This month is festival season, with various provinces, cities and municipalities, showcasing their unique brand of revelry and culture. But one festival celebrated during the merry month of May has managed to cross boundaries from barrios to the metropolis, where it has become part of Filipino tradition. And this is none other than the Flores de Mayo.
Originally brought to our shores by the Spaniards, this month-long flower festival is celebrated to give reverence to the Blessed Virgin Mary. This tradition began in Bulacan in 1867 after Mariano Sevilla published his translation of the devotional Flores de Maria. Oftentimes, people think of the festival as a parade of beautiful, young women in elegant clothes, but it is, in fact, deeply rooted in religion, teeming with biblical symbolisms.
Starting with a nine-day Novena, the Flores de Mayo, also referred to as the Santacruzan or Sagala, culminates in a procession depicting St. Helena’s mythical finding of the Holy Cross. In the parade, each lady or reyna has a male escort, as they walk the streets under hand-carried bamboo arcs decorated with flowers.
The characters come out in the following sequence, each representing biblical and historical figures:
1. Methuselah – a bearded man, bent with age. He is portrayed riding a cart while preoccupied with toasting grains of sand in a pan over a fire.
2. Reyna Banderada – represents the coming of Christianity.
3. Aetas – represent the Filipino pagans before the coming of Christianity.
4. Reyna Mora – a female Moro representing the dominant religion before Christianity.
5. Reyna Fe – carries a cross, symbolizing the virtue of faith – the first of the theological virtues.
6. Reyna Esperanza – carries an amchor, symbolizing the virtue of hope – the second theological virtue.
7. Reyna Caridad – carries a red heart, symbolizing the virtue of charity – the third theological virtue.
8. Reyna Abogada – wears a black toga and carries a big book. She portrays the defender of the poor and the oppressed.
9. Reyna Sentenciada – has her slim hands bound by a rope accompanied by two Roman soldiers. She is the symbol of the innocents who were convicted.
10. Reyna Justicia – carries a weighing scale and a sword. She personifies the “mirror of justice.”
11. Reyna Judith – carries a head of a fallen mone in one hand and a sword on the other. She portrays Judith of Pethulia who saved her city from the Assyrians after she beheaded the cruel Holofernes, an invading general of Nebuchadnezzar.
12. Reyna Sheba – carries a jewelry box. She was the one who visited the famed King Solomon and was overwhelmed by his wisdom, power and richmess.
13. Reyna Esther – carries a scepter. She represents the biblical Jewish figure, who spared her countrymen from death and destruction through the timely intervention of King Xerxes.
14. Samaritana – carries a jug on her shoulder. She is the woman who, Christ spoke to at the well.
15. Veronica – is the woman who wiped the face of Jesus. She carries a bandana imprinted with the three faces of Jesus.
16. Tres Marias:
• Mary of Magdala – carries a bottle of perfume.
• Mary, Mother of Christ – carries a handkerchief.
• Mary, mother of James – carries a bottle of oil.
17. Marian – celebrating the many titles of the Virgin Mary.
• Ave Maria – represented by eight girls wearing long white dresses with wings to make them look like angels. Each one carries a letter to complete the words “AVE MARIA.”
• Divina pastora (Divine Shepherdess) – carries a shepherdess’ staff.
• Reyna de las Estrellas (Queen of Stars) – carries a wand with a star.
• Rosa Mystica – carries a bouquet of roses.
• Reyna Paz (queen of peace) – carries the symbol of peace.
• Reyna de las Propetas – carries an hour glass.
• Reyna del Cielo (Queen of Heaven) – carries a flower and is surrounded by two angels.
• Reyna de las Virgines – carries a rosary, also surrounded by two little angels.
• Reyna de las Flores (Queen of Flowers) – carries a bouquet of flowers.
18. Reyna Elena (Queen Helena) – the legendary founder of the true Cross, represented by the small cross she carries. She is escorted by her son, Constantine.
During Flores de Mayo, Catholic devotees join the procession, holding lit candles, reciting the rosary and singing songs of praise throughout the parade, which starts and ends in the church.