The Black Nazarene, physically speaking, is a life-sized, dark wooden sculpture of Jesus Christ carrying the cross, and is believed to be miraculous by many Filipino Catholics.
It is one of the two statues brought from Mexico; the older and more popular one belonging to the Recollects was destroyed during the Second World War during the Liberation of Manila in 1945. The original statue was said to be of fair complexion but according to old stories it was burned by a fire aboard the Manila galleon resulting in its present state.
The statue is removed annually for public veneration from its major shrine in the Minor Basilica of Quiapo on three occasions: New Year’s Day (Jannuary 1), Good Friday, and on January 9 when its novena feast and the traslación (commemoration of its official transfer from Luneta to Quiapo)
The statue derives its name from Jesus’ hailing from Nazareth. Resting on its head is the traditional Tres Potencias halo, symbolizing the Holy Trinity. These three crown of rays are used to identify Christ in Hispanic iconography (since the statue originated from a Hispanic country, Mexico)
The statue’s original body has said to have lost several fingers over the years, and the original head has since been transferred several times onto a full-scale replica body by renowned Filipino sculptor Gener Manlaqui as commissioned by the Archdiocese of Manila. Actually, the original statue was ‘split’ into two: The original head, arms and hands was placed on a replica statue that is now enshrined in the Quiapo basilica while the original body, legs and feet was attached on another replica for public veneration. The statue also bears a large wooden cross with gilded brass caps on its ends while the head wears a wig made of dyed abaca, along with a golden crown of thorns.
The Nazareno is dressed in maroon, embroidered with golden floral emblems, and with lace trimmings on the collar and cuffs. A gold-plated metal belt embossed with the word “NAZARENO” encircles the image’s waist, while a golden chain and ball loops around the neck and is held in its left hand, representing flagellation. The barefooted statue is in a genuflecting posture, symbolizing the passion of Christ.
The image’s wooden base is called the peana, while its carroza used in processions or during the translacion is called the Ándas (from the Spanish term andar, which means “to move forward”). The Ándas is pulled by devotees using a pair of long, thick ropes.
In 1650, Pope Innocent X approved the veneration of the Black Nazarene as a sacramental (meaning an object, thing or action that is sacred and signifies spiritual effect such as to excite pious thoughts and to increase devotion) and authorised the establishment of the Confraternity of the Most Holy Jesus Nazarene (Cofradía de Nuestro Santo Jesús Nazareno) Pope Pius VII granted the statue his Apostolic Blessing in 1880, which granted plenary indulgence to those who piously pray before it.
Idolatry? Devotion? or just Popular Religiosity?
Over the years, many have begun analyzing the devotion to the Black Nazarene and somehow they were able to associate three distinct elements: Miracles, Identification of the Filipinos’ suffering and the so-called “panata.” And interestingly, devotees are growing over the years. And why so? Simply because the devotees clearly see the Lord amidst the ocean of crowd and in the trouble of treading the long procession route. It is the Lord who is alive and present in the Basilica of Quiapo. It is the Lord who has that special place in the heart of the poor and the weak who come to Him in Quiapo. It is the Lord who they see in Quiapo that answer their prayers and personal wishes.
Apparently, the annual celebration is almost close to bordering abuses. But I believe those abuses comes not from the expression of the people’s faith, but from those who manipulate the devotion and use it for their own personal gain.
Quoting Rev. Fr. Mgsr. Jose Clemente Igancio, Rector and Parish Priest of the Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene in Quiapo in his article “Devotion to the Black Nazarene: A Pastoral Understanding:
“When the Papal Nuncio and the Priests of the Nunciature came to Quiapo the next day after the January 9, 2011 procession. They requested to visit the statue of the Black Nazarene. I brought them to the chamber that kept the image in its quiet. When the former Nuncio, His Excellency Most Rev. Edward Joseph Adams, DD and the priests entered, they were silent in prayer. Then, the Nuncio knelt and kissed the hand of the Black Nazarene. So did his priests. After this, he took his rosary from his pocket and wiped it at the hands of Our Lord of the Black Nazarene. Two devotions meeting, the devotion to our Blessed Mother and to Our Lord of the Black Nazarene. I then realized what great treasures we have as Filipinos – our devotions – and among them is this Devotion to the Black Nazarene.”