10 Holy Week Traditions All Over the Philippines

From a one-of-a-kind senakulo to a healing festival.

(SPOT.ph) Holy Week is a solemn time for religious traditions for most Catholics, but there is always that urge to explore new places and unwind during the long holidays. Fortunately, the Philippines has a number of interesting rituals that allow the intrepid traveler to shoot two birds with one stone: Commemorate the passion of Christ and satisfy one’s wanderlust.

Here are religious events all over the country that are worth seeing:

Moriones Festival (Marinduque)

PHOTO BY Marinduque Tourism Office

Every Good Friday, local devotees who observe the passion and death of Christ dress in full regalia as Roman soldiers. The moryon, as they are called, also consider playing the main character of Longinus—the half-blind centurion who pierced the side of the crucified Christ and was converted to Christianity after experiencing a miracle—as an honor. The colorful masks and costumes have variations in the towns of Mogpog, Sta. Cruz, Gasan, and Boac—where it is said to be grandest.

Centurion Festival (Oriental Mindoro)

PHOTO BY Quezon Tourism Office
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The tradition of the moryon also has a version in Pinamalayan, Oriental Mindoro and General Luna, Quezon because of the migration of Marinduqueños. The Centurion Festival or Bahaghari Festival features colorful floats and a lot of street dancing. Legend has it that when the early settlers of Pinamalayan encountered turbulent weather on their voyage, they prayed to God and a rainbow immediately appeared on the horizon. They shouted "ipinamalay," which means "it was made known."

Good Friday procession in heritage towns

PHOTO BY Bernard Supetran

While the Good Friday procession is common everywhere, there are certain areas where it seems to be more interesting. Malolos and Baliuag in Bulacan, Taal in Batangas, San Pablo City in Laguna, and the heritage cities of Vigan, Ilocos Sur and Carcar, Cebu are some of the best places to see century-old carrozas. These places are also home to Spanish-era churches, ancestral mansions, and monuments which have withstood the ravages of time.

Visita Iglesia (Intramuros)

PHOTO BY Christa I. De La Cruz

If you’re staying in the Metro, you can head to the Walled City of Manila for a one-of-a-kind Visita Iglesia. You have a total of nine churches and chapels within Intramuros: Immaculate Conception Cathedral, San Agustin Church, Fr. Willman Chapel at the Knights of Columbus, the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila Chapel, Mapua University Chapel, Lyceum of the Philippines University Chapel, Colegio de San Juan de Letran Chapel, BIR’s St. Matthew’s Chapel, and Fort Santiago’s Guadalupe Shrine. Stations of the Cross installations will also be displayed along the stretch of Gen. Luna Street.

Panaad (Camiguin)

PHOTO BY Bernard Supetran

Panaad is a penance ritual where thousands of devotees walk along the 64-kilometer circumferential road in Camiguin. This starts at sundown on Maundy Thursday and lasts for 24 hours. The journey ends at the summit of the Old Volcano, where you can find life-sized images of the 14 Stations of the Cross.

Pagtaltal (Guimaras)

PHOTO BY Bernard Supetran

During Holy Week, devotees troop to the hillside of Jordan in Guimaras to witness a Lenten presentation inspired by the famous Oberrammergau Passion Play in West Germany. It starts on Good Friday at the town plaza and ends at Balaan Bukid (“holy mountain”) for the crucifixion scene. You can also follow the Stations of the Cross, which culminates at the summit, where one can find the Ave Maria Purisima Chapel and a big white cross.

Pamalandong (Leyte)

PHOTO BY Bernard Supetran

Literally meaning “reflection,” Pamalandong is one of the lesser-known Holy Week rituals in the Philippines. Barefoot devotees clad in pointed hoods and robes, called the Tais-Dupol, ask for alms around the town of Palo, Leyte. There is also the Good Friday senakulo where the hooded penitents take part as marshals and characters of the street play. Devotees also climb the 522-foot high Guinhangdan Hill where there is a huge cross at the summit.

Pilgrimage to Kawa-Kawa Hill (Albay)

PHOTO BY Bernard Supetran

Kawa-Kawa Hill, which is named after its resemblance to a kawali or cauldron, in Ligao City, Albay is flocked by devotees during the Holy Week for the life-sized Stations of the Cross along its 1,000-step staircase leading to the Divine Mercy Shrine and Monastery of the Carmelite Nuns at the summit. Entrance to the natural park is free.

Seven Last Words at Casa San Miguel (Zambales)

PHOTO BY Bernard Supetran

Every Good Friday, young violinists perform Joseph Haydn’s famous "Seven Last Words of Christ on the Cross" at Casa San Miguel in San Antonio, Zambales. Guests can hang around for gourmet food at the Backstage Café, visit the gallery and museum, or spend a quiet and soulful night at the boutique hotel’s cozy bedrooms. The concert is part of the Pundaquit Festival which showcases the students and alumni of its music and arts program, the only one of its kind in the country which develops classical music among children in the grassroots.

Healing Festival (Siquijor)

PHOTO BY Belle Piccio 
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Siquijor is almost always associated with tales of the mambabarang or mangkukulam (witch doctors), but this negative image was mostly propagated by colonizers who wanted to convert locals into Christianity. In an effort to celebrate their precolonial roots and the tradition of folk healing, the people of Siquijor hold the Healing Festival at the Bandilaan Mountain View Park in Cantabon. Local healers, most of whom are Catholics, believe that Good Friday brings divine powers which can be used to heal the sick. The elaborate ritual starts with the pangalap or gathering of different herb species during the seven Fridays of Lent, the Maundy Thursday mountain trek, and the pag-adlep, where the herbs are chopped for the preparation of herbal medicines.

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