Commemorating the Holy Week through age-old traditions and observances

March 24, 2024

The Holy Week is one of the most important celebrations of the Roman Catholic Church in the Philippines each year.

The Holy Week is one of the most important celebrations of the Roman Catholic Church. In the Philippines, the Holy Week, as well as its related traditions, are religiously observed by Catholics each year. 

The Black Nazarene being paraded on the streets of Manila during Holy Week
The Black Nazarene

Commemorating the Holy Week through age-old traditions and observances

    Holy Week in the Philippines

    In the Roman Catholic Church, the Holy Week is the next seven days immediately before Easter Sunday. Those are Palm Sunday, Holy Monday, Holy Tuesday, Holy Wednesday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Black Saturday.

    Holy Week is celebrated with some degree of variations all over the World. In the Philippines, the tradition is to begin with the blessing of the palaspas (palm leaves) on Palm Sunday. The blessed palaspas is said to ward off evil and misfortune from one's home to it is displayed prominently on doors, windowsills, or on the altar.

    Devotees carrying the Black Nazarene during Holy Week
    Devotees trying to touch the Black Nazarene

    Another well-known, and one of the oldest, traditions during Holy Week is the Pabasa ng Pasyon, or the Chanting/Recitation of the Passion of the Christ. The pabasa, once started, will be recited on a 24-hour period during the Holy Week until it is finished.

    The pabasa is typically done in the barangay (village) chapel as well as in private homes. Families usually hold a pabasa as part of their panata or thanksgiving vow for prayers or favors granted to them.

    During Maundy Thursday, individuals and families would usually go out to do Visita Iglesia (Church Visitation) and recite the stations of the cross. Families would typically visit seven churches, reciting two stations of the cross in each church. However, some would even go as far as visiting 14 churches, with each church dedicated to a station of the cross.

    On Good Friday, the common sight would be the penitensya (penitence) in which self-flagellants would walk the streets on the way to the church. Some would carry crosses and have themselves crucified at the exact time when Jesus Christ was believed to be crucified.

    The Santo Entierro (holy interment) is also one of the highlights of Good Friday. It is both the name of the religious ceremony itself as well as the statue of the dead Christ. The said statue is encased in a glass casket and decked with flowers and ornaments. It is then paraded around town followed by images of saints and lastly by the Mater Dolorosa, the image of the Virgin Mary dressed in black and mourning.

    The Black Nazarene along a narrow street in Quiapo during Holy Week
    Passing through a narrow street

    The Santo Entierro is interred either by the altar or beside the church doors. The image is venerated by the faithful by kissing its feet.

    In many parts of the Philippines, the Senakulo (Passion Play) is held every Good Friday to commemorate the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Senakulo is typically a tourist-drawer because of the colorful and elaborate costumes as well as the poetic exchange of dialogues between the actors.

    The celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ comes during Easter Sunday with the early morning salubong (roughly meeting). Statues of the risen Christ and Mater Dolorosa are paraded separately, then will meet in a designated area or plaza that is usually in front of a church. The veil of the Mater Dolorosa is removed by a small girl dressed as an angel, which signals the end of mourning. The Mater Dolorosa is transformed into the Nuestra Senora de Alegria (Our Lady of Joy).

    How I got to celebrate the Holy Week traditions 

    In 2011, I spent a good deal of the summer (dry season) in Metro Manila. I was really looking forward to spending the long Holy Week break at my hometown of San Antonio in Nueva Ecija when, unfortunately, my father informed me that the renovation of our house was not yet done.

    With the sudden change in plan, I quickly made a mental list of the things that I could probably do during the break. I immediately got in touch with some of my friends to ask them if they had anything planned during the Holy Week vacation. I quickly received a message from a friend asking me if I wanted to tag along in her annual Visita Iglesia. Of course, I readily accepted.

    Experiencing Visita Iglesia for the first time

    The Visita Iglesia is something that I have yet to experience. As with tradition, we were to visit seven churches. We began the day by visiting the Sto. Domingo Church. There were already many people inside when we got inside the church. We left after about five minutes of prayer.

    St. Jude Church during Holy Week
    St. Jude Church

    Next stop - Lourdes Church. Lourdes is a memorable church for me as my former office was just across it. We had a quick lunch after our Lourdes visit, then proceeded to Sta. Cruz Church, Quiapo Church, San Beda Church, St. Jude Church, and Espiritu Santo Church -- all within the City of Manila and could easily be reached via jeep rides and brief walking.

    Each church was a sight to behold. However, two churches that I found unforgettable were the San Beda Church (because of the stunning details of the interior) and the Quiapo Church (the architecture and the number of devotees). We ended our Visita Iglesia with a visit to the Espiritu Santo Church  in Tayuman.

    The Black Nazarene Procession

    That night, I received a message from another friend, this time asking me if I wanted to join her and her sister in the Black Nazarene procession. I thought "Why not?"; that sounded like a unique adventure.

