Quiapo is that one place we love and hate to be in at the same time.
The same things fascinate and frustrate, coming together with such impact everywhere else seems devoid of character.
The same dark, dank alleyways reeking of pee are home to food carts selling fried chicken and samalamig. Vendors of porn DVDs and abortion pills compete for a fraction of everyone’s money right in front an imposing Catholic structure with an image of Jesus Christ believed to be miraculous.
Call it anything—a maze, a mess, a mishmash of everything delightful and despicable. But there is one day—perhaps the only time each year—when this corner of Manila becomes just one thing: a finish line.
But it isn’t a finish line everybody scrambles to get to first, but rather a point they all have to reach, no matter what, no matter how long it takes.
This year, it took 18 hours to reach this finish line. That’s eighteen hours of bare feet, sweat, and wrestling with a crowd that was religious and rowdy. Yes, again, at the same time.
BLACK NAZARENE 2013
QUIAPO, MANILA, PHILIPPINES
It was an early start for everyone who wanted to join the annual procession. January 9 fell on a Wednesday. The whole of Manila was on holiday.
We somehow knew what to expect so we simply planned on shooting along the route from its start at the Quirino Grandstand until we got our fill of photos. It wasn’t an option to follow the procession all the way to the church because we were to squeeze in some errands too that day and we were due in Baguio the following day.
We got off our bus an hour earlier than our estimate, which meant we were still groggy with barely any sleep at 4 AM, waiting to be hit by a non-speeding, lone vehicle along Quezon Avenue.
It turns out our friends at the MMDA closed the roads along the route the day before, leaving us at the faraway land of Recto, way past walking distance from the end of the procession route. This meant only one thing: we were to walk the entire route, albeit the opposite way, from the church to the grandstand. And so we did the walking we never intended to do, at least not in the middle of a still-sleeping Quiapo.
We arrived at the Quirino Grandstand, where a mass was to be held, just in time for the blue hour.
It is customary for devotees to throw hankies or towels to the Nazarene. These are then wiped on the image and returned to their owners, like those on the photos above.
Some trivia about the Feast of the Black Nazarene:
- The Black Nazarene is a life-sized image of Jesus Christ that was carried to the Philippines on a galleon. This galleon caught fire even before it could reach the country, leaving the statue black from burns but without any other damage. Because of this, the image was believed to be have miraculous powers.
- January 9 marks the image’s transfer to the Quiapo Church. Today’s route, from the grandstand to the church, is roughly three kilometers.
- According to this article, there is at least one other replica of the image. The one taken to the streets for the traslaction includes the original head and hands. The body, however, is a replica.
- In Filipino, the Black Nazarene is referred to as Poong Nazareno.
- This year, according to reports, the crowd reached nine million with several injuries because—
- Devotees usually go on a frenzy to touch the image. This includes wrestling against a very thick crowd towards the carriage, stepping on people’s heads to get to it, and then being carried overhead (or else jumping out of it) afterward.
- The longest procession so far was last year’s, January 9 2012, which took 22 hours.
- Going barefoot is a sign of sacrifice for the devotees who attend the procession.
Most of the devotees who went barefoot, we noticed, were men. Everyone else would come in a customized Nazarene shirt, and usually in groups.
The procession route was filled with people, and expectedly, trash too.
The image of the Black Nazarene was barely visible from the sea of people on the carriage spilling on to the streets.
Others opted out of the long procession but carried their smaller Nazarene images all the same.
Those who cannot come near enough clung to posts or climbed trees instead, waving their towels as the carriage passed by.
Groups also came with their own Nazarene images and followed the procession route.
Still, there were those who preferred not to join the crowds and simply followed the image as far as they can on the other side of the street. We spotted this pair (right photo)—presumably a grandfather and his grandson—with their own version of the Nazarene perched on their bike.
We’re glad we were finally able to attend together after two previous attempts. This was also our first trip this year, and we couldn’t have made a better start. To anyone who’s wondering if it’s at all safe to attend, let alone shoot, of course it is. Just keep your wits with you, bring a friend, and just forget the first aid kit.