Vigan’s Semana Santa: Between now and 130 years ago
All photos by Frank Cimatu/Rappler
ILOCOS SUR, Philippines – Vigan has a museum at the edge of the city which only a few people are familiar with.
The Vigan Conservation Complex in Barangay San Julian Sur was inaugurated in 2015 but remains closed to the public – which is a pity because the exhibits in there would perfectly frame the faith-based tourism Vigan wants to promote. For now, it only opens on request.
The city, however, continues this year the Holy Week traditions it has been observing in the last 130 years.
The first part of the museum extols the religiosity of the Ilocanos. Welcoming viewers is a replica of one of the bells at the St Paul’s Cathedral housed in the octagonal belfry across the street. The cathedral was built in 1800, although it was erected on the wood-and-thatch church built by Juan de Salcedo in 1574.
Further onto the museum is a life-sized Christ on a crucifix, displayed propped up and facing down on the viewer. At the foot of the cross are scattered votos or small silver metal cut-outs usually in the shape of body parts pasted by Ilocano devotees on religious images to give thanks for a miraculous intervention. These votos can be found in the Simbaan a Bassit in Vigan and in the churches of Bantay and Sta Lucia. Also found is a huge Virgin Mary and a retablo of saints.
Next to these is a booth where museumgoers can sing along with the Ilocano’s pasyon.
According to Isabelo delos Reyes’ 1889 book, El Folk-Lore Filipino, the singing of the Pasyon began right after Ash Wednesday.
The Pasyon is hardly read nowadays. More popular now is the Lectio and the Sudario. The Lectio is a local adaptation or inculturation of the Tinieblas or Tenebrae, the night prayer services during Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Black Saturday. The Sudario, referring to Santa Veronica’s handkerchief, is the inculturation of the dung-aw, the pre-colonial Ilocano dirge.
“On Holy Thursday, after the ceremonies of the day the church bells stop ringing until Thursday,” Delos Reyes wrote. “Instead of bells, wooden rattles are used. There is a procession on Holy Thursday. However, at three o-clock on Good Friday the bells toll for the dead. At eight, there is a procession.”
Right after Palm Sunday, Biguenos already set up mini-shrines for the procession or palibot, a practice still being done today.
“In several stations, there are vines with all kinds of fruits hanging on the altar, where the lamentation of Jeremiah is heard. This is a common practice in Vigan,” Delos Reyes said in the 1880s.
On Good Friday is the reading of the Seven Last Words. At night is the procession of the faithful almost all wearing black. This time, the procession is often disturbed by tourists taking selfies and the fastfood franchises remain open despite the no-meat policy.
“On Friday nights during Lent, games of toktok are played in the markets. It consists of crushing the eggs and the one whose egg breaks, loses,” said Delos Reyes.
Nowadays, only the town of Magsingal plays toktok during their town fiesta on the first week of the month of April. According to the El Folk-Lore, on Holy Saturday, when the bell was rung, “the Ilocanos shake the trees and plants so they will grow in abundance.”
“On Easter Sunday, the pasabet or meeting takes place in the plaza under a triumphal arch, from which an angel descends and lifts the black veil of the Virgin. After Mass, the effigy of Judas is burned and there are fireworks all over town,” Delos Reyes wrote. – Rappler.com