Reina Esperanza, Reina Fe and Reina Caridad, representing theological virtues, leaving the Majayjay Church at the Majayjay santacruzan
Neighborhood children played at the grassy front yard of the august brick-and-stone Church of St. Gregory the Great on a Saturday afternoon of May 5, 2012. The atmosphere was languid as the town of Majayjay in Laguna, the province immediately south of Manila. Occasional excursionists stopped by to snap photos. Most likely, they came from Taytay Falls, the town’s most popular attraction. Then, one by one the sagalas arrived at the church, young girls fully made-up and in eye-catching gowns, mostly in white. They arrived in tricycles, jeepneys and cars, accompanied and assisted by their mothers and relatives. The santacruzan became the talk of the quiet town, in jeepneys plying Santa Cruz to Majayjay, in the stores selling snacks and local minani, fried cubes of cassava seasoned with spiced vinegar.
I remembered being in a santacruzan when I was six-years-old as an escort to one of the girls in Plaridel, Bulacan. The most beautiful girls and the ones coming from prominent families were selected for the procession. They were dressed in attractive gowns. Many had escorts who were in Tagalog shirts (barong Tagalog). My memory of it was foggy as was my idea of santacruzans and Flores de Mayo. Many Filipinos now are confused about santacruzans and Flores de Mayo, thinking they are one and the same. There are many additions and alterations to the procession. It has become a pageant in which girls compete to be prettiest and to wear the most beautiful gowns.
“May is the month of the Flores de Mayo and the Santa Cruz de Mayo. While both are popular devotions, they have separate historical narratives and practices. However, in the course of the centuries, both devotions merge on the 31st of May into one grand pageant called santacruzan. So while the Santa Cruz de Mayo is losing its lessons and meaning, the Flores de Mayo is fast losing its name and essence,” said the Filipino Heritage Festival Inc. (FHFI), a private organization that primarily organizes and initiates activities to promote and spread awareness on Philippine heritage, mainly for the celebration of the National Heritage Month.
The National Heritage Month was created through the signing of Proclamation No. 439 on Aug. 11, 2003, declaring the month of May as National Heritage Month “in recognition of the need to create among the people a consciousness, respect, and pride for the legacies of Filipino cultural history, and love of country.” The National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA), the prime government agency for arts and culture, has provided substantial funding to FHFI to spearhead the National Heritage Month celebration. Over the years FHFI created a substantial line-up of events for the whole month of May—exhibits, performances, tours, revivals of traditions, etc. Because of internal conflicts in the FHFI, the NCCA decided to have its own Subcommission on Cultural Heritage (SCH) to lead the celebration in 2011. The SCH focused more on seminars and workshops. FHFI though still continues to hold their own events, although with smaller funding from the NCCA. This year, FHFI events consisted mostly of exhibits, mostly in malls, whose openings featured performances of groups such as the Bayanihan, the National Folk Dance Company of the Philippines; the Philippine Ballet Theater; the Ramon Obusan Folkloric Group; and the Philippine Youth Symphonic Band. Several events were held at heritage sites, especially those declared National Cultural Treasures to highlight their importance. Santacruzans, held as close to the original intent as possible, were one of the highlights. It kicked off at the Majayjay Church, one of the 37 colonial churches declared as National Cultural Treasures, sitting at the foot of Mount Banahaw.
Augustinians missionaries were the first ones to build a church here in Majayjay in the sitio of May-it in 1571. The church, made of wood and bamboo, was eventually destroyed. A church was again built, this time by the Franciscans, in 1578, which was also destroyed by fire. The present church was built from 1616 to 1649.
The santacruzan was attended by the prime movers of the FHFI, Armita Rufino and Araceli Salas. Salas said they did research on the traditional santacruzan and submitted it to the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines for verification. They sent guidelines to the parish of Majayjay for the santacruzan.
The procession was preceded by a mass at five in the afternoon. After the mass, the sagalas, the girls who participated, were arranged in the proper order in front of the church, wearing sashes to indicate the characters they were depicting. The procession then went around the town proper. Rufino was disappointed at the outcome. The guideline was not thoroughly followed. Many did not wear the proper costumes for their characters. Only four out of the 38 followed the characters, Rufino reported. Many of the parents seemed unwilling to have their girls be outshined, thus they had them in gaudy gowns. For them, the santacruzan is more of a pageant than a devotion, and it will take time for them to change their perception.
