Black Nazarene: The Tale of Traslacion
The year was 1606. A group of Augustinian Recollect missionaries journeyed from Mexico to one of Spain’s newly colonized lands, Manila. Not all accounts name the 10 priests and three brothers who were part of the mission, but some say that the expedition was led by Fr. Benito de San Pablo, a friar from Jarandilla, Extremadura, Spain.
Fr. Benito was an author of sermons and devotionaries who later became the biographer of the Beaterio de San Sebastián de Calumpang founders (now the Congregation of the Augustinian Recollect Sisters) Mother Dionisia Talangpaz and Cecilia Rosa Talangpaz. Later, he also wrote the Tratado de algunas cosas notables pertenecientes a los conventos de ministerios y administración espiritual de la Santa Provincia de San Nicolás de Tolentino de Agustinos Recoletos Descalzos de Filipinas (translated, it is the Treaty of Some Remarkable Things Belonging to the Convents of Ministries and Spiritual Administration of the Holy Province of San Nicolás de Tolentino of Agustinos Recoletos Descalzos de Filipinas). This book is considered to be one of the first accounts of Philippine culture and history in the 17th century.
The missionaries landed ashore on May 31, bringing with them religious images from Mexico. These images, made from strong wood similar to the make of Our Lady of Antipolo, depicted the Passion of Christ in several stages: Agony in the Garden (La Oracion del Señor), Christ Arrested (Señor Cautivo), Christ Scourged at the Pillar (Señor Azotado), Christ Fainted in Exhaustion (Señor Desmayado), Christ Crowned with Thorns (Señor de Paciencia), Christ Sentenced to Death (Ecce Homo), and Christ Carrying the Cross (Señor Nazareno).
The reason for the Nazareno's dark hue can be explained with two theories: First, that the image caught fire on its way to Manila, darkening its ivory build; second that the image was originally carved from very dark timber. The latter is more likely true. In an interview with GMA News, Msgr. Sabino A. Vengco Jr. of the Loyola School of Theology said that the wood used for the Nazareno was called mesquite, a kind of tree prevalent in northern Mexico and Southwestern United States. Msrg. Vengco, who had been to Mexico to study this himself, further explained that mesquite’s wooden core is black, similar to the Philippine kamagong.
Among the images brought, La Oracion del Señorm, Señor Azotado, Señor de Paciencia, and the Nazareno were kept by the Recoletos. They were brought out every Palm Sunday when the Passion of Christ was read until the war destroyed them.
Prior to the Nazareno's arrival in the Philippines, friars were reportedly afraid that the growing number of devotees wanting to pay reverence would eventually damage the image. They ordered a replica to be made in Mexico, which was sent to Manila. According to hearsay, this was nicknamed "Nazareno ng Mahirap."
Another Nazareno that was enshrined in Intramuros was dubbed "Nazareno ng Mayaman" because only the more affluent devotees had access to it. Some sources say it, along with the other images from by the friars, were first placed at the St. John the Baptist Church before being transferred to a bigger church two years later; others, however, state that they were handed over to the San Nicolas de Tolentino Church in Intramuros.
Both Nazarenos, however, were kept in Intramuros until January 9, 1787 when Archbishop Basilio Sancho de Santa Justa y Rufina ordered the Nazareno ng Mahirap to be transferred to the church of Quiapo (The Nazareno ng Mayaman would be destroyed in the Battle of Manila). The secular-administered church then made it an annual habit to bring out the replica and parade it on the streets to commerate its transfer. This became the Traslacion.
The Traslacion used to be a solemn, quiet procession but its devotees have always been passionate. In 1620, a group of men who were strongly devoted to the Nazarene established the Cofradia de Jesus Nazareno, the first confraternity dedicated to Jesus in the Philippines.
In 1651, then Pope Innocent X officially endorsed the group in a Papa Bull in 1651. His predecessors continued to recognize this group, which included Pope Pius VII, who granted indulgences to those who would pray before the image of the Jesus of Nazarene.
What could have attracted the Filipinos to the Nazareno? Sociologists have tried to dissect the devotion of these religious followers. Some say that the Nazareno, an image of suffering, is relatable to the masses. Others believe in its miraculous powers, having survived fires, earthquakes, and even wars. There are numerous testaments from its devotees, who allege that they've been cured of illnesses, passed difficult examinations, or even received job offers by simply praying to the Nazareno.
The number of devotees have grown throughout the years that the Archdiocese of Manila feared that the surviving replica, also referred to as “the lost image” would suffer more damage. In a move similar to the one made by the friars centuries ago, Pinoy santero Gener Maglaqui was tasked to create a copy in the 1990s. The copy's head was placed on the original body, which is the version used in the procession. The Nazareno's head, meanwhile, is on the copy's body and displayed above the church's main altar.
The composite being paraded every January didn’t seem to bother its followers too much, as millions of Filipino from all over the country continue to attend Traslacion. These devotees endure over 20 hours on the road at the risk of injury or death. And every year, just like it did centuries before, they make sure that the Nazareno is delivered to its rightful place, Quiapo, the beating heart of Manila’s masses.
Tony Twigg (2015), THE BLACK NAZARENE, A PHILIPPINE NATIONAL ETHOS, TAASA Review, Volume 24, Number 2 (June 2015), pages 16-18