Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Marian Procession in Intramuros, Then & Now

Usually by the end week of November, an item appears in the papers about a Marian procession that would start from the Manila Cathedral to celebrate the feast of the Immaculate Conception, which in the Roman church calendar falls on the 8th of December.  As far as we know, the procession is a moveable event, usually held on a Sunday before the feast day unless this itself falls on a weekend.

We've done photo shoots of the October La Naval de Manila in previous years, but this Marian event has always skipped our mind until last Sunday's. 

The procession was announced to start at four o'clock in the afternoon but we were suddenly called to a little business meeting in Makati around that time.  We were two hours late but with around eighty images of the Virgin Mary in procession, we suspected that we could still catch up with quite a number of carrozas or floats to capture with our digital camera.

At the Muralla gate near Letran College at around six-thirty, people were still waiting for half of the procession--forty six more carrozas, according to the police detailed there.  We walked to the Cathedral, and yes, the first batch of floats were already parked on the streets nearby, the images still lit up to the delight of camera bugs like us. 

We walked back to Muralla to wait for the other half of the procession.  We thought it would be great to shoot atop the old walls. We surmised that the delay could be due to traffic somewhere on Roxas Blvd up to the Intramuros re-entry point.  We walked toward the gate near Mapua and fronting City Hall hoping to meet the procession, but there were only four floats we saw, one of them attended to by a big costumed and dancing contingent from Orani, Bataan. We didn't wait for the rest anymore.

We don't know if the procession honoring the Immaculada Concepcion, the patroness of the Manila Cathedral, went as far as the Luneta during the Spanish regime, which was the promenade of city folks at sundown either on foot on in their carriages.

But there's an amusing vignette of the Marian procession of 1894--about quarrels--from Joseph Earle Stevens, "an ex-resident of Manila," who wrote about it in his Yesterdays in the Philippines (1899).  We deduced it was the feast of the Immaculate Conception because, first, it was in his notes between November 13 and December 23, 1894, and second, he was talking about images of the Virgin Mary:

"Last night there occurred another one of those religious torchlight processions which are so common in the streets of Old Manila. It started after sunset, inside the city walls, from a big church brightly illuminated from top to bottom with small candle-cups that gave it the appearance of a great sugar palace. The procession consisted of many richly decorated floats, containing life-size figures of saints and apostles dressed in garments of gold and purple and borne along by sweating coolies, who staggered underneath a draping that shielded from view all save their lower limbs and naked feet. The larger floats were covered with dozens of candelabra and guarded by soldiers with fixed bayonets. Other rolling floats of smaller magnitude were pulled along by little children in white gowns, while troops of old maids, young maids, and Spanish women marched before and behind, dressed in black and carrying candles. The black mantillas which fell gracefully from the heads of many of the torch-bearers gave their faces a look of saint-like grace, except at such times as the evening breeze made the candle-grease refractory, and one might easily have imagined himself a spectator at a celebration in Seville. 

"Many bands all playing different tunes in different times and keys, rows of hard-faced, fat-stomached priests trying to look religious but failing completely to do so, and five hundred small boys, who, like ours at home, formed a sort of rear guard to the solemnities, all went to make up the peculiar performance. The whole long affair started from the church, wound through the narrow streets, and finally brought up at the church again, where it was saluted by fireworks and ringing of bells.

"In the balconies of the houses that almost overhung the route were smiling crowds of lookers-on, and Roman candles and Bengola lights added impressiveness to the scene, or dropped their sparks on the garments of those promenading below. As the various images of the Virgin Mary and the Descent from the Cross passed by, everyone took off his hat and appeared deeply impressed with religious feeling. After the carriers of the floats had put down for good their expensive burdens in the vestry of the church, a few liquid refreshments easily started them quarrelling as to the merits of their respective displays. One set claimed that their Descent from the Cross was more life-like than that carried by their rivals, and they almost came to blows over which of the Virgin Marys wore the finest clothes. "  

The last part tells us that there were several privately owned Descent from the Cross and Virgin Mary images.  In this 2009 procession, which of the Marys are at least a century old, and Stevens saw in 1894?

Troubles brewed over the Lady's couture?  How about the crowns? Were they as awesomely large and possibly heavy due to adornments as the ones we saw and photographed last Sunday?

Note:  A group called the Cofradia de la Inmaculada Concepcion organizes the annual Marian procession, which incepted in December 1979 with 29 images.  This would be the 30th event since then.

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