“The Santa Cruz de Mayo, or popularly identified as the santacruzan activity itself, as introduced by the Franciscan missionaries, is a retelling of biblical stories and characters climaxing with the ‘finding of the True Cross’ by Empress Helena and her son Constantine I, the first emperor of the Holy Roman Empire,” stated the FHFI. “This novena procession is normally held early May. The Santa Cruz de Mayo participants were encouraged to dress up in biblical costumes and to hold the appropriate symbols of their roles in the hands. With multiple queens or reinas, the pageant has become a fashion show, an unfortunate turn of event discouraged by the Church. For this reason, the Filipino Heritage Festival is encouraging a return to the original practice and purpose of the Flores de Mayo and the Santa Cruz de Mayo for people to realize its inherent religious significance and be aware of its cultural value in our nation’s history.”
La Divina Pastora at the Majayjay santacruzan
Church of St. Gregory the Great of Majayjay, Laguna
Lara Maigue as Reina Elena escorted by Constantino at the Majayjay santacruzan
A more accurate santacruzan was held on May 27, 2012, in Intramuros, the historic district of Manila where the Spanish colonizers built starting in the late 16th century a fortified community and seat of government. The event started with a program at the Fort Santiago, where national hero Jose Rizal was imprisoned before being executed. Dr. Jaime Laya, former chairman of the NCCA and current head of the NCCA’s National Committee on Monuments and Sites, talked about Flores de Mayo and the santacruzan.
The Flores de Mayo, meaning “flowers of May” in Spanish, is a month-long devotion to the Virgin Mary. It is said that this practice started in Bulacan after the proclamation of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception in 1854 and after the publication of Mariano Sevilla’s translation of the devotional Flores de Maria or Mariquit na Bulaclac na sa Pagninilaynilay sa Buong Buan nang Mayo ay Inihahandog nang manga Devoto cay Maria Santisima (The Flowers of Mary or the Beautiful Flowers in the Meditations During the Whole Month of May are Offered by Devotees to Mary, the Holiest) in 1867.
During Flores de Mayo, masses are held and flowers are offered at the altar of the Virgin Mary. This concludes on May 31 with a procession and the Flores de Mayo ball. Laya said the ball is “like a debutante’s ball,” and “the procession is as long as they want,” participated in by young, teenage girls.
According to FHFI, “The Flores de Mayo, which is usually held on the end of May, is the culmination of the daily floral offerings by the little girls to the church during the whole month novena to the Blessed Mother. The participants in this procession represent the embodiment and attribute of the Blessed Mother as recited in the Litany of the Holy Rosary. The Litany runs on to about 50 such symbolisms, and there could be therefore as many sagalas in the procession.”
On the other hand, the santacruzan is occasioned by the May 3 feast of the Holy Cross, according to Laya, introduced by the Franciscans, who also introduced the practice of putting up of belens (crèche) during Christmas. Then, May 3 was commemorated as the date of the finding of the Holy Cross, with September 14 commemorated as the rescue of the cross from the Sassanid Persians. To avoid duplication, Pope John XXIII designated just September 14 as the feast of the Holy Cross in 1960.
The santacruzan, Filipinized word for “Holy Cross activity,” re-enacts and commemorates the finding of the True Cross. The story of the search for the Holy Cross is fascinating, full of legends and having many versions. According to legends that spread widely throughout Western Europe, the cross on which Jesus was crucified was discovered in 326 by Flavia Julia Helena Augusta or Saint Helena, the mother of the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great, during a pilgrimage to Jerusalem.
Several early writers wrote that Helena, (born c.255 and died c.330 AD), after Christianity was granted freedom of practice throughout the Roman Empire in 312 A.D., journeyed to the Holy Land, establishing churches and putting up relief agencies for the poor along the way. Eventually, she discovered where the three crosses used at the crucifixion of Jesus and the two thieves were hidden. The Holy Sepulcher, originally a site of veneration for the Christian community in Jerusalem, was buried, and on top of it, a temple dedicated to the Roman goddess Venus was built.
According to Laya, the santacruzan went on for nine sequential evenings. While the Flores de Mayo procession was participated in by young girls and teenagers, the santacruzan was intended for children. Characters in the santacruzan are from Helena’s pilgrimage as well as from the Old and New Testaments, related to the crucifixion and the search for the cross.
