Holy Week and Easter is one of my favorite times in the Catholic Church’s liturgical calendar. From traditions like washing the feet of 12 parishioners during the Holy Thursday Mass, to walking the Stations of the Cross, to the solemnity of the Good Friday service, there is something about the familiarity of the rituals, old traditions steeped in mystery and beauty that speaks to me. Filipinos get Holy Week off from Good Thursday all the way until Easter Monday. So for this year’s Easter I decided to head to Marinduque for the Moriones Festival. I had heard rumors of Filipino religious traditions of self-flagellation and people being crucified live. The festival there is a celebration of Holy Week activities, everything from Mass at the hilltop Cathedral, passion plays on the main stage, roman soldiers walking the streets, to booths of crafts and food at the expo arena.
Good Friday morning we woke up at 5:45am and walked to the Cemetery, where according to the festival schedule there would be self-flagellation at 6am. I believe this is a Filipino tradition where people beat themselves with sticks and whips as a self penance for their sins. At least that’s what I’ve heard.
No one there. A local passerby tells us they start late; we should come back at maybe 7 or 7:30am. Typical Filipino time. We come back at 7:45am and still wait. Twenty minutes later the group finally shows up. It was a different experience than I thought it would be. Men prick their skin with a knife and then proceed to beat their wound with bamboo sticks. Each stick on the rope represents how many years they have participated in this tradition. They also drink gin in order to thin the blood and make it flow better.
That was pretty hardcore to see. I wanted to take more close-up pictures but after almost getting splattered with blood, I kept my distance. I’m not sure what the men did after they were done. I heard that they were supposed to parade around the streets of town beating themselves but I never saw them after that.
Later that morning we witnessed Roman soldiers taking Jesus and the two thieves on the road to Calvary. When they passed by, the soldiers shouted at everyone and then people in the crowd started screaming. It was a bit eerie looking at the leering faces of the soldier’s masks, and the real blood on Jesus’ skin.
We followed them to the field where Jesus was crucified in front of us, a narration crackling over the loudspeaker in Tagalog. After Jesus’ body was placed in the tomb we took pictures with the Roman soldiers. Such a humorous contrast.
After seeing both the flagellation and crucifixion, I felt like such traditions were very extreme in the religious sense and perhaps they were done mostly for the tourists. I’m not sure. It seemed a bit overly dramatic and intense. Luckily I did see other events that were more inspiring to me. We witnessed a candlelight parade with hundreds of faithful walking the street alongside floats of several religious figures.
My highlight of the Moriones Festival was definitely attending the Easter Vigil Mass in the Cathedral, celebrated by the Bishop. We all started out in the courtyard with a bonfire as the Bishop blessed the new Easter candle, and all the candles in the congregation were lit as everyone processed into the church.
One of my favorite parts of the Easter Vigil is the tradition of keeping the Church dark while the first few scripture passages are read. Then the Gloria is sung, the lights are turned on, candles are lit, bells are rung, and in this case here in Marinduque, firecrackers were lit outside, and a statue of Jesus was revealed – complete with spotlights and real smoke encircling and entwining upwards from the base of the statue.
This was the most beautiful Mass that I’ve attended thus far in the Philippines. The choir sang beautifully and the congregation actually sang along with equally energetic voices. I walked home that night full of good spirits and a big smile.
a girl who dreams