Thursday, December 22, 2016


ALTAR OF THE NATIVITY. Mabalacat Church. Photo by Dr. R. Feliciano

The whole Christendom celebrates the birth of Jesus with great joy and mirth, but nowhere is it celebrated with more pageantry than in the Philippines. Churches and communities prepare by staging the Nativity Scene before the altar, to be reflected on during the Simbang Gabi.

BACOLOR BELEN, dressed by the late Thom Joven.Photo: T. Joven

Some churches with side altars already containing belen images need only to clean and spruce up the figures. But those churches without lifesize images of San Jose, Sta. Maria and Nino Jesus, have to source them out from families, or make do with what they have--converting generic looking saints into the Holy Family.

A RECONSTITUTED BELEN, Staged using separate individual santos.
 Photo by Rainier Sexon

But that is not the only challenge; there is the stable that needs to be built,  plus the manger and all the "props" that would make the Nativity scene looks more authentic--animal figures, mostly sheep, goat, cattle.


The Nativity scene takes inspiration from the accounts of the birth of Jesus in the gospels of Matthew and Luke. The narrative describes an angel announcing Jesus' birth to a group of shepherds who then went on to visit the humble site, where they found the Child Jesus in a manger. Matthew's story includes the presence of the 3 wise men who were guided by the star to the stable, hence, these characters are likewise included in the tableau. 

NATIVITY SCENE with the 3 Magis, Photo by Leo Cloma

St. Francis of Assisi is credited with making the first Nativity Scene in 1223 to shift emphasis to Christ rather than gift-giving. In the Philippines, those in charge of staging the Belen take great efforts to make the tableau truly artistic. All sorts of materials go into the making of the stable--cut bamboo, old house parts, sawali, palm leaves, outlumber posts, old capiz windows.


The scenography is fashioned from crumple brown paper then painted to simulate stones and boulders, then further decorated with pieces of pottery, flowers and greeneries, The floor is strewn with hay and then the stable is anachronistically festooned with lanterns and Christmas lights

ESCAYOLA BELEN. Photo by Leo Cloma

Elaborate belens also include an animated Star of Bethlehem--a lit lantern that can swing into place through the use of pulleys--to the center of the tableau, which is the highlight of the Midnight Mass. After the Mass, the Baby Jesus is taken out of the manger for the traditional kissing of its feet or cheeks--the Pahalik.

BELEN IN AN ILOCOS CHURCH, Dressed in Filipiana. Photo: Leo Cloma

Distinctive nativity scenes and traditions have been created around the world, but they have not escaped controversy---mostly issues on propriety (characters are sometimes made to wear outlandish costumes), extravagance, and accuracy (like the presence of non-Biblical characters).


But whether we like it or not, the Belen is here to stay. Like the Christnas tree, parol, noche buena and aguinaldo, Christmas is not Christmas without the traditional nativity scene to inspire awe and devotion of Christ--not just during the holidays, but for the whole year through!


Friday, December 16, 2016


THE QUEEN OF BIKOLANDIA, NTRA. SRA. DE PENAFRANCIA, Revered as "Ina" by Bikolanos, the small wooden image, which is already more than 275 years old, was canonically crowned in 1924, 

It was the canonical coronation of our Lady of the Peña de Francia, the regional patroness of Bicol, as had been authorized by Pope Benedict  XV. It took placein Naga on September 20, 1924. The concourse of mitred dignitaries of the church headed by the Apostolic Delegate himself, including Manila archbishop Michael J. O’Doherty, a number of bishops and monsignori, not to say priests of the regular and secular clergies from all over the country who came for the ceremonies was the biggest ever seen in the Bicol region.

