The first documented procession was held to commemorate the recovery of the Santo Nino at Cebu, from a fire set by local villagers as they retreated from Miguel Lopez de Legazpi’s advancing forces. It was, in fact, a very simple affair: the santo was transported on foot from the San Agustin church to the site where it was found, followed by a throng of citizens assembled by the town councilor or regidor. This was followed by a host of festivities like bullfights, dance balls and fireworks display.
Accounts abound of early processions that were characterized by opulence that matched a people’s religious fervor. A Lumban, Laguna procession in the 1600, for instance, was described by Franciscan Felix de la Huerta as featuring decorations of pure gold and diamonds from affluent residents of nearby Nagcarlan, Majayjay and Liliw. Carrozas of rattan were encrusted with more gold and precious stones while lamps that lit the parade weighed 75 pounds. The Dominican celebration of La Naval, which commemorates the 17th century Spanish-Filipino victory against the Dutch, was held with Our Lady of the Rosary as the focal point of the procession. Borne on a flower-bedecked silver carroza, the image was processioned around Intramuros and back, with barefoot penitents in attendance. The 17th century Mexican-made image of Nuestro Padre Jesus de Nazareno, the Black Nazarene of Quiapo, has His own processions conducted every January 9, with Manila’s menfolk coming in droves to bear the santo on their shoulders. Semana Santa processions of old are often the most dramatic, with a long parade of life-size santos and complex tableaus, visualizing the events of the Passion.
Pampanga has its share of processions, both simple and grand--“limbun” or “lubenas” ( a corruption of the word “novena”) as they are locally called. An early barrio of Mabalacat town was even known as “Paglimbunan”, a place for processions. Riverine towns like Apalit have their fluvial processions, and during its June town fiesta, the image of their patron, “Apo Iro”, is borne on multi-storied pagoda mounted on rafts that then traverses the river to the accompaniment of hundreds of devotees on boats. Simliar fluvial celebrations were once held on Pasig River to honor San Nicolas de Tolentino during his feast day.
The feast of La Naval is also celebrated in Angeles City , a major Pampanga religious event held every 2nd Sunday of October and half of the city’s “twin fiesta” celebrations. The image of Nuestra Sra. Del Rosario and the Christ Child is taken from the Holy Rosary Parish for the traditional annual procession. Days later, on the last Friday of October, comes “Fiesta ng Apu”, an event to honor “Apung Mamacalulu”, the Lord of the Holy Sepulchre, whose story is linked with that of Angeles’s.
In 1928, the revered icon figured in an unforgettable Holy Week procession which resulted in the santo being stolen. The root cause was the controversy between then parish priest, P. Juan Almario and the recamaderos or caretakers of the image with regards to the disbursement of alms generated by the “Apu” processions. On Good Friday, as the procession wended its way to the church, a band of men snatched the image, in connivance, they say, with the local police. A case was filed by the Catholic Church; the image was recovered, although rumors persist that this was just a replica, and that the original “Apu” is somewhere in the town of Calamba, Laguna.
The Catholic Church has simplified most of its rituals today . Masses are shorter and the shrouding of images with purple cloth on Holy Thursday is rarely done by parishes. Intonations in Latin have all but disappeared from our missals. Even church vestments are devoid of heavy gold and silver embroidery, for practical reasons. Happily, one need only to look at our “limbun” on our street, to see that there are still those who carry on the old ways, maintaining our rich religious tradition, by walking literally with God.
(12 October 2002)