    A huge crowd waiting for the Black Nazarene outside Quiapo Church during Holy Week
    A huge crowd waiting for the Black Nazarene

    The next day, I woke up early to prepare for the procession. Since most people were on a holiday break in the provinces, the streets were plainly deserted. From UP, I was in La Loma in less than 15 minutes.

    We took a jeep from La Loma and got off at Legarda. From there, we walked to catch the procession in one of the small alleyways in the area. I was loving the feel of old Manila as we hurriedly walked to catch the Nazareno.

    Devotees raising their hands as the Black Nazarene procession approached Quiapo Church during Holy Week
    Devotees raising their hands

    When we finally saw the image of the Black Nazarene, I was awed by the sheer number of devotees who were scrambling to touch the religious figure. The people were literally walking on each other's shoulders just to stroke the image. It was indeed a testimony to Filipino religiosity.

    San Sebastian Church facade
    San Sebastian Church

    After some walking, we stopped to rest at the San Sebastian Church. The church's architecture was impressive. I later found out that it was made entirely of steel. The interiors were likewise remarkable - the colors, the details, the antique figures. Every element looked amazing.

    When we had rested a bit, we decided to overtake the procession because the pacing was painfully slow. We headed to Plaza Miranda where many devotees were already waiting. A curious character, whom I called Supremo, caught my attention. I readily took a picture of him. I believe he heads a religious cult or sect proclaiming the imminent end of the world.

    Cult members outside Quiapo Church during Holy Week
    Members of a religious sect

    We found a good spot at the second floor of Mang Inasal where we had a good view of the entire plaza. Knowing that it would take some time before the procession arrived, we ordered lunch to save our space.

    Thousands of devotees at the Black Nazarene procession during Holy Week
    Hundreds of Black Nazarene devotees

    As we saw the procession approaching, the crowd in Plaza Miranda had increased significantly. I saw that pushing the Black Nazarene's carriage through the crowd took tremendous effort. Devotees were battling to touch the figure at the last minute. It took a good 30 minutes before the escorts were able to push the carriage inside Quiapo Church.

    Devotees trying to touch the image of the Black Nazarene during the Holy Week procession
    The Black Nazarene about to enter Quiapo Church

    After the procession, we headed to San Miguel church. My companion informed me that she was baptized in that church. Inside, we saw a play called "Senakulo" which is about the passion of the Christ. From San Miguel parish, we headed back to La Loma so that we could rest after a long day.

    Quiapo Church during Holy Week
    Quiapo Church


    By early evening, my friend and I decided to do a Visita Iglesia of our own. We proceeded to Sto. Domingo Church then to the UST Church. From UST, we walked all the way back to La Loma.


    All in all, it was a weekend of adventure and new learning about religious traditions. It was amazing to experience those Holy Week observances for the first time and I would gladly do it again given the opportunity.


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    1. Very beautiful architecture. I hope I'm not being insulting with this comment. As a Christian, I'm not understanding the significance of touching the Black Nazarine figure?

    2. Hello, karlapitzen. Thank you for dropping by. Touching the figure is a local tradition which stemmed from the belief that the image is miraculous. Devotees believe that if they touch the figure, miracles and blessings will come upon them.

    3. Wow!!! this architecture is very impressive and beautiful! Have a nice new week!

    4. I liked the photograph and the way you have narrated the trip. Its very interesting. Have a nice week ahead.

    5. lovely photographs, you managed to capture the intensity of the event very well. Looking forward to read more of u

    6. The architecture and elements do look great! So glad you enjoyed your time there!!

    7. The San Sebastian church is stunning, I love the format of the church and I hope you are enjoying Holy Week x

    8. Sound interesting! It's always great to get a chance to join events like this. No wonder you were pretty tired in the evening.

    9. St. Jude Church has been one of my favorite stops during Holy week. :)

    10. Filipinos have always celebrated the Holy Week with much dedication and love for their religion. I really admire their attitude towards the whole thing. It was such an exciting and tiring day for you guys and I'm sure it was an unforgettable experience too.

    11. Hey there!! I'm a Filipino too and we do Visita Iglesia every Holy Week too! Glad that people are still keeping the tradition alive :)

    12. Hi, Lizelle! Nice to meet you. Yup, we did a Visita Iglesia last Holy Week. We visited Churches in Pampanga and Nueva Ecija. It's a great way to strengthen faith and a heritage tour as well.

    13. I love the photos in this post. They really capture the atmosphere. What a beautiful church.

    14. This was a very interesting post. I would love to travel for Holy week.

    15. You had unique experience, I would love to go there and experience these wonderful traditions. Great photos as well!

    16. It's beautiful to see the devotion that comes from people's heart toward what they believe. Lovely photos, and well written post. You described the event very well.

    17. The architecture of the buildings looks great! I don't think they make such buildings anymore. It was interesting reading about your experience.

    18. What I love about religious buildings is for sure the architecture. It looks always so dramatic and I love that.

    19. Looks like you managed to find something interesting to do even if your plans were changed at the last min! Great photos :)

    20. I have always wanted to go to San Antonio. I hear its nice.

      Ivelisse |