Grand Revival in Pampanga

It is amazing that in this era of rapid secularization and religious desensitization, religious traditions are experiencing an unexpected revival.  In particular, Roman Catholic traditions are experiencing a renaissance, indeed a grand revival, in Pampanga.  Thanks — of all people — to the youth.

Parish churches mount their “monumentos” — temporary altars to the Blessed Sacrament — for the traditional “Visita Iglesia” after the all-important Maundy Thursday afternoon holy mass:  the commemoration of Jesus Christ’s institution of the eucharist.  For the longest time and up to the present, Betis town always has the most remarkable, the most spectacular, sometimes very modern “monumento,” with a large budget allotment, that makes it a destination for pilgrims from other Pampanga towns, Bulacan, Tarlac, Bataan, and even Zambales.  In the late 1990s, a very traditional, very elegant, and most magnificent “monumento” entirely in antique silver was assembled in the lahar-ravaged Bacolor church by Thomas Joven and Jerome de Jesus from their private collections.  Joven and de Jesus are two Bacolorenos famous in elite circles for their expertise in the ecclesiastical arts.  Since then, the traditional Bacolor “monumento” [ not assembled every year ] — which rivals the annual Vigan cathedral “monumento” entirely of magnificent 18th century silver — has set the standard for all other Pampanga churches during Maundy Thursday, and so there has been a quiet but massive return to the sense of religious splendor during the Spanish colonial era.

There was a time in my childhood [ the 1970s ] when the traditional Good Friday processions in Pampanga, including ours in Apalit, were in sorry states.  Heirloom images were neglected [ thankfully not ours ], dressed shabbily, antique “carrozas” unkempt and unpolished, their lighting erratic or plainly nonexistent, the attendees lackadaisical and bored, and a general distaste for religious matters prevailing in the air.  Secularization was very in, and disco was preferred over the divine.

But it’s a different matter altogether now.  There is a renewed interest, surprisingly spearheaded by the youth, in all matters religious, including processions and other rites.  In all the old Pampanga parishes and even the new, Lenten processions have taken on a new luster, which 30 – 40 thirty to forty years ago would have looked “outta synch” and downright ridiculous.

Driving around Pampanga towns on Holy Monday and Holy Tuesday, one will see antique, ornate “carrozas,” mostly silverplated from the 1900s to the 1920s, being assembled, polished, and decorated with flowers in residential driveways.  Inside those houses, the antique images are being carefully dressed by the ladies of the family in well-preserved, traditional embroidered vestments, some of them original from the 1800s.  Some affluent families even pin a genuine gold and diamond brooch or two, or earrings and rings, to the female “santos” as signs of their devotion.  Some “pasos” will be processed during Holy Wednesday evening, the others on Good Friday, still others on Easter Sunday.

The traditional Pampanga Good Friday procession unfolds most beautifully and elegantly in lahar-inundated Bacolor town, once, and in a sense still, the seat of all that is patrician, noble, and grand in Pampanga.  Guagua, the traditional Chinese mestizo economic powerhouse, comes in a close second, despite the unsightly commercial district where the procession passes.  Santa Rita also has beautiful Good Friday rites;  the Holy Wednesday procession is remarkable for the number of antique “pasos.”  One is surprised by the fishing town of Sasmuan:  it has an astonishing number of antique, silverplated “pasos”;  its 1800s “calandra” of the “Santo Entierro” is truly remarkable for the magnificently-worked silver “arana de luces” chandeliers and the sheer number of antique “virinas” glass shades.  On the opposite end of the province, Arayat town has a most atmospheric Good Friday procession:  5 five of the beautiful antique “pasos” are still candlelit, returning one to the times of Maria Clara and Ibarra, of Capitan Tiago, Tia Isabel, and Padre Damaso…

I’m so glad that the time has come.  I am so fortunate to see a renewed appreciation and reestablishment of the meaningful, and beautiful, religious traditions of our forefathers in my lifetime.



  1. Enrique Bustos said,

    May 30, 2010 at 7:28 am

    Speaking of San Pablo, here is an article about “Villa Escudero” by Jaime C. Laya:

    The Feast of the Ascension at Villa Escudero

    One of the lasting memories of the summer now ending is May 16 at Villa Escudero (just past San Pablo City), the Feast of the Ascension. The traditional celebration of the Escudero family must have been like how it has always been, only better.

    The morning began with a parade of gigantes (12+foot high figures with papier mâché heads) to the Chapel, along a shady lane festive with bamboo arches and coconut palms, cut and shaped Balinese style into chains and balls.