Methuselah is the first character, said to the oldest person who has lived in the Bible. Because he is very, very old, he can barely walk and rides on a kariton being pushed by someone, according to Laya. He also remembered in old santacruzans that Methuselah had a kawali and looked like “nagsasangag,” frying rice. He later found out that Methuselah is churning dust or sand to symbolize morality, the fact that we all turn to dust.
The next character symbolizes “the population before enlightenment” or the coming of Jesus Christ. Dalagang Bukid, literally “farm maiden,” represents the peasants not yet converted to Christianity. The Queen of Sheba, which symbolizes the search for wisdom, is carried in a hammock because she is a queen. Since participants are children, it is possible to do that, said Laya. According to legends, the Queen of Sheba had a portent about the wood used to build a bridge over which she passed on her way to meet King Solomon. The wood is said to come from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil and would be eventually used to build the cross on which Jesus was crucified.
Next are more women characters, who prefigure the coming of the Virgin Mary, said Laya. The star of the procession is Empress Helena, accompanied by a little boy who portrays the Emperor Constantine, who was the first ruler to proclaim Christianity as the state religion. Concluding the procession is the image of the Virgin Mary and an empty cross.
The order of the procession is (1) band; (2) ceriales, three boys, two of them carrying candles on poles and one carrying the cross; (3) Banderadas, two girls, one carrying a white flag and another gold, symbolizing the arrival of Christianity; (4) Methuselah (locally known as Metusalem); (5) Dalagang Bukid; (6) La Divina Pastora, symbolizing the guide of all Christians and holding a shepherd’s staff; (7) Fe (Queen Faith), symbolizing faith, a theological virtue, and holding a cross; (8) Esperanza (Queen Hope), holding an anchor; (9) Caridad (Queen Charity), holding a heart; (10) Reina Madre, holding basket of fruits; (11) Hagar, mother of Ismael who carries a jug; (12) Queen of Sheba, being cooled with an ostrich feather fan or holding a Bible or a thick book; (13) Reina Justicia, blindfolded and holding the scales of justice; (14) Judith, holding in one hand a bloodied sword and in the other the severed head of Holofernes, and symbolizing triumphant womanhood; (15) Reina Sentenciada, chained to two guards or escorted by two Roman soldiers, representing Judith sentenced for killing Holofernes and convicted innocents; (16) Esther, carrying a sceptre; (17) Ruth, carrying rice stalks symbolizing fidelity; (18) Rebecca, carrying a cup or glass of wine symbolizing humility in service; (19) Deborah, carrying a crown and sceptre symbolizing obedience to the Lord; (20) La Samaritana, representing the outcast who reformed after encountering the Christ and carrying a jar or pail of water; (21) Veronica, holding a veil with three imprints of Christ’s face; (22) Maria Salome, carrying an incense burner; (23) Maria Magdalena, carrying a big perfume bottle; (24) the women of Jerusalem, actually the choir; (25) Reina Elena (Empress Helena), carrying a small cross; (26) Constantino, escorting Empress Helena with small sword hanging from his waist; (27) San Macario; (28) representations of the passion and death of Jesus, first of which is a sagala with three dice on a plate; (29) sagala with 30 pieces of silver (supot ni Hudas); (30) sagala with rooster (manok ni San Pedro); (31) sagala with spear; (32) sagala with nails (tatlong pako); (33) sagala with the label “INRI”; (34) sagala with crown of thorns; (35) La Dolorosa, borne on a carroza; (36) a big cross on a caro symbolizing the triumph of the Cross as the instrument of our salvation; (37) the hermana mayor; and (38) another band.The Intramuros santacruzan was participated in older women, most of whom coming from prominent families. Lito Perez, who owns Camp Suki, took charge of the costumes, carefully following the guidelines but retaining an ornate flair. In late afternoon, the procession went from Fort Santiago to the Manila Cathedral and ending in Casa Manila, across San Agustin Church. The Intramuros santacruzan was not perfect but it gave communities a model on how stage this religious procession, keeping in mind its religious and cultural significance.
Designer Joyce Peñas Pilarsky as Divina Pastora at the Intramuros santacruzan
Valerie Bondoc as Reina Elena at Intramuros
Representations of the passion and death of Jesus, carried by sagalas at the Intramuros santacruzan