The Celebration of the Feast of Black Nazarene as a Form of Popular Piety in the Philippines

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  • The Celebration of the Feast of Black Nazarene as a Form of Popular Piety in the Philippines
  • History
  • Demography
  • References:

The Celebration of the Feast of Black Nazarene as a Form of Popular Piety in the Philippines

The celebration of the Feast of Black Nazarene here in the Philippines has long been practiced since the 18th century. For most Filipinos, it has become normal for us to expect on the second week of January the various live telecasts, TV specials, documentaries and news articles to appear all over mass media in order to cover this extraordinary phenomenon in our culture. Indeed, the way we celebrate this feast is very interesting due to the fact that one could already understand the Filipino’s general religious, cultural, and sociological inclinations even just by observing this social phenomenon here in our country.

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We cannot deny the influence that Christianity and Catholicism has had in our country ever since Ferdinand Magellan stepped foot on Cebu in March 1521. It all started when the first Filipinos were baptized: the local ruler, Raja Humabon, and his wife. They were given the Christian names of Carlos and Juana, before presenting them an image of the Santo Niño. Miguel Lopez de Legazpi would sail from Mexico forty four years later to colonize the Philippine Archipelago for Spain (Twigg, 2015). The image of the Black Nazarene itself is tied to the very fabric of our Christian roots as it was one of the very first that came here in the Philippines. As the Galleon trade from Manila to Acapulco flourished since it was established on 1565 (Hayes & Clayton, 2000), it allowed the delivery of a pantheon of images to the Philippines, with the Black Nazarene being among them. Carved in Mexico, the sculpture was brought to Manila by Augustinian Recollect Friars in May 1606 (Twigg, 2015). It was said to be “Black” because a fire discolored the genuflecting Christ’s white, ivory face on the way to Manila. Although other stories claim that his color was caused by the very dark timber that it was originally carved from.

According to theologian Msgr. Sabino A. Vengco, Jr. of the Loyola School of Theology (2015), the statue was originally housed in the church of the Recollects in Intramuros. In the event of the 18th century earthquake, the church became ruined with its great intensity. But despite this, the image somehow survived. It was then handed under the power of the Archbishop of Manila who then ordered it transferred to Quiapo Anthropology The devotion to the Black Nazarene in Quiapo reaches its height as it is celebrated every January 9. Millions of devotees come to Manila to participate in the biggest procession in the country— the Translacion. This phenomena that has become uniquely Filipino in its own right is still subject to studies in order to find out its grass roots, as to how and what this part of our culture has developed into. · In the performance of the Traslacion, there is a need to use one’s tuwalya and panyo to manifest one’s intimacy with the sacred (Calano, 2015). Even if one has only seen the happenings of the Translacion on TV, you simply cannot miss the presence of the handkerchiefs and towels as the devotees wave them in the air, with hopes that it would reach the Poong Nazareno.

The devotees and mamamasans’ desire are symbolically manifested by mediating mechanisms and their desire for proximity can also be understood in terms of the devotees’ practice of pagyayapak (barefootedness) (Calano, 2015). While most processions in the country require the use of footwear, the Translacion is defined by barefoot devotees. This is due to the fact that this has become a physical expression of the desire of the devotees to imitate and be one with Jesus. Aside from this though ar other expressions of devotions like pabihis (changing the garments of the Black Nazarene), pabendisyon (kissing the hands of priests), pahawak (touching of the statue or the garment of the Black Nazarene), pagpasan (carrying of the wood of the andas or the rope attached to it), or paglalakad ng paluhod (processing to the altar on bended knees). · The devotees refer to themselves and each other as mamamasan or hijos (Calano, 2015). These terms are usually related to their tasks and roles in relation to the poon.

The name mamamasan doesn’t only reflect the action of carrying the andas, but their empathy with Christ’s image carrying (in Filipino, pinapasan) the cross, therefore making them have an is because they find affinity with a Jesus that is overcoming suffering more than a suffering servant (Ignacio, 2013). Economics The cultural and social phenomenon of the Feast of the Black Nazarene does not only affect its pious devotees, but also the many merchants and store owners that could benefit from the influx of people. Most of the vendors around the Quiapo area really look forward to the Translacion every year because of the fact that the large number of devotees will help in spiking up their sales.

