Garbed in a velvety maroon dress and embroidered with glittering gold flourishes, the dark-skinned Poong Itim na Nazareno of Quiapo is currently making its rounds across the streets of the country’s capital, Manila. Surrounding the caroza where the venerated icon with its black cross is precariously perched, is a roiling sea of devotees in maroons and yellows chanting Viva Senor! Viva! Viva!
The morning was just starting as I arrived at Quiapo Church in the heart of Manila. The historic Plaza Miranda was already filled by people from all walks of life; barefooted devotees, street vendors hawking shirts and white towels, media outfits covering the event, religious cults and the usual bystanders curious about the biggest religious festival this side of the Philippines.
The veneration to the Black Nazarene of Quiapo’s St. John the Baptist Church began with Pope Innocent X’s blessing in 1650. The original statue, made by an unknown sculptor from wood, came all the way from Mexico more than 400 years ago; a gift from the Recollect priests.
The body of the one making rounds across Manila is still the original one that came from Acapulco, but its head is only a replica. The original head of the Nazareno is housed inside the Basilica, sitting over another replica.
There are debates as to why the Nazarene has a dark-toned skin. There are a few who says that it was due to a fire in the galleon that transported the icon, and there are those that claim that its skin simply darkened from a lighter complexion over time due to unknown reasons.
The annual translacion of the Black Nazarene occur every ninth of January.
It used to be that the statue is led around the nearby streets and avenues of Manila starting from the Basilica Minore of Quiapo, with the procession also ending at the same church. But in recent years, the starting point has been changed to Rizal Park’s Quirino Grandstand where an overnight vigil is usually held before the day of the translacion.
It took a while for me to locate the Black Nazarene. Passing through Quezon Bridge, I saw people massing at the nearby overpass in Lawton. I asked a passing fishball vendor to confirm if the Nuestro Padre Jesus Nazareno will pass through it. He obligingly said it will.
I quickly looked for a good vantage to witness the actual passing of the Black Nazarene. This is my first time to attend the feast and my heart was thumping. I’ve heard hundreds of horror stories from the festival; injuries from trampling, asphyxiation and dehydration among other things.
Loud cheers and shrill whistles spread through the crowds as the Nazareno started to move its slow way across the once wide avenue. The crowd was packed so tight you can’t see anything else but people. The stories are real, the streets of Manila indeed turns into an ocean of humanity every January.
White towels and handkerchiefs twirled through the air as the andas, the Black Nazarene’s carriage started to pass through. The devotees grew wild with religious fervor; everyone pushing to get close and touch the venerated icon, or even just the fifty-meter abaca rope preceding the caroza.
Towels were thrown across the slow-moving Nazarene, to be caught by mamamasans—the guardians of the statue. The hankies were then wiped across the body or cross of the black statue before being thrown back into the feverish crowd. Many devotees, the Hijos del Senor Nazareno, believe that this will bring them good luck and fortune.
Support team from various groups stand by for untoward incidences which usually plague the procession of the Black Nazarene. Bottled waters thrown to the crowd is a usual scene, one can easily lose consciousness while trailing the translacion due to heat and congestion.
I can hardly see the Black Nazarene as it passed right in front of me with the crowds and its guardians blocking the icon from view.
So I beefed up all the courage I have and decided to have a closer look.
Swimming with the waves of barefooted crowd, I was able to come as close as I can to the carriage and have a glimpse of the Nazareno before being turned back by the people. I was wearing shoes.
The crowd was so packed that it was a no-no to wear any kind of footwear to avoid injuries to fellow devotees. It was only then that it dawned on me why the faithful of the Nazareno are barefooted.
The sky transformed from blues to oranges as the day wore on and twilight started to peek around the billboards of Quiapo. It has been hours since the Black Nazarene left the grandstand, weaving slowly through Manila. But this is not extraordinary; a few years ago, it has taken twenty two hours for the statue to reach the Basilica.
The sun departed and evening took over, but still, the devotees of the Black Nazarene stood patient at Plaza Miranda, hearing the mass being held every hour until their beloved Poon arrives back to its home. The street was still filed with people but they’re calm, a calmness that usually occurs before a massive storm.
The Feast of the Black Nazarene
Location: Quiapo, Manila
Schedule: Celebrated every January 9
Quiapo Church: (02) 733-4434
Manila Tourism Office: (02) 528-1134 to 36
GPS Coordinates: +14° 35' 54.46", +120° 59' 1.85"
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