    Misa Cantada was celebrated with priests and sacristans all in heavily embroidered blue and white vestments. Incense filled the air as Latin Mass was sung with the UST Symphony Orchestra and Choir. Fireworks signaled the end of Holy Mass.

    The image of the Risen Christ (Jesus Resuscitado) was brought to a riverside landing, reverently placed on a barge that then headed upstream in a fluvial procession.

    Mass-goers proceeded to the Pag-Ibig Pavilion, a breezy hall designed for wedding receptions. Soon enough, the barge landed and the image of Christ arrived, accompanied by sacristans bearing heavy silver ceriales. Two young ladies danced a quaint welcome ritual.

    After-lunch entertainment was provided by the famous Dulce and Banda Anak Zapote of Bacoor, Cavite. The afternoon ended with the return of the image of the Risen Christ to the Escudero ancestral house.

    Once a very private 2,000-hectare coconut plantation (guarded by machine gun emplacements when I first visited 40 years ago), the Villa now entertains tourists.

    A visit usually begins with a slow ride on a large carabao-pulled cart. The rest of the day is for swimming at spring-fed pools, boating on a picturesque lake, lunch at the foot of a waterfall with feet in cold rushing water, folk songs and dances by the Villa’s young people, and more.

    At least three generations of Escuderos have been great collectors. Their treasures are in a museum building that provides a full liberal education. The building itself is a museum piece, its pink façade reproducing Intramuros’ vanished San Francisco church (destroyed by World War II). The interior is also laid out like a church, with a nave and a choir loft and balconies on both sides. There is an altar at the far end, composed of parts from Quiapo church and elsewhere and adorned with silver objects, frontal and candlesticks included.

    Decorated and lit carrrozas line the “nave,” as if ready to emerge in procession. Spectacular is the Santo Entierro that once highlighted Manila’s Santa Cruz district Good Friday processions.

    Exhibits of Philippine cultural communities, flora and fauna (from a stuffed tamaraw to trays of colorful butterflies), and religious vestments are behind the magnificent relieves and santos by the carrozas.

    Upstairs are fascinating cases of pre-Hispanic ceramics, pottery, and gold objects excavated from the Escudero property; costumes of First Ladies; period rooms; an array of Spanish regime salakot; and miscellany including archival documents, Greek amphorae, and South American mummified heads.

    Through the Escuderos’ vision and hard work, a working plantation has been transformed into a memorable destination

  2. Louie Sison said,

    April 18, 2010 at 3:30 pm

    More power to your site! This is a great post featuring pampanga.

  3. Myles Garcia said,

    April 16, 2010 at 5:36 am

    My most vivid memories of these Santacruzan “carrozas” were those in my mother’s hometown of Marikina…

    What I remember most and was burned deep in my subconscious was the ‘marcelled’ hair of (I forget now) which santo or imagen. Anyway, when I look back on it to this day, I had never seen such auburn-colored hair in that state like that on anyone… so I thought them otherwordly, even diabolical. So, yeah, I equate all those Santacruzan craven images with Chuckie, the evil doll of the movies!! 🙂

    And then when drag queens entered the picture, I forever foreswore this tradition. Let’s not even get into those freaks who have themselves nailed to the cross…

  4. Dr. Taddy Buyson Gonzales said,

    April 12, 2010 at 2:44 pm

    the men who attended the Good Friday procession IN BACOLOR were all in formal barong.
    they formed 8 abreast behind the Santo Entierro.
    the distinguished gentlemen led them.

    the veiled ladies dressed in mourning black were infront of the Mater Dolorosa.

    the Centro Catolico current committee walked behind the Mater Dolorosa.

    majority of those who joined the procession were from Manila and by tradition they would go to Bacolor for that alone.

    Pre lahar, on Holy Wednesday, behind our family’s carroza, the San Pedro Apostol which led the procession, the children of our first cousins aged 4-10 years old walked with their respective yayas, the girls were in their kid’s party dresses while the boys were in barong.

    it was memorable, the next generation after us were already participating in the family’s tradition.

    those who joined the procession were appropriately dressed then.
    no one dared walk in shorts, slippers or casual clothes, like what happens now.

    my fear is that the parish priest might alter the sequence of the line up of the carrozas.

    our San Pedro Apostol as in all other holy week processions elsewhere led the sequence of the line up of the carrozas.
    while the San Juan Apostol was the last before the Mater Dolorosa.
    The carrozas of the passion of Christ were between the two significant apostles.

