Also see: January 2012 Nazarene Festival

January 9, 2011
The Feast of the Nazarene. . .
it kicks off a year of festivals in the Philippines,
almost all the others celebrating the Santo Niño,
the Virgin Mary, or one of countless patron saints. . .
often, becoming backdrops icons
to a gala of alcohol-fueled events -
processions, costumes, music, street dancing
and bacchanalia.

The feast of the Nazarene is none of these.
None of the drunken revelry that defines most others.
This is pure religiosity.
The theater of the Filipino's fervor and fanaticism.
The "panata" - the vow, the promise, that fuels it. . .
year. . . after year. . . after year.

The last few years, I have watched it on tv,
transfixed by short scissored segments
of swarming waves of devotees
straining en masse to get closer
or close enough to touch the statue's float,
to toss a kerchief to be blessed with a wipe
on the Nazarene's cross, garb, face or hand.

But the festival is much more
than the Sunday theater of the procession,
the mass of barefooted devotees,
the Black Nazarene slicing through
the dense mass of humanity.

The past few years I have wanted to see it up close,
not as a barefooted-devotee,
but to watch, to feel,
and listen to the masa's veneration.
This year, I did.

In May 31, 1606, the Black Nazarene, a life-size wooden sculpture, was brought by galleon from Mexico by the first group of Augustinian Recollect friars. Enroute, as folk tradition relates, the statue was damaged in a ship fire, and it original white complexion was burned into a charred discoloration, henceforth, earning the name "Black Nazarene."

Referred to as the Nuetro Padre Jesus Nazareno de Qiuiapo, It has been enshrined in the Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene in Quiapo since the latter part of the 1700s.

The story of its survival is in itself miraculous. As it has survived the galleon ship fire, it has also endured other great fires that ravaged Quiapo in 1791 and 1929, the earthquakes of 1645 and 1863, and the World War II bombing of Manila in 1945.

Devotion to the BlackNazarene is a yearlong celebration, with weekly novena masses held every Friday, starting the first Friday of the year, and January 9 celebrates the feast of the Black Nazarene.


Friday, January 7, Quiapo was abuzz.
The streets were clogged with commerce and devotees.
with more than its usual Friday bustle and hustle.
The Nazarene celebration was inching to its Sunday culmination.

A profusion of crimson-colored commerce.
Cellophaned statuettes and silk-screened handkerchiefs,
scarfs and towelletes, all bearing a Nazarene logo,
side by side the usual commerce
of religion, the alternative and the fringe.
Fortune tellers and tarot card readers,
Candle offerings and amulets galore.
A pregnant woman haggling on a "buntot page"
sold on its preventive and curative powers.
Vendors spewing out recipes for herbal concoctions
for taming errant husbands
or for casting spells against his mistresses.

This is the third year for Luneta as venue
for much of the weekend activities,
a much larger place
to accommodate the multitude of devotees
that continue to increase each year.
The Black Nazarene will be taken there Saturday,
to receive the long lines of faithful
coming to fulfill heir promise or panata,
to pray for a miracle, a favor, a plenary indulgence,
or to wipe and empower their pieces of cloth.

I arrived there early afternoon, the place
still calm.
the grounds being set up with movable barriers and fences.
A few sects claiming spaces,
hanging banners,
singing hymns as the
y decorated their Nazarenes.

When I returned Saturday noon, I was told
In some kind of ruse , the Statue sneaked in
about three in the morning.
Someone advised:
Kung gusto mong pumunas,
ngayon na, habang maikli ang linya.

The image carried in the processions consists of the original body of the Nazarene connected to a replica of the head. The original head portion remains on a replica of the body enshrined in the basilica altar. In the 2007 feast, in celebration of the Black Nazarene's 400-year history, the original head and body were used in the procession.

The early birds were staking their spots with blankets, tents and ground covers, all adorned with statues of the Nazarene, some as old as the owners' "panata," many make-do altars, big and small,
atop boxes and chairs, jeepneys and tricycles,
many adorned with colorful collars or ephemeral garden of flowers. And each statue, big and small, draw unending lines of believers, silent in their prayers, wiping their shirt, hankerchief, towel or scarf on the Nazarene's face or cross – sundry pieces of cloths, now empowered, to call on for protection, for a favor, for a healing, for a miracle.

The panata, so essential to the devotion of the Nazarene. Perhaps, from a promise inherited from parents long gone. From a favor granted, a prayer answered, or a desperate need. The promise, the vow, the panata, perpetual, so deeply personal, that beckons them back, year after year.

One lady, now 36 years old, tending her baby, gladly shared her story. . . a panata started by her parents, when she was a child. She has been coming since, every year for the past 27 years.

