What is the 'Black Nazarene'? Here's the fascinating history of this centuries-old tradition

black nazarene The Black Nazarene is a centuries-old Filipino devotion. | Shutterstock

In 2015, Msgr. Jose Clemente Ignacio, the rector of the Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene, spoke with CNA about the history and the fierce devotion behind the Black Nazarene.

“A first group of Augustinian Recollect missionaries landed in Manila in 1606 from Mexico. They brought with them a dark image of Jesus Christ kneeling on one knee and carrying a large wooden cross,” he said. “The image was first enshrined in St. John the Baptist Church at Luneta in 1606 and after two years was moved to a bigger church nearby. Over a century and a half later, in 1767, the image was transferred to Quiapo Church whose patron is also St. John the Baptist.”

“In 2006,” he added, “we celebrated the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the image of Black Nazarene in Manila.”

Ignacio listed two “transfers” that the procession represents.

The procession commemorates “the transfer of the image from Luneta to Quiapo, when we first received the statue in 1868,” he said.

He also emphasized a more religious transfer.

“‘Traslacion’ means the transfer of the Image of Black Nazarene,” he said. “In a way it is imitating the Calvary experience: the sacrifice and suffering that our Lord endured for our salvation like when Jesus was walking barefoot, carrying the cross to Mount Calvary."

“The barefoot procession of an almost 4.3-mile journey starts from the Quirino Grandstand at Luneta and snakes its way towards the narrow streets,” Ignacio continued. “Passing through the city's winding roads, after 19 hours of spiritual euphoria, the procession eventually reaches Quiapo at the Basilica Minore de Nazareno. The devotees flood by to touch the image and throw cloths to touch the image, before receiving the cloths back.”

He concluded, “Our culture is a culture of touch and, significantly, in a way we want to touch heaven.”

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