Fabulous Philippines > Yesterdays in the Philippines > Chapter 7(d)

A Religious Procession

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Last night there occurred another one of those religious torchlight processions which are so common in the streets of Old Manila. It started after sunset, inside the city walls, from a big church brightly illuminated from top to bottom with small candle-cups that gave it the appearance of a great sugar palace. The procession consisted of many richly decorated floats, containing life-size figures of saints and apostles dressed in garments of gold and purple and borne along by sweating coolies, who staggered underneath a draping that shielded from view all save their lower limbs and naked feet. The larger floats were covered with dozens of candelabra and guarded by soldiers with fixed bayonets. Other rolling floats of smaller magnitude were pulled along by little children in white gowns, while troops of old maids, young maids, and Spanish women marched before and behind, dressed in black and carrying candles. The black mantillas which fell gracefully from the heads of many of the torch-bearers gave their faces a look of saint-like grace, except at such times as the evening breeze made the candle-grease refractory, and one might easily have imagined himself a spectator at a celebration in Seville.

Many bands all playing different tunes in different times and keys, rows of hard-faced, fat-stomached priest trying to look religious but failing completely to do so, and five hundred small boys, who like ours at home, formed a sort of rear guard to the solemnities, all went to make up the peculiar performance. The whole long affair started from the church, wound through the narrow streets, and finally brought up at the church again, where it was saluted by fire-works and ringing of bells.

In the balconies of the houses that almost overhung the route were smiling crowds of lookers-on, and Roman candles and Bengola lights added impressiveness to the scene, or dropped their sparks on the garments of those promenading below. As the various images of the Virgin Mary and the Decent from the Cross passed by, everyone took off his hat and appeared deeply impressed with religious feeling. After the carriers of the floats had put down for good their expensive burdens in the vestry of the church, a few liquid refreshments easily started them quarrelling as to the merits of their respective displays. One set claimed that their Descent from the Cross was more life-like than that carried by their rivals, and they almost came to blows over which of the Virgin Marys wore the finest clothes.

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