Saturday, April 03, 2010

Pampanga: Good Friday Santo Entierro procession in Bacolor, Pampanga

Indeed, the phoenix has risen from the ashes. I decided to watch the Good Friday Santo Entierro procession in Bacolor, Pampanga by chance since there was no Good Friday procession in Guagua this year due to ongoing road construction around the center of town. It was very encouraging that the Bacolor procession is back to its old grandeur.

Over a decade ago, Bacolor was buried by lahar from Mount Pinatubo. It was a great loss for Pampanga being the province's former capital and heritage town. But one thing I like about Bacolor is the resiliency of its culture. One of the first things they raised from the buried town, even before rebuilding schools and other structures, were their monuments. The three ornate retablos in the half-buried Bacolor Church were also dug up and restored to their original glory.

It was 8 p.m. when I arrived at the Bacolor Church (Update: It now starts at 5 p.m.). The Good Friday Santo Entierro procession had not started yet since people were still lining up to venerate the crucified Christ. The halls of the church reverberated with the solemn Stabat Mater performed by local musicians and singers of a town which was once the center of arts and culture in the province. It was a very touching scene.

The procession begun with 152 pasos in black cassocks and white mozzettas, their faces covered by black veils and with wreaths on their heads, carrying symbols of Christs death and messages from Jesus' passion and death in various languages that included Kapampangan, English, Latin, Spanish and even French.

This was followed by one of the grandest Santo Entierro carrozas in the entire country. I found out that the carroza actually belonged to our family, the Joven-de Leon clan of Bacolor, and I was invited by my cousin Tom Joven (who is very much responsible for restoring the grandeur of Bacolor's church, Good Friday procession, and many more town traditions) to join the carroza for the procession.

The saints of the passion story beginning with San Pedro, and scenes from Christ's passion came in next. Although Tom told me that previously, the tableaux only came out during the Holy Wednesday procession since the Good Friday procession is a funeral participated in only by the carrozas of the individual saints. In fact, some of the tableaux carrozas, like those of the Valdes clan, only come out for Holy Wednesday.

No doubt, the Bacolor Good Friday Santo Entierro procession is one of the best examples of a traditional Filipino Holy Week procession. It's quiet and solemn. And there's no pipe-in music and prayers blasted through sound systems in the carrozas, just the voices of small groups sincerely praying the rosary along the way. The carrozas are elaborate, grand and elegant. There were no pick up trucks, owner jeeps or cars in the procession. If you want to witness a traditional Good Friday procession, I highly-recommend that you visit Bacolor, Pampanga.

At the end of the procession is the Mater Dolorosa. She is preceded by the angelic voices of a local choir and musicians who play various versions of the Stabat Mater. A solemn drum beat reminds us that this is actually a funeral dirge.

As the Mater Dolorosa returns to the church, her carroza is brought face to face with the carroza of the Santo Entierro in front of the gates of the church, a symbolic positioning signifying the Sorrowful Mother mourning over her Son.

Other processions worth visiting in Pampanga are the ones in Santa Rita, Guagua and Sasmuan. I haven't seen the one in Santa Rita and plan to witness that next year. In Guagua, I remember they had violinists who accompany the Sto. Entierro and Mater Dolorosa. The violins are something that disappeared in San Fernando after the change of priests.

As I previously mentioned, it's sad that these priests forget that they stay only in a parish for a few years. And yet some go on the rampage and destroy architecture and traditions that have been there even before they were born. Even the traditional order of carrozas of the Good Friday procession in San Fernando had been changed in deference to the whims of the new rector. I hope things go back to normal soon!


  1. Very good documentation about Good Friday in Bacolor. Next year we will experience this event. For now Happy Easter Ivan!

  2. Thanks! There's actually a long list of things to see in Pampanga during Holy Week.

  3. For a very traditional procession that is closer to Manila, check out the one in Pateros. I grew up there and remember the solemn and somber holy week traditions. The santos and carosas are mostly antiques and traditionally/tastefully restrained in ornamentations.
    The whole town joins in or watches the procession and a mourning silence falls on the streets.

  4. Thanks for the article and the photos. they brought back memories. Also gave me the urge to visit Bacolor next year with my Dad. Am sure he will love the visit. I am also a Joven of Bacolor but grew up in Tarlac. Again, salamat.

  5. Wow! So I guess we're relatives. I'm only getting to know my Joven side now

  6. Hi Ivan,
    Wow very interesting. I'm an Indonesian catolic want to see this procession next year.
    Is it happen every year?
    What is Holy Wednesday? We have Palm Sunday, White Thursday, Good Friday and Lent.
    When and where it start and finish?

    thank you

  7. CAPGEMS28.9.10

    It sounds so depressing!! And the saints in black are a little creepy. So are the violins.

  8. TheKimbum2728.9.10

    ketang anak ya pa ing apu ku ya ing magkanta ken demetrio palma ing lagyu na !!!

  9. TheKimbum2728.9.10


    stabat mater,mater dolorosa

    iuxta cruxem lacrimosa

    dumpendebat filio

    cujus animam

    animam gementem

    contistatam et dolentem

    pertransivit gladius.

  10. garretsanchez28.9.10

    wow! very cinematic! from the mournful dirge to the gloriously baroque carosas. i love how you can tell how hot it was that night everyone sweating and the air seemed very still.

    there needs to be a good documentary on the good friday processions. no doubt there will be international interest in this rite.

  11. myronmariano28.9.10

    You have a meaningful tradition on Holy Week processions in Bacolor. I hope you can preserve them for the future generations.

  12. chrerl28.9.10

    There was a verbal history about this solemn, elite Good Friday procession. That before the Mount Pinatubo eruption in 1991, there was an instance that because of the numerous participants/devotees of this procession, the men in black suits (carrying symbols, passages etc.) had already entered the church vicinity from the procession, while the end line of the procession is still about to go out the church's vicinity.

    It is really a wonderful experience to witness this unique tradition. I had goosebumps when i heard this song (stabat mater) being played live by the musicians at the procession. At first maybe it is creepy but when you come to think of the essence of this procession, I thought it's the most solemn part of the Holy Week!!!

    I'm looking forward to witness this procession again next year. I suggest that it would be very very solemn if there will be no "noisy generators". Car batteries are good.

  13. Anonymous17.1.12

    gustuhin ko man makapunta dyan sa Bacolor pero masyado nang malayo sa akin kaya hanggang Baliuag o Malolos o di naman kaya sa bayan ng Paombong na lang ako nanonood ng procession!

  14. Anonymous4.3.12

    may i know po the composer of Stabat Mater (Dolorosa)


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