Last Sunday, Marie Laure, Alexis and I went to the old Walled City of Intramuros to witness the 31st Grand Marian Procession, an event annually organized by the fine ladies and gentlemen of the Cofradía de la Inmaculada Concepción. This year’s hermanas mayores (literally translated as “big sisters”) are Cecilia Manalo, Nellie Bengzon and Thelma Gana. The hermanas mayores are the ladies who act as overall supervisors for the grand procession. With about 60 images of our Lady joining the procession, three supervisors would really be of help.
The procession began at 4:00 PM promptly at the pealing of Manila Cathedral’s bells. Gregorian chants were heard from big speakers located around Plaza Roma. At the same time, the Armed Forces of the Philippines provided the fanfare with their brass instruments as well as their drums and whistles. Every image of our Lady was mounted on beautifully ornamented carrozas festooned with flowers, candles and other decorations. Some had simple designs while some were utterly outlandish. There were statues that were privately owned while there were some that were owned by parishes. These images were accompanied by large numbers of townspeople and devotees. while some dragged their feet as they accompanied their Marian images. There were groups with acolytes in beautiful vestments while there were some groups which brought with them their town bands (which I enjoyed listening to).
As the bands and AFP played different tunes as well as some very familiar ones like Dios Te Salve and Immaculate Mother, my mind wondered into my imagination.
The sight of beautifully vested priests, the smell of burning incense, the sound of whistles, horns and drums, the blaring of Latin chants and the occasional sounds of fireworks made me imagine an Intramuros before the War, an Intramuros of 7 grand, beautiful churches, an Intramuros of beautiful Spanish and mestizo citizens, an Intramuros of palaces, mansions and fortifications. It was the Intramuros of poetry, of music, of hooded friars and enclosed nuns. It was King Philip’s “ciudad insigne y siempre leal“.
My imagination wondered and recalled from memory the many, many accounts of grand fiestas which were held within Intramuros’ storied walls, fiestas celebrated for centuries. Images of beautifully dressed men and women in their Filipiniana finery embellished with accessories imported from Madre España such as colorful abanicos and beautiful lace veils. I could imagine the beautiful variety of carrozas used by the different religious congregations for their respective fiestas, from the SOLID GOLD ship-like carroza of Nstra. Sra. Del Santisimo Rosario – La Naval de Manila to the silver-plated carrozas of the Augustinians on the feast of Nstra Sra. de la Concordia (Our Lady of the Cord). Of course, there were the many other religious processions. Each religious order celebrated their founder’s feasts with pomp and festivity. These celebrated founders/patrons were San Agustin for the Augustinians, San Francisco for the Franciscans, San Ignacio de Loyola for the Jesuits, Santo Domingo for the Dominicans, Santa Clara for the Poor Clares and San Nicolas Tolentino for the Recollects.
Likewise, in Intramuros of yore, there were special feasts for Our Lady and for Jesus. The Jesuits spearheaded the festivities for the Solemn Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus held every first Friday after the Solemn Feast of Corpus Christi. Then there was the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes organized by the Capuchin Friars who were the last to have occupied Intramuros before the Spaniards were replaced by the Americans. Of course, every October, the greatest and most anticipated feast, La Naval de Manila, was headed by the Dominicans.
Last Sunday, as Intramuros became witness again to the presence of beautiful carrozas, dripping lit wax candles, burning incense, Filipinos in Filipiniana and brass bands, it felt as if the sometimes dead historic capital became resurrected. Its streets were filled with residents and tourists, its iron lamps all lit, and the entire area of the cuidad murada was enveloped in Gregorian chants and the sound of bells tolling.
For a couple of hours, thanks to the Cofradía Inmaculada Concepción, a group founded by the pious Grand Dame of Philippine High Society, Doña Imelda “Meldy” Ongsiako Cojuangco, Intramuros, forever changed by the evils of war, relived its past…and relished every detail of it! This is a kind of event that must be advertised heavily by the Department of Tourism, an event that took place in a very historic part of the metropolis, and an event that would pass by different very historic sites. In France, for example, during the Tour de France, the organizers and the government would really advertise the historic sites the race route would pass-by to attract tourists and also to educate locals. We need to capitalize and patronize these kinds of efforts, noble works that truly lift the spirits up. It is not only a cultural event that reflects our history and heritage as a people but also a very spiritual activity, something being lost in our despicable “mall culture”.
This noble event was surely hecho ayer.
PS this blogger needs a good camera! hahahaha!