In an interview with Rappler, “Alfred” sells bags in front of Quiapo Church on regular days. By the turn of January, he sells towels of the Black Nazarene because during the feast, his regular P1,500 profit increases to P3,500 (Nabong, 2016). He has been doing this for more than 20 years now. Despite his humble earnings, the towels that cost P20 ($0.42) apiece have sent 5 of his children to school. · Sally, whose stall is filled with Nazareno costumes, statues, shirts, bottles of oils, and towels also earned thrice as much during the papal visit (Nabong, 2016). She would normally take home P10,000 after the Feast of the Black Nazarene. · The image of the Black Nazarene, although duplicated a million times over the years, has not lost its significance, as it holds various meanings and uses to sellers, buyers, devotees (Nabong, 2016).

When asked if they object to the use of religious figures as a way to earn profit, Bishop Gerardo Alminaza of the Diocese of San Carlos says that the Roman Catholic Church says that they do not as long as the sellers have the “right intention” or donates part of it to the underprivileged. According to him, it is a way for the people to publicly declare their faith. For those who increase prices at the last minute, the bishop said in the interview with Rappler, “That’s law of supply and demand, nothing to do with our gospel values, so it’s really taking advantage of the situation.” Sociology While the Translacion may look like sheer chaos to non-devotees, this is not the case for those who share the devotion. These devotees find something in their devotion to the Black Nazarene.

According to Bonilla (2006), the celebration of the Feast of the Black Nazarene is a dominant representation of Catholic ideology in Philippine society.· In Quiapo, the Black Nazarene is very close to the dense population of Metro Manila’s urban and rural poor (Calano, 2015). Joining the Translacion and going to the Minor Basilica is one of the most possible options because of its proximity and accessibility to the people. · During the Translacion, the mamamasans and the devotees feel each other, listen to one another, and adjust even the way of pulling the rope that is attached to the andas of the poón (McDaniel, 2013). This only demonstrates that when religious objects move, the sensibilities and the feelings of the people are also set in motion that could become the very foundation of most social relationships. Those who join the Translacion are able to transform themselves , and become a whole new person because your fellow devotees will name you as kapatid (sibling) (Calano, 2015). This is because you have shared something with each other. One’s experience with thousands of devotees creates a feeling of belongingness and almost a sense of acceptance within a community. The aids that could help them in their panata include the traditional liturgy, usual sacramental colors, mood, movements, and rhythmic celebrations that revolve around the poón that constitutes to a religious experience.


The religious zeal for the Black Nazarene lays in the National Capital Region, more specifically in Metro Manila. · Quiapo, Manila is a district that is hidden by big, commercial buildings, colleges, universities and condominiums, which is why it is sometime easy to forget that this was the home of many kinds of Filipinos (Calano, 2015). With motorcycles, jeepneys, and karitons jam-packing the streets of Quiapo, still, the different kinds of people in this area play an important role in the life of the district. Like it was said, life and Quiapo is defined by the streets because it is the source of the community’s knowledge and new ideas. In the book Lungsod Iskwater, the streets are able to generate places and spaces that are able to be comprehended despite being informal settlements (Alcazaren, 2013). Therefore, although they are informal, these settlements were able to provide a different type of volatility and naturalness to Quiapo’s demography.

The thousands of mamamasans and devotees are mostly men in the experience of being more than a thousand in number, most of which are considered part of the urban poor (Calano, 2015). This goes to show the kind of people that participate in this social phenomena. (Nabong, 2016) Linguistics On the day of the Translacion itself, devotees, especially the veteran ones, chant as they try to get near the statue of the kneeling Christ. Some of these chants include, “Viva”, “Nuestro Padre Jesus Nazareno”, and “Viva Señor Jesus Nazareno”.· In this year’s Translacion, devotees chanted “Viva! Viva!” altogether as they witness the carroza on which the image of the Black Nazarene was aboard, return to Quiapo Church (Aquino, 2018). Literally translated as “Long live!”, the word “Viva” both has Italian and Spanish roots, which explains how this particular chant has infiltrated the vocabulary of almost every pious Filipino. Not only is this word used during the celebration of the Feast of the Black Nazarene but also for other images as well, like the ‘Sto. Nino” for example. “Nuestro Padre Jesus Nazareno” is actually the title of one of the most recognizable pieces of church and devotion music (Amoroso, 2012).

