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.

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