Thursday, April 27, 2017

An encounter with the Holy Week traditions of Balayan, Batangas

Balayan church, a national cultural treasure.

Good Friday in Balayan, Batangas was a totally different experience. 

We were there two years ago to cover the much-hyped 'Parada ng mga Lechon’ on the feast day of St. John the Baptist, 24th of June. We expected to get doused, of course, and we took care that we, not our camera, would get the drenching. Seeing only the heads of roasted pigs on parade even if these were dressed up in various character configurations was a big let-down.
Paintings on the dome ceiling of Balayan church.

We spent Maundy Thursday and Good Friday at a new resort a short walk away from Balayan Bay. Thursday lunch was still meat while we listened to various sopranos of senior women chanting the life and death of Jesus Christ. Our hosts were strict on keeping Friday meatless and they served Balayan’s version of the danggit (not salty), and, of course, the famous Batangas sinaing na tulingan with an array of vegetable dishes on the side. Then there was this bottle of preserved dark lilac calumpit fruit, already sweetened by two years of fermentation, a twist to the desserts of ripe mangoes, bananas and sago’t gulaman.

Interior of Balayan church.

On Good Fridays, our hometown church and churchyard would be beehives of decorators adorning the many carrozas for the early evening procession. But not at Balayan’s antique Immaculate Conception Parish Church, a national cultural treasure. It was bereft of carrozas of dioramas depicting scenes from the passion, agony and death of Jesus Christ, and of life-size images of santos, santas and other characters in the pasyon story.

We saw a few carrozas later in the afternoon, all assembled at the church yard. We were told that the images owned by families depicting the passion story were borne in the Holy Wednesday procession.

Subli folk dancers strewing flower petals around the cross.

The mass before the Good Friday procession featured the veneration of the cross through a folk dance: Subli. This is a tradition in Batangas. In this instance, high school students performed the dance which included strewing flowere petals around the cross.

The Good Friday procession in Balayan is called 'pagbuburol', hence, the central figure is the Santo Entierro (Dead Christ). Only the Marias were in attendance--Magdalena,Veronica, Betania, Jacobe and the Mater Dolorosa--plus St. Peter and St. John the Evangelist.  The procession was long with throngs of people lighting the way with candles. 

The pasyon chanters provided the music for the procession. One group were all seated in a trailer provided with a sound sytem, microphones and loud speaker. In most towns, there would be brass bands. In our town, each carroza owner provided canned music (pasyon, hymns, etc).

The Santo Entierro of Balayan.

In our hometown, the Santo Entierro is honored with rituals: it is fetched from the house of the caretakers/family owners after the afternoon siete palabras, brought to the church for veneration, and later becomes the highlight of a procession of some 50 carrozas. 

When we were young, my mother and other women in the neighborhood would attend the ‘funeral’ of the Dead Christ by 10 o’clock in the evening. He was borne in procession from the church to the house of the caretaker, usually a descendant of the original owners of a century ago.

Pabasa chanters provided the musical accompaniment of the Balayan procession.

They have a similar final 'pagbuburol' in Balayan. The folks there say that this is a continuation of the earlier procession.

There is another image that Balayanese venerate, that of a fallen Christ, prone on the ground on his knees. We were able to take a glimpse of it when the procession passed by its shrine. We thought it looked like the typical fallen figure without the cross on his shoulder.

The Black Saturday religious rites, according to our hosts, are long tests of faith and endurance: the fire and candle and holy water ritual, the baptism mass, and all these culminating in the midnight Easter Service with the salubong of the grieving Mary and the Risen Christ.

As the Balayan midnight service was happening, we were getting into our hometown to witness the traditional early Sunday morning salubong rites: an angel inside a giant flower hoisted above the carrozas of Mary and her resurrected Son, and she would lift the black veil as she sings to Mary the good news of the resurrection.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Santo Entierro (Holy Burial)

Santo Entierro is also taken to mean the Dead Christ. In our town, we do not use the Spanish term, We refer to the image of the Dead Christ as "Apo Natay," which can be translated as "Dead Lord."

We were in San Agustin Church this Holy Wednesday afternoon, There were two Santo Entierros that were drawing the fervent attention of people doing their visita iglesia: a reposeful image whose body is covered by a gold-embroidered white shroud, and the other, a dark antique image covered with an ornate red shroud.

Reposeful Santo Entierro at the San Agustin Church
Dark antique Santo Entierro originally from Lemery, Batangas.

According to the explanatory caption, the antique image was the 'crucified Christ' acquired by the Medina-Morales family in the 18th century. Before World War II, it was used in Lemery, Batangas during the re-enactment on Good Friday of the crucifixion and burial of Christ..

The wooden image is described as having moveable hands. This reminds us of the "Senyor Sepulcro" of Paete, Laguna whose hands and feet can be bent at the joints. Six years ago, we witnessed how the image was made to sit under a tent of linen and smoked, which was very similar to the ritual of the dead practiced by the Cordillera people until recent times.

Paete's Senyor after the ritual of the dead.
The "Senyor Sepulcro" was dressed in white and covered with an ornate red shroud for the burial: the men carry the senyor in his glass coffin to the church in choreographed rhythmic steps.

In Lucban, Quezon, the men also carry the Santo Entierro but the journey through the procession route takes hours: the ritual is almost similar to that of the Nazareno of Quiapo with the barefoot male devotees struggling with the ropes and clambering to touch the glass-covered sepulcher, The Senyor here is richly garbed with jewels and a golden shroud.

Lucban's "Santo Senyor Sepulcro"

I remember that at ten o'clock in the evening of Good Friday, a good two or three hours after the customary procession, my mother would tell us that she and her friends in the neighborhood were going to the "funeral" of "Apo Natay." It would be much later when we learned that they were actually accompanying the "Apo" from the church to the "burial ground," meaning the house of the caretaker of the image until the next Holy Week.

That is no longer practiced. What is significant in my hometown is that the "Apo Natay" of the Aglipayan church is the unifying icon of the descendants of Don Timoteo Fernandez and Dna Isabel Ramos, their rallying symbol for gathering all of them in a grand reunion.