Sunday, May 2, 2010


HALT! WHO GOES THERE. A typical Maytime Santacruzan from Central Luzon. The procession topbilled Reina Elena, the Empress who found the True Cross, escorted by her son, Constantine. ca. mid 1920s.

There is no Santacruzan like the Sabat Santacruzan of Pampanga—a religious procession based on an age-old tradition woven around the finding of the True Cross. But this Kapampangan version has a unique, surprising twist, integrating theatrical features, poetical jousts and moro-moro elements for an even more entertaining drama on the streets.

The original Santacruzan as we know it, re-enacts the return journey of St. Helena, mother of Constantine the Great from Jerusalem back to Rome, after discovering the cross on which Christ was crucified in 326 AD. She had stumbled upon three crosses at the crucifixion site, and the real cross was determined by having sick person lie on the crosses; he was instantly cured upon lying on the Santa Cruz (Holy Cross).

Celebrated every 3rd of May with a long procession featuring various incarnations of Elenas, biblical royalties and characters representing Virgin Mary, the festival was introduced by Spain and there was no stopping its widespread popularity ever since.

The Kapampangan version is different in that the procession is halted several times by costumed actors who challenge the Reina Elena in a poetic joust and engage her troop in a swordfight derived from yesteryear’s moro-moros, hence the name “Sabat Santacruzan” (Halt the Santacruzan).

The basic plot dramatizes the perilous journey of Elena and her son Constantino to the Holy Land. Her royal retinue is ambushed by heathen ‘moros’ led by Reina Florifis. Elena sends Goy de Borgonia (Guy of Bourgogne, an 11th c. French crusader, hence the ‘sabat’ is also known as “goydo-goydo” in Sapangbato, the only town in Pampanga that continues to stage this folk event) to launch a counter-attack but instead, is smitten by Florifis. Elena asks Carlo Magno of France to help and responds by sending eight of his Doce Pares, namely, Prince Roldan, Oliveros, Reynaldos, Conderlos, Goyperos, Montesino, Galalon and Ricarte.

On her return trip to Rome, Elena gets ambushed yet again, this time by Principe Turquiano, Florifis’ brother. But before he could spirit away the precious relics of the True Cross, Elena pleads eloquently about the significance of the cross to the whole Christian world. The deeply affected Turquiano and his men lay down their arms and are converted to the new religion.

The chief dramatis personae of Sabat Santacruzan are an anachronistic mix of characters, real and made-up, from different periods of history: biblical characters (Methuselah, Queen of Sheba, Judith, the Three Marys), Marian personifications (Rosa Mistica, de las Flores), allegorical figures (Faith, Hope & Charity), plus a band of heavenly angels. Extant scripts of the Sabat Santacruzan written like old Pasyon books are very rare, and one, a prized heirloom of the David Family, is the basis for the May pageant staged in Sapangbato. The roles are filled up after rigid auditions, which puts oratorical talents first above looks.

In recent times, there has only been two stagings of the Sabat Santacruzan, both sponsored by Holy Angel University’s Center for Kapampangan Studies. The last outing in Sapangbato, which was held last 22 May 2010, featured seasoned performers dressed in colorful costumes, faithfully recreated using old Santacruzan and moro-moro photos as references. There is no stopping the Sabat Santacruzan tradition, a pageant of faith rooted in the strong religious convictions of Kapampangan people, at once folksy, festive and true.


mini_lamb said...

hello, I am so impressed, awed even, by your style of writing! i am also a writer, curious of the world around me. I am looking forward to read your book if i get a chance. i hope to write a book as well -- about Naga's history or autobiography thru storytelling, illustrations, cheap collections and my love for fashion and arts.. but i have more insights to earn. oh well, i am inspired, thank you so much.

Ana said...

I am very glad to have come across this. My parents (both Kapampangan) have both away along with other elders. I saw the story of Roldan, Florifis,, and now I can share this with my children.

Dacal a salamat pu.

Ana said...

Just a refresher- who among the "Doce Pares" was "mataloti"? Was it Roldan? And who was so "masanting a lalaki" he wore a mask to hide his face because it was too distracting?