Tradition ascribes the Finding of the True Cross to Emperor Constantine’s mother, a Christian convert. As a token of piety, Helena had churches built, and, at an advanced age of 80, went on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. At Calvary, she had several excavations made in which 3 crosses were found. To determine the real thing, she had a dying man placed on each cross who recovered upon being touched by the authentic cross. Another story tells of her discovery of 3 nails that shone like gold. Although details of her life are vague and legendary, she was, at one time, considered one of the most important women in the world.
The proper Santacruzan not only gives tribute to Mary and the finder of the Jesus’ cross but also gives recognition to characters from both the Old and New Testament. The procession opens with boys holding ciriales, poles topped with a cross and candles. Heading the cast of charcaters is the ancient Matusalem, followed by 2 Reina Banderadas, flagbearers of the Philippine and papal standards. Toddlers carrying placards spelling out AVE MARIA precede the parade of gorgeous sagalas.
Three maidens representing the virtues of Fe, Esperanza, Caridad (Faith, Hope and Charity) come next, trailed by the Divina Pastora, with a lamb or goat. More queens make their appearance in this order: Reina Mora (the moorish queen, Reina Saba (Queen of Sheba), Infanta Judith (holding Holofernes’ decapitated head), Reina Sentenciada, Abogada and Reina Justicia.
Next in line are more pretty sagalas bearing the symbols of Christ’s passion: 3 dice on a plate, 30 pieces of silver (supot ng Hudas), St. Peter’s rooster (manuk ng San Pedro), the spear, 3 nails, INRI sign and kuronang suksuk. The major beauties of the town follow, starting with Veronica, Maria Magdalena, Maria Salome and Rosa Mistica. The last 3 queens make their grand entrance in this order: The Reina de los Flores holding a bouquet of flowers, Reina Ester, the beloved Jewish Queen of Persia holding a scepter, and finally, framed by a flowered arch—the crowned Reina Elena—a role especially reserved for the town’s loveliest belle—dressed in a magnificent flowing gown with a small crucifix in hand. Walking by her side is Principe Constantino, representing her young son, with a cape, crown and sword. The use of handsome escorts is a fairly modern concept as well as the appearance of multiple Elenas ( as in Reina Elena 1, Elena 2, etc.). Sometimes too, the Reina Elena is treated separately from an Emperatriz, although both are one and the same. Often lost or ignored in the rear-end of the procession is a figure representing San Macario, the bishop who escorted Helena to Jerusalem.
In certain parts of Pampanga, additional drama is provided in the sabat (barrier or obstacle)—when the procession is stopped dead on its tracks by an army of Moors and a battle ensues before the Christian entourage wins and the procession resumes its course. Sadly, today’s Santacruzans have lost much of their religious significance and original intent, deteriorating instead into empty made-for-tourist visual spectacles, which are nothing more than display of feminine pulchritude, pretentious fashion and other commercial excesses.
(24 May 2003)