The Feast of Black Nazarene is an annual religious festival held in Manila, Philippines every January 9. It is also called Pista ng Poong Itim na Nazareno or Traslacion. The image is enshrined in Quiapo Church, also called the Minor Basilica of Black Nazarene and St. John the Baptist Parish. The holy figure is one of the most recognizable in Filipino piety and considered miraculous among devotees. This religious activity is one of the largest gathering of Filipinos annually as it attracts millions of devotees. Participation can become quite risky because of the sheer number of devotees joining the religious rites, and it recorded fatalities and injuries over the years.
Calling the annual tradition every January 9 at Quiapo Church the feast of Black Nazarene is a misnomer, but the name stuck with the devotees. The commemoration of the suffering Christ as depicted by the image is every Good Friday during Holy Week. What is celebrated on the 9th of January every year is the transfer of the image from Intramuros to Quiapo Church. It is interesting that the route of the yearly procession is from Luneta to Quiapo.
History of the Feast of Black Nazarene
The Augustinian Recollects introduced the devotion to the Black Nazarene in the Philippines. It is not known when the image was brought to the country. According to tradition and popular belief, it was one of the holy figures that the pioneering Recollect friars brought with them from Mexico in 1606. This was so that in 2006 its centenary was celebrated by the Quiapo Church. However, no such account can be gathered from historical records; no mention of a statue with the resemblance of the Black Nazarene that was on board the ship with the Recollects from Mexico to the Philippines in 1606. Clarifications stated that the centenary celebration was held for the 400-year presence of the Recollects and Nazareno in the country, and it pushed through pending any archival findings that would determine the date of its arrival and thus the start of its devotion.
The image was kept at the St. John the Baptist Church in Bagumbayan, now called Luneta. By 1608, it was moved to a church in Intramuros built by the Recollects and funded by the generosity of Bernardino del Castillo under the patronage of St. Nicholas of Tolentino. The church was destroyed in 1645 and 1658, and the Recollects constructed a new house of worship that lasted until the Second World War. It was here that the devotion to the Black Nazarene grew fervently that in 1621, the Cofradia de Jesus Nazareno was founded. The devotion to Black Nazarene was also recognized by Pope Innocent X by April 20, 1650.
On January 9, 1767, Manila Archbishop Basilio Sancho de Santas Justa y Rufina ordered the transfer of the Black Nazarene to St. John the Baptist Church in Quiapo. This is the event that is commemorated by the annual feast of Traslacion. The devotion increased and its reputation as miraculous became well-known far and wide. It became more popular than the patron of the parish, St. John the Baptist, whose feast day falls on every June 24. Quiapo Church was also elevated to a Minor Basilica of the Black Nazareno in 1988.
The life-size image of the Black Nazarene of Quiapo (Nuestra Padre Jesus Nazareno de Quiapo) is a depiction of agony and passion of Christ. He is portrayed as someone of dark skin color carrying a cross and wearing a regal costume. The image came from Mexico during the Manila-Alcapulco Galleon Trade, and it is thought it was carved by a Mexican artist (some accounts identify the person was of Aztec descent) in the 17th century.
The darkness of its skin is explained by different accounts. For one, the sculptor wished to create a statue after their own color of skin. Others state that it caught fire while on board the ship that brought it to the country from Mexico or that it was burned by the candles that were offered before it throughout history. A research ascertained that the color of the statue is attributed to the wood that it was made from which is called mesquite, a dark red hardwood that grows in Mexico and southern United States. Other images made of similar material is Lady of Peace and Good Voyage of Antipolo.
The statue depicts Jesus in genuflection. A wooden cross is slung over his right shoulder; the cross is black and decorated by gilded trims on its ends. Jesus’ head wears a wig, a crown of thorns, and three bands of radiating rays that symbolize the Holy Trinity. On his neck is a long golden chain that extends to a ball that is held by the left hand.
His dress is made of velvet in deep red. It is ornamented by foliage rendered in golden embroidery and lace pieces around the collar. The entire ensemble is cinched with a golden belt around the waist which bears an inscription, “Nazareno”. Pope Pius VII granted plenary indulgences to the lay faithful who prayed before the image in the 1880s.
