Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Festival in Manila

Here follows a short account of the festivities that took place for the canonization of St. Francis Borgia in 17th century Manila. This is the first of two parts and is recounted from Fr. Rene Javellana, Sj's, book on Philippine church art and architecture, La Case de Dios.

At nine in the morning, to the accompaniment of church bells, four triumphant floats were conducted to the Manila Cathedral, the beginning of the processional route. The carros or processional floats were shaped like galleons as they had a poop deck and a prow cantilevered beyond the wheels. This construction of wood was decorated in polychrome and gold and had a fresh coat of lacquer to give it luster. Four enormous wheels lifted the body of the float above the ground and near the poop deck was raised a shelter called a tabernaculo, consisting of four columns supporting a cover.
The images of the saints were placed inside this tabernaculo to keep them secure and wobble free during the procession. The first carro bore St. Ignatius, the second Stanislaus, the third St. Ferdinand, King of Spain (1217 - 1252), and the last, Francis Borgia. The images of the Jesuits were all dressed in gold embroidered material against a deep maroon background. Ignatius wore a black biretta and a halo decorated with diamonds and pearls. Over the chest was a golden heart studded with diamonds. In his left hand was a book of beaten silver and in his right a standard of orange damask on which was the Jesuit coat of arms bearing the name of Jesus.
Stanislaus was similarly arrayed as Ignatius, except that he had a face and hands of ivory. Over his head was a silver halo embellished with diamonds and other precious stones. Stanislaus cradled an ivory Santo Nino, adorned with diamonds.
Francis Borgia was dressed like Ignatius and Stanislaus and had a gold-plated halo studded with diamonds. He held an ivory skull wearing a crown.
King Ferdinand was robed in kingly fashion, silver breeches and tunic lined with gold and blue and a red imperial cape decorated at the edges with silver and gold. The robes of the statue were embroidered with flowers of varied colors. The statue was crowned in silver with diamonds. At its feet were a silver globe and a silver pilgrim's staff in filigree. A sword with a filigree hilt hung from his side, and chains of gold crisscrossed his body. The chians alone were valued at 4000 ducats (estimated at about $418,908.00 in today's currency).
At the prow of the floats was a flat space covered with a carpet; here, a band of children dressed as angels sang, played musical instruments, and held lights. Complimenting the band was an entourage of musicians.
The procession was held later in the day. The church bells pealed from noon until two, at which time the Jesuits walked to the cathedral. Here the people of Manila, beginning with the archbishop Fray Juan Lopez, OP, and the governor general, Don Manuel Leon y Sarabia, along with the city officials and city folk gathered for Vespers. Don Diego de Cartagena y Pantoja, the cathedral's dean, led the prayers that began with music.

Monday, February 06, 2012

God's House in the Sky

Vaguely do I remember a memory from my earliest days, when memory itself was yet but an upstart for me. It came to me in a flash-- the kind that one has in the midst of a lull, in this case, while soaking under the steaming hot water of the shower, while the early morning sun was just preparing to set the sky ablaze. And like any reminiscences of such nature, the context of its retrieval does not matter, no longer matters; indeed, I can no longer remember how it came about.

That slice of memory begins with myself gazing at something in the far, unnamed distance. It is sunset, or nearing sunset; cricket chirps were in the air, the dogs were barking lazily, and I was seated on my aunt's lap on her rocking chair in the porch of the old house. My hands were grasping at the air, trying to grab something that seemed to have caught my fancy. My aunt stood up and walked to the gate, smiling at me. She pointed to the sky, which by then was already turning golden. She pointed at small wisps of cloud and the occasional bird that fluttered in the air. A plane passed by, its roar deafening even at such great heights. She pointed at the sun, which by then seemed to have been swallowed up by a gentle, misty haze. "That's where God's house is! Look! That's God saying, 'hello!'to you" I remember wanting to jump, to lunge at the sun in the hope of grabbing God: He the elusive, smiling, benevolent grandfather I never knew I had, who made His home in the skies. The clouds were His cars, I thought; the birds were His pets. "God dreams of you every night when He goes to sleep." It was a comforting thought to have.

In time (when I was five or six) I began to thinkof life as a dream; God's dream. I imagined I was a puppet, or one of the many stuffed animals I had then, who came alive every night, when God was dreaming. I was at once cloud and polyester, figment and flesh and bone; I was real, but only when God was dreaming. What happens when God stops dreaming? What happens when He wakes up? Then, we go to sleep. That is why we go to sleep, because God is not dreaming during those times. We are like puppets that come alive only when the master plays with them; the same is true of life, and of its Maker. But what happens when God drinks coffee and does not fall asleep so easily? I don't know! Are the clouds in the sky His dreams too? There was a giant dog-shaped cloud in the sky. Will it become real all of a sudden? I debated these questions in my tiny child's head, all the while never arriving at any answer. It is, admittedly, still a question I contend with now and again.

The end of that sliver of memory is a trope I've repeated countless times in my childhood. I returned inside the house for my afternoon bath; I settled down in the little book corner, where my aunt would then proceed to tell me stories from my small, leather bound, illustrated children's Bible. I sat, as always, wide-eyed and fascinated. I don't remember the story now, except for an image-- a poorly but sincerely  made watercolor of Paradise-- and behind, a plethora of clouds, huge, immense, swirling and serene, hiding behind them the hoary gates of God's palace in the skies.