    it is our wish that the traditional sequence of the carrozas be followed faithfully by the parish priest and solemnity be observed strictly.
    ( no one wants a spectacular display of a “modern” procession in Bacolor! )

  5. April 12, 2010 at 12:55 pm


    Reminiscences of the Good Friday processions in prelahar Bacolor bring back memories of international jeweller Fe S. Panlilio discreetly bejewelled with 18 mm Gulf pearls, wearing black Valentino Garavani; Atty. Estelito Mendoza; Ambassador Charlie Valdes and his brothers in formal “barong tagalog”; Justice Ricardo Puno; the chic Buyson-Angeles sisters and their families; the de Leon brothers Johnny, Benny, Badodeng; the de Leon cousins: Mary Madrigal de Leon et. al., and other proud town sons and daughters marching behind the “carrozas” during the procession.

    High Pampango elegance!!!


    Toto Gonzalez

  6. April 12, 2010 at 12:42 pm


    🙂 I did specify Pampanga: “The traditional Pampanga Good Friday procession unfolds most beautifully and elegantly in lahar-inundated Bacolor town…”

    Of course, revivals of religious traditions are occurring everywhere in the Philippines, but I can only speak authoritatively about those happening in my home turf of Pampanga.

    Yes, of course, The San Pablo, Laguna Good Friday Procession is really beautiful, thanks to the generosity of Tito Ado Escudero in particular and the noblesse oblige of the Escudero-Adap family in general.

    If there are only two Holy Week processions in the Philippines a foreigner / tourist must see, he must see the Good Friday processions of San Pablo, Laguna and Baliuag, Bulacan.


    Toto Gonzalez 🙂

  7. Sheryl Manago said,

    April 12, 2010 at 6:07 am

    I hope the Bacolorenos will bring back the old Good friday procession. Just reading Doc Taddy’s description of the old procession gives me goosebumps. It gives us a glimpse of Bacolor’s glorious past.

  8. April 11, 2010 at 8:26 pm

    I AM BIASED. The Good Friday Procession in San Pablo City by Ado Escudero and his wonderful family is the BEST.

  9. Dr. Taddy Buyson Gonzales said,

    April 11, 2010 at 12:59 pm

    the families of Bacolor are unanimous in bringing back the traditional holy week rites seen only in their beloved town.

    the problem is the parish priests assigned to the beleaguered town, past and present, have their own version of how the rites should be observed.

    it is the common sentiment of the townspeople that the old traditions be respected.

    but unfortunately the parish priest imposes his way regardless of the sentiments of the people.

    what the townspeople would like is to bring back the beautiful traditional rites during the holy week even if these may seem ” wala na sa panahon”.

    the Good Friday procession is one.

    the traditional procession was always regarded as the most elegant in the province because of it’s dignified rendering of the funeral procession.

    the Santo Entierro was preceded by the “paso”

    several dozens of penitents in hooded black soutanas with white laced boleros walked solemnly in single file, some with a child holding the train or cord of the main penitent, carrying the symbols of the passion of Christ.

    they were guided on both sides by the faithful with lighted candles.

    Behind the beautifully decorated Santo Entierro were the elders of the town in barong tagalog ( pre war, it was only the distinguished gentlemen of the town in tuxedo who had the honor of walking behing the carroza ).

    after them was the Palma clan who were dressed formally in black sayas and barong tagalog with black dress pants playing the violins and singing the stabat.

    then the carrozas of the bereaved Marias, Salome, Magdalena, Veronica followed.

    behind them was the carroza of San Juan Apostol and lastly was the grand carroza of the Mater Dolorosa followed by the veiled distinguished ladies of the town in formal black attire.

    the banda was at the tailend.

    NOW, there are carrozas depicting the passion of Christ like the Pieta, the Crucifixion with Mary and John at the foot of the cross etc. which normally are only seen during the Holy Wednesday procession.
    people in beachwear following the carrozas, barkadas giggling, talking like they were walking in the park etc..

    It’s no longer like the solemn funeral procession, pre lahar, which was like a grand state funeral.

    all because the parish priest allows new carrozas to be included, call of the times…

    what’s next?

  10. Josh Moya said,

    April 9, 2010 at 1:28 pm

    I wonder when it will happen again in Santa Ana, Manila: the jewels of the “Nuestra Senora de los Desamparados” were kept well when my grandfather was still alive. Now, the collection is not even comparable to the shadow of “Nuestra Senora de La Naval.” I’m really hoping it will be back the way it was before. 🙂

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