THE CHURCH OF NAGA, now a metropolitan cathedral, built in 1595
 Metropolitan newspapers had directed public attention towards this event long before it was held. During the week of September  13-20, all roads led to Naga as thousands over thousands of pilgrims from all walks of life packed the streets of the episcopal capital. Solemn pontifical masses were celebrated daily by the visiting bishops from the 18th to the 21st. During the triduum that preceded the coronation the people overflowed daily the cathedral and its surrounding yards and premises where open-air altars stood and masses were offered continually from morning to high noon.
in Salamanca, Spain.
The coronation which was a pompous pageant in the afternoon of the 20th climaxed the week-long ceremonies. On the platform erected in the open field fronting the cathedral sat governors and high civil official of the Bikol provinces side by side with purple-rocheted prelates. Never had such a congregation been seen hereabouts. As Msgr. Piani, the Pope’s own representative, dressed in pontifical regalia, raised the bejeweled crown and rested it on the head of the statue of Our Lady, the teeming humanity which crowded every available inch of space sung to cried of “Viva la Virgen!” amidst the detonation of rising rockets, blare of band music and ringing of church bells.
MSGR. GUILLERMO PIANI crowns the image of our Lady of Penafrancia
To the visiting prelates and laity there was something more than the success and brilliance of the affair that they could ill afford to pass unnoticed. The whole credit would have naturally gone to the incumbent bishop, had there been one. But they were the guests of a vacant see. Who were their hosts? Two figures loomed prominently as the rains of the event that made history, two future bishops from the Bikol clergy: Frs. Francisco S. Reyes and Casimiro M. Lladoc
OF PENA DE LA FRANCIA, officiated by the ApostolicDelegate to the Philippines, 
Msgr. G. Piani in the afternoon of 24 Sept. 1924.Extreme right: Sponsors of the ceremony, 
Gov. Manuel Crescini of CamarinesSur and Dna. Antonia Pardo.
A year later, on July 4, 1925, the happy and long-expected tidings of Pope Pius XI’s appointment of Msgr. Reyes to be bishop of Nueva Caceres was received in the Bikol region. He had been proclaimed in secret consistory in Rome the previous June 20. Eight years later, Father Lladoc received the mitre, as first bishop of Bacolod.
BIKOL'S PATRONESS, as she appeared at her coronation.
When on September 19, 1925,Bishop Reyes received consecration at his cathedral, Naga once again became a center of pilgrimage.It was at the same time, the first anniversary of the coronation of Our lady, and almost all the same dignitaries who had taken oart at the previous year’s pageant were in attendance. Msgr. Piani, the Apostolic Delegate, was the consecrator. Co-consecrators were the bishops of Nueva Segovia,  Msgr.Peter Hurth and of Lipa, Alfredo Versoza.


Wednesday, December 7, 2016



Sta. Elena Chapel, 1952
The historic barangay of Sabang in Baliuag, Bulacan was the site of a bloody battle between Americans, led by army officer Henry Lawton, and the native revolucionarios in 1899. In its visita located along the highway can be found the image of the patroness of the barangay—Sta, Elena (St. Helen), the empress mother of Constantine the Great, who is regarded as the finder of the True Cross on which Christ was crucified.

 It is said that she found several crosses after a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. To determine which was the True Cross of Christ, the crosses were laid one at a time on the coffin of a dead youth. The third cross that was placed on the coffin brought the youth back to life, thus identifying it as the one True Cross.

STA. ELENA, as she appeared in 1993, 

Sta. Elena has always had a special appeal to Bulakenyos as the province popularized the tradition of Flores de Mayo tradition began in 1865 after Msgr. Mariano Villena Sevilla wrote “Dalit kay Maria”, better known as “Flores de Mayo”, which in turn was based on Italy’s “Misa de Maggio”. An attendant event of the Maytime rite is the Santacruzan, which features the leading character “Reyna Elena” in the evening procession that celebrates the finding of the True Cross.


 Sabang shares the patronage of Sta. Elena with the people of Hagonoy. During the May fiesta of Sta. Elena, the image is taken down from the altar—which is flanked by their secondary patrons San Agustin and San Roque, and processioned on the streets of Sabang.

FINDERS' KEEPRS. Note the santa's big alms bag. 2014 Procession.

The santa is dressed in her new vestments, accessorized her attributes: a crown, symbol of royalty; an alms bag to denote her charity, and a tall cross, At one time, she was made to hold a sword, which has been removes since.

PAHALIK. Traditional Kissing of the True Cross.

Before the santa is placed on her decorated carroza, a “pahalik” of the cross is conducted, involving the kissing of the cross by devotees. Preceding her are the figures of San Agustin and San Roque, also borne on their carroza. The festivities also feature majorette exhibitions, talent and band competition,


Tradition has it that Sta. Elena brought earth from Golgotha which was spread on the present site of the Vatican Gardens. She is also credited with finding the Holy Tunic of Christ, the crucifixion nails and pieces of the rope with which Jesus was tied on the Cross, now at the Stavrovouni Monastery.