The original image was destroyed during World War II. There are two statues that exist in the present time: one being kept for safety and the other enthroned in Quiapo Church. Both are composites made by Filipino sculptor Gene Maglaqui upon the order of the Archdiocese of Manila. The one in the altar contains the head of the original; the image being brought out for procession has the original body with a composite head.
Feast of Black Nazarene Activities
Activities of the Traslacion kick off in the last week of December and continues until the first week of January. They culminate on January 9. The religious activities are described here in chronological order.
The Thanksgiving Procession occurs on December 31, the last day of the year. In the past, it takes place on New Year’s Day. However, it is noted that participants were fresh from the revelry and merry-making in the turn of the new year and a few are seen inebriated while taking part of the religious ceremony. Hence, it was moved a day earlier. In addition, the change also made sure that the first day of the year is dedicated to Mary, the Mother of God.
Everything is kicked off with novena. Novena is a prayer that is said specifically each day for nine days in preparation for the feast day. It starts on December 31st and it ends on 8th of January next year. It is also within this period where the Holy Image is taken to visit every village in the district of Quiapo. It is met with prayers and the celebration of the Eucharist. In the past, there would be entertainment and street bands.
The Replica Procession takes place on January 7. Devotees bring their own replica of the image of Black Nazarene. They join the procession that begins usually in the afternoon, and it is led by a presiding priest who guides the flock of the proceedings and bless the images with holy water. The procession is also enjoined by the Black Nazarene. The activity culminates in the late hours of the evening, around 10:00 PM. Afterwards, the devotees will bring their images home.
Vigil and Pahalik
On January 8, the eve of the feast day, the image of the Black Nazarene will be brought in utmost secrecy at the Quirino Grandstand in Luneta. The pahalik thus commences, a line of devotees is formed so they can approach and touch the image. The vigil also begins as well as the mass will be be heard. Other religious services will be opened such as confession schedule, catechism, and other celebrations. Religious and cultural numbers are likewise presented by the various church organizations; these are interspersed by prayer, a religious lecture or meditation, and talks.
Devotees from all walks of life take part in these rites. They may bring chairs, food, picnic mat, replica, and other stuff to be able to attend the vigil from start to finish. They are identifiable by their maroon-yellow clothing with different signs that they belong to a specific faction of Ihos del Nazareno. The highlight is the Holy Eucharist that is held at midnight.
Traslacion is a long, arduous procession of the image that takes about 20 hours to cover a distance of over 6.5 kilometers. The procession starts from the Quirino Grandstand located in Rizal Park in Luneta to Quiapo Church in Manila. Before the break of dawn, devotees accompany the miraculous image. They walk barefoot as a way to imitate the sufferings of the Christ on the way to Calvary. Only members of the Ihos del Nazareno are allowed in the carriage, while the mamamasan are people who keep it moving by pulling the rope on their right shoulder. This custom is observed in the belief that the right shoulder is more sacred as it is traditionally where Jesus bore the cross. Due to the presence of surging crowd, it takes half an hour for the image to be transferred from the altar to the carriage and over an hour and a half for the ropes to be fully tied up.
As an expression of their pious disposition, they try to approach the andas (carriage) despite the crowd, possible injuries, or even the threat of death. They would attempt to help tug the rope, climb up the carriage, get as close as possible to the image, or throw their handkerchief and towel that would then be wiped off of the image so they can bring an essence of the holy figure and its potent miraculous power home.
The route has also evolved through the years. Considering public safety, it was directed through Jones Bridge (which was repaired in 2007) rather than in MacArthur Bridge (which was repaired in 1991) in 2014. Along the way, it will pass through designated prayer stations and encounters with Marian images to be illustrated in the next sections.
The entire Traslacion takes about a little less than a day to be completed. In 2012, it recorded the longest ever procession that took 22 hours to complete. Volunteers belonging to Ihos del Nazareno take turns in shifts in guiding the procession to the destination. By next morning, the andas will reach Quiapo Church, the statue is removed from the carriage and ushered in to the church. At the same time, devotees are welcomed into the church where they kneel towards the altar and offer prayers. Final blessings and culminating rites are then conducted.
