Filipino Icon: The Black Nazarene
The Black Nazarene is one of the most popular religious icons in the Philippines with some six to eight million devotees attending its feast procession, also called Translacion, every 9 January.
The Black Nazarene, also known as Mahal na Itim na Nazareno or Nuestro Padre Jesus Nazareno, is a 400-year-old, life-sized, wooden sculpture of Jesus of Nazareth carrying the cross. It is enshrined in Quiapo Church in Manila.
An anonymous Mexican sculptor is said to have made the statue, which originally had fair complexion, in 1606. It was then brought to the Philippines in the 1607 by Recollect friars. The icon survived a fire while on board the galleon, but its white complexion had been charred black, which explains the name ‘Black Nazarene.’ The icon remained smooth despite the fire, and this has been considered one of the earliest manifestations of its miraculous powers.
Once reaching the Philippines, the sculpture was placed in the Augustinian Recollect church in Intramuros. Around that time, stories of miracles have been heard about the statue. On 9 June 1787, it was finally moved to its permanent residence, St John the Baptist Church, which was later renamed to the Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene or Quiapo Church.
The icon has received papal veneration from Pope Innocent X in 1650 as a Sacramental (sacred sign that can receive or transfer grace). Later in 1880, Pope Pius VII gave the icon his Apostolic Blessing, granting those who pray before it plenary indulgence (mercy from punishment of a forgiven sin).
The Black Nazarene’s incredible stories of survival from accidents increased devotees’ faith on its miraculous powers. Some of these incidents include two fires that destroyed the Quaipo Church, the earthquakes of 1645 and 1863, bombings during the 1945 Liberation of Manila and a shooting incident in the 1990s that supposedly damaged the statue’s left cheek. According to devotees, the statue remained perfectly intact despite these accidents.
Stories of miracles through prayer made in the name of the Black Nazarene have also increased devotion for the icon. This is why millions of Filipino Catholics believe touching the statue will cure them of any affliction.
Every year, three processions are held to commemorate the Black Nazarene. But the 9 January Translacion, which means ‘the passage,’ is the biggest and most popular. During this day, a public veneration of the statue leaving and returning to the Quiapo church occurs. This event lasts hours and has its incredible sight has generated buzz all over the world.
During the Translacion, a replica head attached to the original body is paraded on top of a carroza pulled by rope. The body is encased in stainless steel to protect it from damage. The original head meanwhile is attached to a replica body, made by Filipino sculptor Gener Manlaqui, and remains enshrined in Quiapo Church’s high altar.
In the wee hours before the procession, devotees already line up along the designated route around Manila keen to get a glimpse, wipe their personal effects or touch the beloved icon. Many devotees suffer injuries due to heat and fatigue while deaths also sometimes occur. This shows the incredible faith of the Filipino Catholics on their venerated icon — a celebration of devotion that never fails to attract and inspire the global community.
Some devotees abroad also stage their own version of the procession by using a replica of the icon. In America and Australia, Filipino communities bring out their Black Nazarene replica and parade it through the vicinity of their parish during the feast day. A replica of the icon has been canonically enshrined at the Saint Catherine of Siena’s Roman Catholic Parish in California in September 2012.
Some of the popular Black Nazarene devotees who have been spotted in the procession include actors Coco Martin, Angeline Quinto, Christopher de Leon, Amy Perez and Giselle Sanchez.