Courtesy of Dr. Raymund Feliciano.
youtube, screen cap: Sta. Elena Fiesta 2014

Thursday, December 1, 2016


By Patty F. Mapa
Originally published on 2 January 1959, Weekly Women’s Magazine

A local newsman on being shown the ruins of the Pantheon in Acropolis during the course of a conducted tour of the once mighty isle of Greece remarked to his guide in mock disbelief,”You mean these ruins have been here for hundreds of years and you haven’t done anything about them? Why, look at Manila. It was razed to the ground during the last war but look at it now.”

 Although said in fun, this remark is indicative of the attitude of a majority of our people. One of the latest to deplore this lack of artistic values is Prof. Galo Ocampo of the University of Santo Tomas’ College of Fine Arts, who is one of the country’s foremost painters.

Designated by Archbishop Rufino J. Santos of Manila to collect religious antiques for an archdiocese museum which has been given ample space in the new Cathedral building.

Prof.Ocampo laid slow siege on old parish churches throughout the country. The results were not very encouraging. Not because there is a dearth of religious antiques in the Philippines, for sacristies throughout the islands hold a wealth of liturgical items and religious objects of arts, but because custom and habit have contributed to the mutilation of these remaining heirlooms.

Take a typical Filipino town getting ready for its annual town fiesta. Since the reason for a town fiesta is very often, if not always a religious one, a procession is usually the order of the day. Now.processions must have images or statues of saints to grace the occasion; so the townspeople either acquire anew statue or look over their stock of blessed facsimiles.

They find an anay-infested wood-carved image, aged but whose delicate workmanship is still in evidence. To the horror of people like Prof. Ocampo, they cover it with a garish coat of silver paint, which to these simple people is like restoring it to new life.

Or take the once dignified façade of a local parish church. The cracks in the stone carved wall do not please the devout, church-going parishioners; so they patched it up with more paint and galvanized iron, all, of course, with the best of intentions.

In all fairness to the town fiesta devotee, it must be mentioned here that this naivete is not confined to this country alone but to other countries as well.

 This disheartening (both to the collector and the artist) state of affairs prompted the archbishopric of Manila to send out a circular to all parish priests and heads of Catholic schools and colleges entreating them to turn over to of to appraise the archbishopric’s office of “any existence in their respective jurisdiction of any museum items which may be properly displayed and authenticated”.

The inspiration for the establishment of the archdiocesan museum itself came to Archbishop Santos during a visit to the Catedral San Francisco el Grande in Madrid, in the company of Prof. Ocampo. After seeing the church’s sacristy resplendent with religious antiques from all over Spain, he conceived of an idea for a Cathedral Museum.

One drawback in the complete collection of these antqiues is the competiton the museum committee has to contend against rich private collectors. Poor parishes have only been only too willing to sell an antique for much needed cash for the maintenance of parish schools and charitable projects. 

However, the request for the collection and preservation of these religious artifacts is slowly yielding results. Already in the possession of the archbishop’soffice are items from the estate of the late Archbishop O’Dougherty. Belongings of the late Archbishop Gabriel Reyes were also donated by his relatives in Cebu.

The ornately carved Nozaleda chair owned by one of Manila’s most unpopular archbishops, Mons. Bernardino Nozaleda (1889-1899), and long in the possession of the Earnshaw family who sold it to Mrs. Bachrach who in turn sold it to Club Filipino, was also donated to the new museum. Most recent acquisitions of the archbishop’s office is an old chasuble with a unique and distinctive design donated by the parish church of Bocaue, Bulacan.

 During the course of his scouting trips as chairman-in-charge of the collectionof the museum items, Prof. Ocampo came upon some finds.One is a gattered old painting of the Immaculate Conception, found in the parish church of Baras, Rizal. Clearly a collector’s item, it ahd been shelved, almost forgotten,in the sacristy only to be salvaged by Prof. Ocampo. Still another painting, a beautiful Madonna and Child signed “ Angeletti” and dated in the 17th or 18th century, was recovered from the pro-Cathedral school in Tayuman street.

Along the bay towns of Laguna, Prof. Ocampo discovered exquisitely carved reliquaries whose workmanship has been unfortunately refurbished with an ungainly coat of paint.

Wood-carved statues of St. Augustine and St. Anthony de Padua turned up, also bathed in cheap paint, in Binangonan, Rizal. In the possession of the artist is a capital from the one of the limestone-carved columns of the original Manila Cathedral. Also up for exhibition are portraits of the former archbishops of Manila and their coat-of-arms.

 With the cooperation of the parish priest and the possible donations from private collectors, the new Archdiocesan Museum should soon become a “fitting repository to the historical and liturgical relics and heirlooms of Catholic Philippines”.