate in the annual procession of the semi-original Black Nazarene statue (only its body is original as the original head and cross of the image stays at the main altar of the church to avoid further deterioration) as it makes its way through the crowded streets of the district. From afar, you see a sea of crowds in maroon, the traditional color motif for the Black Nazarene devotees patterned after the color of the Nazarene’s robe. To those who have none, you can always rely on Quiapo’s enterprising vendors for one, or perhaps an image itself of the Black Nazarene.
The main procession is itself a grand spectacle of enthusiastic crowds who are just happy to participate in it, hoping that their favors and requests would be granted by the sacrifice they bore throughout the procession, more especially if they get to pull the rope that will guide the Nazareno’s journey or have their handkerchiefs or towels bear the Nazareno’s powers by having them used to wipe the statue. It is no joke though that every year, there are those who die or collapse during this activity. But for the faithful, the importance of strengthening their faith and showing their devotion to the Poong Nazareno outweighs these unfortunate events.
Some groups chose to bring their own images of the Black Nazarene which are also being approached by a number of fellow devotees (like some who opt not to join the main procession itself) hoping to personally or have their handkerchiefs and towels touch the Nazarene. To me, it’s a testament how deep these people’s devotion to the Black Nazarene has become, that any figure that represents the Black Nazarene, regardless of its size and appearance is special to them regardless.
Being an election year and all that, you can never just escape the “Happy Fiesta” greetings from politicians of all shapes and sizes. Whether it’s a current one, a comebacking one, or one who’s name you don’t even know existed.
Have a Happy Fiesta Quiapo!
© The Urban Roamer