By late afternoon, the park ground in front of the grandstand filled up fast. Footpaths snaked around camped spaces, Nazarene floats, and a scattering of commerce. Food stalls, balloon vendors, Nazarene trinkets, statuettes galore. A profusion of floats and ground altars, old and new, simple and ornate. Prayer candles sold and lit. Bare-chested men waiting for theNazarene image
to be silkscreened on their shirts.
Maroon colorfully dominating the clothing and commerce of the landscape.

In the grandstand, the Nazarene statue received the unending line of faithful
patiently shuffling on long-long lines, snaking four-deep, to wipe their pieces of cloths, to utter a hurried prayer, make a promise, renew a vow, or give thanks. While a giant television screens magnifies, and monster speakers amplifies, continuous servings of homilies and litanies, masses, prayers and hymns.

As night descends, streetlamps light up the ephemeral village of devotees, as thousands of candles
cast flickering illuminations
on countless Nazarene altars. At three in the morning, the Nazarene lines were stopped, to prepare for the morning's procession. Weary devotees tried to catch some sleep, curled up under the floats, on blankets or cardboard matsor bare on their backs on asphalt pavements. Many more stayed awake, expectant and adrenalized by what would unfold in a few hours.

At the break of dawn, Luneta was astir.
People continued to trickle in.
Many with their Nazarenes in tow.
Slowly, the decibels of activty grew.
The grandstand altar invoked the devotees
to a call of prayers.
To which they knelt,
hands held to the sky.
joining in lines of litanies and choruses of hymns.
And on and off, urged into animated responses,
in unison, twirling thousands of colored shirts,
towel, and handkerchiefs in the air.

  Traditionally, in imitation of Christ's walk to Calvary, the devotees who participate in the procession are barefoted. The other tradition – of only men pulling on the carriage's ropes (namamasan) has changed - the recent years have seen female devotees participating in the procession.  
Barefooted devotees in color-coded T-shirts crowded along the sides of the procession route.
Floats, big and small, mechanized, drawn,
push-pulled or shouldered, stood waiting,
along sidewalks, suffering the reeking stench
of overflowed portable toilets.

Many stood to watch, a safe distance away,
far back from the fences and the barriers,
many with their Nazarene statues clasped in their arms
or held high above their heads,
hopeful that even from afar
their Nazarene would be blessed and empowered,
The faithful from all walks of life,
who came to join in the celebration of the Nazarene,
the women and the elderly with their sustained "panatas." Men, wishful, but without the youth and strength to be participant in the dangerous and exhaustive demands of the Nazarene procession, watching from afar.

Many risked proximity to the procession avenue,
the curious, myself included, and the youth,
armed with digital and cell phone cameras
jostling for vantage points, by the fences, railings, lampposts and barriers. To be a little closer, to catch a better glimpse. I found, what I thought was a safe place, by a lightpost, on a safe side of up of a metal fence rail.

The crowed roared as the Nazarene
started its descent from the grandstand. A difficult short journey, down a series of steps and turns,
each successful maneuver
met by roars and cheers from the crowd. So slowly it made its way to the ground.

Then. . . suddenly, the waves of people.
First, ripples. . . then, surges. . . The cramped landscape of devotees started to part, a Red Sea of the masa, pushing to the side, parting, making way as the Nazarene moved forward. People started rushing, pushing to the fence, to seek safety and shelter on the other side. Climbing on each other to get over the fence. The fence started to lean. There was a short attempt to hold the fence. The other side pushing it against the oncoming crowd. A woman pushed against my back, pushing me to the fence. There were a few moments of panic and uncertainty, thinking the wall would collapse on me anytime, to be trampled on by the advancing herd of frenzied devotees. I managed to disentangle myself, perhaps through the grace of angels, and joined the women and older devotees at their safe distance.

And from a safe distance, I watched the Nazarene go by.
Barely visible from the surrounding cluster
of yellow-shirted carriage escorts and marshalls
adeptly catching offering of cloth from the air,
handkerchiefs, towelettes and shirts,
thrown back to devotees, hopeful a miracle has been rubbed on it,
or now empowered, for someday to call or ask a favor of it.

I left soon after. Sleepless, weary,
and overwhelmed by the stench that wafted about.
The procession would take another ten hours to Quiapo.
I took with me three days of impressions, images, conversations,
and a deeper appreciation of the Filipino's religiosity.
Of his "panata."
It is a true Filipino celebration.
One incredible window to its religious culture.
And certainly, not one for the faint of heart.
by Godofredo U. Stuart Jr.
The Black Nazarene Festival
Additional Sources and Suggested Readings
A Study on Filipino Culture: THE DEVOTION TO THE BLACK NAZARENE OF QUIAPO by M. M. Aguinaldo, Ed. D., MMA Publications / A wonderful historical and field guide to Quiapo and the Black Nazarene culture.

Also read:
Nazarene Festival 2016
Nazarene Festival 2012
Philippine Festivals

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