Every 9th of January for more than 200 years now, the wooden image of a suffering Christ is brought out of the Quiapo Church for a 10-hour procession that ignites a frenzy of almost maniacal devotion. The desire to touch the image or have a piece of cloth wiped on it or just have a brief tug at its caroza is so great that devotees got injured and killed.
This devotion to what became known as the Black Nazarene is said to be unique among Filipinos. But the image is actually an import from Mexico, the work of an unknown Aztec sculptor, and brought to the Philippines by Augustinian Recollect missionaries in 1606. During the sea voyage, a fire that hit the galleon almost burned and blackened the image. The Recollects then successfully promoted devotion to the image with the help of papal sanctions from Innocent X in 1650 then later from Pius VII in the 1800s. On January 9 of 1787, the Black Nazarene was moved from the Recollect church in Intramuros to the Quiapo Church. This day which is known as the translacion is what is being commemorated now. The image has survived several destructions of the Quiapo Church but the frenzy generated by its annual procession has inflicted damages. Because of this, a replica was used for the processions starting in 1998.
Hundreds of kilometers away in the south is another venerated Black Nazarene enshrined in the church of Capalonga, a sleepy almost forgotten town tucked in a strip of the Philippine Sea coast in the province of Camarines Norte. This one was made in the Philippines, said to be sculpted from driftwood on top of a rocky mountain called Punta de Jesus during which it shed real blood. Capalonga’s Black Nazarene is one of 6 pilgrimage churches dedicated to Jesus Christ from the first 14 shrines mentioned by Regalado Trota Jose in his red book “Simbahan: Church Art in Colonial Philippines, 1565-1898”. Its feast day is celebrated every May 12-13 when multitude of devotees and pilgrims line up throughout the night to kiss the image’s feet. It is especially venerated by Chinese businessmen.
Capalonga is an old town having been colonized by Juan de Salcedo in 1572. Its first stone church was built at around 1634 by the Franciscans and probably replaced by another structure. In 1810, the church was destroyed by fire and might not have been rebuilt. The present church which serves as the Shrine of the Black Nazarene is of contemporary period.
But the first Camarines Norte church that I have visited is that of Vinzons town. It is acknowledged to be the oldest colonial era church in the province that was started to be built at around 1611 or 1624 when the town was still known as Indan. The town was later renamed Vinzons in honor of its most famous son --- Wenceslao Q. Vinzons who was the youngest delegate to the 1934 Constitutional Convention at 23 years old, Camarines Norte governor in 1940 and its representative to the Philippine Congress and 1941, and a guerilla leader who was captured and killed by the Japanese during World War II. The student center of the University of the Philippines in Diliman was also named after him. Vinzons is also known for its many citizens who entered the service of the Roman Catholic Church as nuns and priests. One of them is an old friend, the late Bishop Sofio Balce from the Diocese of Cabanatuan, who gave his support and lent his name to our advocacies in my province of Nueva Ecija.
A short distance away is the capital town of Daet who’s old St. John the Baptist Church was built in the 16th century by Don Manuel dela Estrada, the so called Marquis de Camarines who is credited with developing Daet into a modern town. The church has been probably rebuilt/repaired several times but remnants of the old structure are still visible. Just across the street is an obelisk that was erected from December 1898 to February 1899 and is now recognized as the Philippines' first and oldest monument to Dr. Jose P. Rizal.
PHOTOS (top to bottom): (1) Capalonga’s Black Nazarene enshrined in the (2) contemporary Capalonga church. (3) The pilgrims of Capalonga (from left: me, Ka Tolits, and Roma) and (4) Vinzons church. (5) The old St. John the Baptist church, (6) the first monument to Dr. Jose Rizal, (7) and the contemporary Holy Trinity Cathedral in Daet.