These expressions of faith and the hardships that devotees face in making such expression visible (such as the crowd, the challenge in reaching the moving andas during procession) are elements in fulfilling an annual religious vow, a deep-seated and ingrained practice called panata. The fulfillment of a a panata is performed as thanksgiving for favors, blessings, and graces received; recovery from a serious illness of oneself or that of a family member; prayers or petitions for a blessed and prosperous year ahead or to be granted a favor such as passing a licensure exams; and/or as a way to obtain a year living in a state of grace. In addition, the devotion also establishes emulation of the sacrifices of the Christ who bears the cross with fortitude amidst suffering, whip lashes, and wounds.
The dungaw, which translates to look through a window or to view, is a tradition observed during the procession. As the anda makes its way through Manila in R. Hidalgo Street, it makes a stop at the Minor Basilica of San Sebastian, which is also popularly referred to as San Sebastian Church, at the Pasaje del Carmen in Quiapo. The patroness Our Lady of Carmen is brought out from the church to take in a glimpse of the carriage and Black Nazarene, and the crowd erupts in cheers of “Viva” or “Viva Hesus Nazareno” and the church bells toll. It is characterized with silence and solemnity; devotees are deep in prayers. Activities are minimal. No one tries to approach the Black Nazarene or throw towels at the people in the carriage.
Then the procession resumes and continues onward to Bilibid Viejo Street. Meanwhile, the image of the Blessed Virgin is taken back to the church.
It is said that this passage in the journey depicts the Fourth Station of the Cross, the Blessed Mother meeting Jesus in Via Dolorosa (see the Quiapo Church website). However, church authorities also stated that it is not a representation of the biblical meeting of Mother and Son. Instead, dungaw is a “religious courtesy”.
It is also noted that the Traslacion is participated mostly by men, and the Dungaw is often witnessed by women and children. It also resonates the historical account of the Augustinian Recollects who introduced the devotion to Our Lady of Carmen and the Black Nazarene to the Philippines. The image of the patroness was a gift by the Carmelites to the Recollects and then brought to the country in 1618.
The tradition of Dungaw was said to have been practiced during Spanish colonial times. However, it was stopped in 1900s and forgotten since. The Recollects, after authenticating historical archives of the practice, revived the tradition on January 9, 2014.
Sungaw and Marian rendezvous
Sungaw is a combination of Filipino words sulyap (glimpse) and dungaw (to view). It is observed as the carriage reaches the end of Jones Bridge. The image of Nuestra Señora de la Soledad de Manila, whose devotion can be traced to as early as before 1884, is then taken out into the open stage where it meets the Black Nazarene. Her veil will be removed and a Marian song wafts in the air. This rite was introduced in 2017 and has become an official prayer station along the route of the procession in 2019.
Other Marian rendezvous includes Pagtatagpo and Visita. The pagtatagpo is the meeting between Nuestra Señora del Pilar of Santa Cruz, Manila and the Black Nazarene. The devotion to Nuestra Señora del Pilar was introduced by the friars of Society of Jesus. It dates backs to 1743 where an organization dedicated to its devotion began to be established. In the context of the Traslacion, the pagtatagpo started in 2016 and it became part of the procession in 2019.
On the other hand, the visita is the encounter between the Black Nazarene and the image of Nuestra Señora de la Medalla Milagrosa de Manila. The vissita was introduced in 2020. She is the patroness of St. Vincent de Paul Parish in San Marcelino, Manila; her devotion started in the late 19th century by the Congregation of the Mission.
Prayer stations are points in the Traslacion that are identified prior to the feast day. These are places where the andas will momentarily take a pause accompanied by prayers, hymns, and other religious observance. These prayer stations include the various Marian rendezvous as described above. In 2018, these are Manila Hotel, National Museum, P. Burgos cor. Victoria (in front of Manila City Hall), Liwasang Bonifacio, Escolta Arc, Sta. Cruz Church, Arlegui corner Quezon Boulevard, Arlegui St. corner P. Casal St., Canopy of Manuel L. Quezon University, San Sebastian Church, Barangay hall in Guzman Street, and Globo de Oro.
How to reach Quiapo Church, Manila
Book a flight to Ninoy International Airport. You can take a cab from there which would take about 20 to 30 minutes. Buses are also available at NAIA Terminal 3.
The Feast of Black Nazarene Summary
|Name||The Feast of Black Nazarene|
|Address||910 Plaza Miranda, Quiapo, Manila 1001|
|Church||Minor Basilica of Black Nazarene|
|Contact||(02) 8733-4945, (02) 8735-8614|
|Organizer||St. John the Baptist Parish|
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