Wednesday, March 27, 2013

In the old days: no permits, no Holy Week processions in Manila!

Holy Week procession in Intramuros in the early 1900s.  (Photo Source: SouthEast Asian Images and Texts of the University of  Wisconsin Digital Collections at

It's Holy Week, and in most towns in Luzon, antique and newly commissioned images depicting Christ during his passion, death and resurrection are mounted on beautiful pasos or carrozas for the Holy Wednesday [Maundy Thursday in our childhood memories] and Good Friday processions.  Other major characters in the passion story also have their own decorated floats: the San Pedro at the head of the procession and the sorrowful Santa Maria at the end following the focal Christ Nazareno image of Wednesday and the Santo Entierro of Viernes Santo, among others.

In some places, the first procession comes on Viernes de Dolores (Friday of Sorrows), the last Friday of Lent, and that's before Palm Sunday, even if Vatican II has moved this feast day to September 15.  The focus is on Santa Maria's seven sorrows.  In Pakil, Laguna, the turumba is the highlight of the Dolores rites of seven Fridays spread out between this Viernes and September, and this has become a tourist attraction.

When we were young, there used to be a procession on Holy Monday, which our elders called Stacion General. That's now history.

Processions have become customary not only during the Holy Week but also during the feast days of patron saints in Philippine villages, towns and citiesOwners or caretakers of religious images take it a dutiful obligation to bring them out for the annual public veneration, sometimes frenzied, of the faithful.  Some processions have unique features that they have become tourist delights

But there was a time during the late Spanish regime up to the early American period that no processions could be held in the suburbs of the walled city of Manila unless the parish priests secure a licensia (authorization) from the Archbishop.   

When Fr Bernardino Nozaleda, OP, was Archbishop, he issued the 'no permit, no procession' circular on 24 March 1893.  Henceforth, permits had to be requested for any procession to be held in the parishes including the Flores de Mayo.  The permit would contain a reminder of the three conditions in the circular:  first, that the procession should not last two and a half hours [it must be back in church within that span of time];  second, that the priest does not allow attendance in ridiculous masquerades [comparsas ridiculas]; and third, that every image must be accompanied by a number of light providers [alumbrantes].

We're quite perplexed with comparsas ridiculas, which reminds us of grotesque costumes in the theatre. It could have been referring to costumed presentations during festival days.  The only theatrical event during the Holy Week was/is the senakulo, but this one could not have been ridicula because it is a dramatic rendition of the passion of Christ.

We saw copy of permits issued to the parishes of the arrabales [suburbs] of the walled city among the Decretos of Archbishops Nozaleda and Jeremias Harty for the period 1893-1905.  From these we got to know when these suburbs held their Holy Week processions:
  • Binondo. Viernes de Dolores, Holy Wednesday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday (Domingo de Pascua de Resurreccion).
  • Hermita [Ermita].  Palm Sunday, Holy Monday and Good Friday. 
  • Sampaloc.  Holy Wednesday, and Good Friday afternoon for the Santo Entierro. 
  • Quiapo.  Holy Monday, Maundy Thursday and Easter Sunday 
  • Sta Cruz.  Holy Wednesday and Good Friday for the Santo Entierro
  • San Fernando de Dilao.  Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday.
  • Tondo. Holy Tuesday, Maundy Thursday, and Good Friday 
  • Malate.  Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday
  • Cainta.  Good Friday.
  • San Miguel.  Good Friday.
  • Santa Ana.  Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday.
Religious practices have indeed changed because of liturgical reformsThese days, one expects at least one procession during the Holy Week: the grandest one of the Santo Entierro in most towns on Good Friday

The Pieta of the San Agustin Church, Intramuros mounted on a gilded paso. Photo2013 by the author.

  • Book 1.B.6. Folder 4. Decretos (Nozaleda, Libro de Gobierno Ecclesiastico). 1893-1895.  Archdiocesan Archives (Roman Catholic Archbishop of Manila).
  • Book 1.B.6. Folder 5. Decretos (Libro de Gobierno Ecclesiastico)1902.-1905.  Archdiocesan Archives (Roman Catholic Archbishop of Manila).

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