a Brief Description of the Devotion to the Black Nazarene
Reference: Sister Wilfredis B. Jacoc, S. SP. S., “Toward a Theology of the Devotion to the Black Nazarene in Quiapo” (MA thesis, Ralph B. Gehring Library, Loyola School of Theology, Ateneo de Manila University, 1975).
Many periodicals and magazines give vivid and unique accounts of events or happenings associated with the devotion to the Black Nazarene. Newspapers as well as magazines commentators and writers strikingly present a common observation regarding the phenomenon created by the image of the Black Christ of Quiapo, especially during its annual procession on January 1st and 9th and on Monday of Holy Week. A huge crowd of devotees participate in the procession an awe inspiring sight to behold!
The spectacular sight caused by the Black Nazarene of Quiapo during its procession is eye-catching both for tourists and observers. It makes one think that perhaps it is an odd blending of superstition, religiosity and tradition. The procession which is held sacred and a manifestation of piety at its height would make a long time devotee silent rather than make a comment or observation on it. It is a fact that the “Nuestro Padre Jesus Nazareno” procession held every January 9th, the climax of the feastday of the most revered image of Quiapo, draws thousands of faithful devotees, not only from within Manila and suburbs, but also form the outlying provinces. People come from all walks of life, young and old, rich and poor, sick and healthy, learned and unlearned.
The feast of the Nazarene is ushered in by daily novena services which start from the first day of January. In the morning of January 9, the festivity is accented by brass bands numbering from 76 to 100 members. This morning’s musical parade marches through all the streets of Quiapo winding about the market to Quiapo Church itself. Entertainment programs follow. These activities are sponsored by wealthy residents, commercial establishments and well-to-do devotees from Quiapo. This musical tradition according to Quiapo old-timers started about two decades or more ago when the “comite de festijos” decided to have this morning parade to enliven the annual “fiesta.” The feastday celebration is climaxed with a big afternoon procession bearing the centuries-old image of the Black Nazarene throughout the main streets of the populous district. The Black Christ, an image of the Suffering God-Man bent in pain with the heavy cross on his shoulders, is the object of the devotion of the devotees especially among the male penitents. As part of their vows or “panata,” they participate annually in the long and passionate procession. As soon as the Black Nazarene has inched its way through the Church aisle, a free-for-all affair ensures. The strongest among the participant devotees get the privilege, if they can hold on till the end, to stay closest to the Nazarene.
The life-sized image of Christ is carried and pulled through the procession by barefooted, sweating men-devotees. These men purposely barefoot and wearing T-shirts initialed with NPJN (for Nuestro Padre Jesus Nazareno), with towels tied around the head or slung on shoulders, aim to touch the Black Christ. Many climb and walk literally on heads and shoulders just to reach and kiss or touch the image. The long rope that pull the Nazareno’s “carroza” (carriage) is tugged sidewards – towards the right then left – by the devotees. Doing this they believe their vows will be ultimately realized. They believe that they can serve as the Nazarene’s bearer, no matter how short they are. Bruises and inconveniences are sustained for favors and blessings received. Women devotees, on the other hand, wear heavy maroon robes and a wreath for a crown. They bear the heat of the sun as they edge close to the Black Nazarene during the procession. As the procession moves inches its way through the main streets of Quiapo, the Señor Nazareno sways, dips, swerves, lunges. The sensitive shoulders of those who bear Him brace up to check the balance, careful to avoid a leftward tilt, which for them is a bad omen. Wild scenes like pushing or pulling each other occur, quite beyond control as excited men-devotees pull the carriage bearing the statue through a milling mass of humanity. Such occurrences are due to their eagerness to keep close to the image.
Can it be said that this demonstration is a sign of fanaticism or of religiosity? Have we the right to assert an opinion or judgment that their religiosity is but the “earthly kind” as said by magazine commentator? These are questions an onlooker may silently pose… “Their religiosity begins in the Church but ends by the door,” is another commentary by the same commentator. Such remarks supported by some sociological findings evoke ambiguity, ambivalence and even aberrations indicative of religious immaturity. Such statements at times imply an immature form of Christianity. Likewise, such reality places a challenge to a further and deeper question: “How do these devotees look on their reality? What is their theology” Furthermore, what has been done in terms of the thrust towards renewal and reform along the line of devotions by our spiritual leaders, theologians and catechists as well?
To give a greater impact and weight to the above reflections, a “view” of the devotions to the Black Nazarene during the ordinary Friday happenings is worth seeing. Even on regular Fridays there is much to see and to observe in Quiapo Church. Outside the Church, are vendors selling candles. A devotee may choose to buy a candle together with a small wax-image of a human body or a part there of such as the head, the arm or the leg. This devotee desiring to pray for a certain intention like a cure for an illness may buy the same type of candle and leave it burning outside the Church as the goes inside to pray. A person my buy a medallion which, with the appropriate verbal formula, supposedly conveys or possesses specific powers such as protection from bullets or bladed weapons. Anything touched to the image or when a person has helped pull the Nazareno’s “carroza” is regarded as certain immunity against any accident or physical harm.
In one of the corners of the same Church, one notices a group of elderly women, some wearing the habit of the Black Nazarene. They arrange to have prayers said for anybody who asks them to do so. Voluntary offerings is the form of money are given to them by those who ask them to pray for their intentions. One cannot help but observe the great mobility and activity inside the Church around the statues of the most adored image. These are two more statues of the Black Christ in addition to the Nazarene enshrined on the main altar which the devotees adore, touch, and kiss to the extent of rubbing their affected bodily parts against the statues. Many of these devotees walk on their knees from the door of the Church up to the main altar as they pray and pay their homage to the Black Nazarene. There is not a second without active participation in the usual rituals before the image of the Nazarene. At this point it is no surprise if one reflects and asks: “is this a real manifestation of faith-consciousness of the devotees or is this symptomatic or religious immaturity within the context of religious experience? If so, is this religious experience an integrating one involving the whole Christian person? How far does it involve the intellect, the will, and the emotion?”
 Roque, Francisco and Yabao, sonny. “When religion stood Still,” NOW, IV (February 12, 1972), pp. 14-17.