Literally translating from Spanish to English as “Our Father, Jesus of Nazareth”, the lyrics were written by Lucio San Pedro, a National Artist of the Philippines. The closing song of most massed in Quiapo This hymn is means that you can choose to join the people as it is the closing song of masses held at the Basilica of Nuestro Padre Jesus Nazareno in Quiapo, Manila, Philippines. “Viva Señor Jesus Nazareno” literally translates to “Long live Lord Jesus of Nazareth!” According to Maeric Andres (2018), on the 412th year of the celebration of the Feast of the Black Nazareth, the devotees continue to celebrate their faith as the blessings and miracles given to them by Señor Jesus Nazareno continue to overflow. With this chant, devotees ask to grant them strength to deal with trials, grief, and obstacles for the coming years. Psychology Unlike those who really profess their faith to the miracles that happen once one participates in the Translacion, there are also those who are skeptical about the whole thing. For these people, all that they could do express their dismay over this whole phenomenon would be to remain as peaceful and as respectful as possible.·Margaux Diaz (2017) described the various miracles that the devotees received, such as their sudden recovery, as a form of placebo effect.

According to her, scientists have concluded at first that no physical change or improvement from a sick person. But when given a placebo, it seemed that the mind does things to the body.· In a study published in 2016 in the JAMA Internal Medicine concluded that “frequent attendance to religious service was associated with significantly lower risk of all-cause, cardiovascular, and cancer mortality among women” (VanderWeele, 2017). The study was conducted from 1992 through 2012, with a total of 74,534 subjects. Lastly, Margaux Diaz (2017) makes it a point towards the end of her article that Faith is what drives the religious to face the never-ending flow of the masses that flock the carriage every year. Some even thank the Nazareno for answered purposes and even more praying for healing from sickness, forgiveness from sins, and freedom from poverty.


Amoroso, S. (2012). Nuestro Padre Jesus. Parish Works!, 7(41), 1; 3. Retrieved September 22, 2018, from

Andres, M. (2018). VIVA, Señor Hesus Nazareno! Retrieved from Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene:

Alcazaren, P. (2013). Lungsod Iskwater: the evolution of informality as a dominant pattern in Philippine cities.

Aquino, L. A. (2018). Devotees chant ‘Viva! Viva!’ as the image of Black Nazarene return to Quiapo Church. Manila: Manila Bulletin. Retrieved from

Bonilla, C.M. (2006). Devotion to the Black Nazarene as an Aesthetic Experience. Quiapo: Heart of Manila. Cultural Heritage Studies Program, Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Ateneo de Manila University.

Calano, M. (2015). The Black Nazarene, Quiapo, and the Weak Philippine State. Kritika Kultura, 0(25), 167-187. doi:

Diaz, M. (2017, January 10). The Feast of the Black Nazarene and the miracle within. Retrieved from The House of Margaux:

Hayes, D., & Clayton, D. W. (2000). Historical atlas of the north Pacific ocean: Maps of discovery and scientific exploration, 1500-2000. Cartographica, 38(3/4), 87.

Ignacio, J. F. (2013) The Black Nazarene of Quiapo: Understanding the Devotion. Tinig Loyola: A Student Publication of the Loyola School of Theology 15:1-2 (2013-2014): 37-38.

Print.McDaniel, J. (2013). THE SPIRIT OF THINGS: Materiality and Religious Diversity in Southeast Asia. Studies on Southeast Asia, 58. (Aquino, 2018)

Nabong, P. (2016). IN PHOTOS: The Black Nazarene, faith, miracles, money. Manila: Rappler. Retrieved Septemeber 23, 2018, from

Twigg, T. (2015). The Black Nazarene, A Philippine National Ethos. TAASA Review, 24(2) 16-18. Retrieved from

VanderWeele, T. J., Balboni, T. A., & Koh, H. K. (2017). Health and spirituality. Jama, 318(6), 519-520.

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