Senakulo is a nationwide event that helps devout locals relieve biblical events pertinent to the life, tribulations and ultimate sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
It was named after the Upper Room (Cenacle), which is thought to be the place where the Last Supper was held. Senakulo is very important for the culture of the Filipino people, but it’s not an event exclusive to their tradition. In fact, Senakulo is simply the Filipino version of this Catholic tradition, which is known as Passion Play around the world.
If the event concept sounds familiar, that’s because you might have already witnessed it in your travels. Passion Play, also known as Eastern pageant, is a Catholic tradition that is present not only in the Philippines but in many other countries where Catholicism is the dominant religion – Canada, Australia, the Netherlands, Spain, the UK, and many other countries around the world.
Of course, the event is adapted to suit the culture and tradition of that particular nation, but its core is the same – it is essentially a dramatic reenactment of the last period of Christ’s life, namely his trial, suffering, and death.
The reenactment of the crucifixion is perhaps the most important part of Passion Play since it remains one of the most important events in the history of Catholicism.
This presentation is performed on a unique stage, quite unlike modern theatre halls. Typically, the stage consists of telon(painted paper used as backdrops, cloths are also used). The event lasts a total of eight nights, beginning on Palm Sunday and culminating on Easter Sunday – this is known as Semana Santa (Holy Week).
Presently, however, due to numerous constraints, the event does not always last eight nights, and may just be summarized to take up a couple of hours. More importantly, the shortened versions of Senakulo often make use of just about any stage, whether it is in the church, or in the streets, even in public spaces.
But, this is still a theatrical performance, with a lot of preparation behind it. The scripts draw from both the Bible and the folk tradition, while the costumes and scenery are closer to Hispanic iconography, instead of historical realism. This is especially true of the more recent productions, which are done by professional theatre companies.
Regardless of the version of play stages, Jesus is depicted as a humble man, taking up the ultimate sacrifice of death in his abounding obedience. Devout locals take this lesson to mean that it is important for Christians to take suffering in stride, just like Christ did.
It is fascinating to learn that Senakulo not only attracts devout Christians, it also draws the curious onlooker. Whether you ascribe to Christian teachings or not, this national event does make for a unique attraction. It gives insight into the traditions that are important to the locals and teaches you about Filipino culture and importance of religion. So, make sure to immerse yourself in the country’s warmth and incredible culture.
During this period, nationwide festivals, activities, and events are being celebrated in the Philippines including:
The country is famous for the re-enactment of Christ’s suffering, fasting, and more. And it should come as no surprise that such religious events are very important for the people since about 80% of the country’s population are Catholics. This is also observed in many of the festivals that are popular in the Philippines, as quite a lot of them are closely tied to various religious events.
Take Semana Santa as an example – the Holy Week is such an important time for the people that the usually crowded and cheerful streets suddenly become deserted and quiet. Businesses close for the week, radio and TV stations go off the air, with the sole purpose of honoring Christ and his Passion. The event is solemn in nature, and many people take this time to ask God to fulfill their prayers.
What’s even more interesting here is that despite the solemn nature of the Holy Week and despite the fact that it’s a time for prayers and self-reflection, the Moriones Festival is an important part of this time. But it’s not exactly a nationwide event; Moriones Festival is celebrated on the island of Marinduque, and it is a colorful event.
It is dedicated to Longinus, a half-blind Roman soldier who had pierced Jesus Christ in the side while he was on the cross. According to the legend, the soldier’s sight returned when a drop of Christ’s blood fell into his eye, thus causing him to convert to Christianity.
Moriones are men and women wearing masks and costumes, which are supposed to replicate the garb of biblical Roman soldiers that the local folklore suggests they wore. That’s actually where the name of the festival comes from; the masks were named after Morion helmets, which originate in 16th and 17th century Spain.
Visitors are often awed by the intricate masks adorned by the Roman Soldiers. The armors worn look menacing, sinister even. Yet in all these depictions, locals are reminded of the need to reflect on Christ’s values and above all, his humility. Meaning that, even though it’s a festival and there are bright colors everywhere, its true meaning and purpose are still deeply religious.
Roger is a little obsessed with travel. He has been to over 40 countries, broken 3 suitcases and owned over 10 backpacks in 12 months. What he doesn't know about travel, ain't worth knowing!