If there’s but a single Philippine festival touted as the ultimate in grandiosity, magnificent in its scope, profligate in its opulence, and glamorous in its style, easily, that would be the most-awaited annual celebration of the Flores de Mayo (Flowers of May), ostentatiously culminated with a luxurious pageantry of beauties and fineries aptly dubbed as Santacruzan, the traditional reenactment of the biblical search for Christ’s holy cross.
The month of May, particularly in a tropical paradise of more than 7,100 islands, the Philippines, has always been regarded as the merry month of blooms and foliages, when flowers and greeneries are profusely in full season. This natural floral phenomenon coincides with the traditional celebration of the Flores de Mayo and Santacruzan, the Queen of Filipino festivities.
By nature fanatics and greatly fascinated by anything religious in nature, Filipinos readily adopted the practice and strongly propagated it down to generations.
It was believed, according to historians and based from well-kept records, that the first ever Santacruzan in the Philippines was observed in the historical town of Malolos, Bulacan.
The colorful pageantry of glitz and glam is simultaneously religious in origin while stylishly fashionable. This month-long summer festival brought to shore by the Spaniards, commences with a less frivolous activity normally by vigorous civic and religious groups from different areas. It primarily involves a nine-day novena of prayers and floral offering to the Virgin Mary followed with a simply concocted refreshment of local fruit juices and baked products. Generally, participants are young children mostly from catechism classes and school kids who are treated to pinawa (goodies distributed to participants) or a pabitin (a small trellis bedecked with goodies and toys pulled up and down for the kids to grab).
Legend has it that some 300 years after the death of Christ, 75-year-old Queen Helena set forth for the site of the Crucifixion in Jerusalem in search of the Redeemer’s cross. After numerous archeological diggings they unearthed three prospective crosses but unsure which was the real one. The puzzling situation was solved when the Queen summoned an ailing servant to touch and lie on all three crosses and the one that healed him was definitely the Holy Cross. The santacruzan, with all its splendid glory and pageantry, is held to honor the significant biblical event.
Through the years, the tradition gradually evolved and acquired necessary adjustments and updating to suit the world’s modernization and progress.
Excitement and thrills gradually build up toward the end of the May where the Santacruzan marks the season’s finale. To commemorate the discovery of the Holy Cross, stunning beauties and good-looking escorts delineate the roles of biblical characters connected with the mythical event principally led by St. Helena of Constantinople, the first Christian empress and mother of Constantine the Great.
The town’s prettiest lasses join the procession in their most flamboyant gowns and fineries representing notable biblical queens or reinas with the most influential and outstanding at the most coveted end as Queen Helena (locally tagged Reina Elena) while handsome lads are chosen to escort the queens.
Different regions, towns and cities observe this May festival with full regalia and pomp based from their predecessors’ practices specifically in terms of biblical cast of characters in the procession. But majority believe in the following line-up or processional arrangement of traditional figures and biblical personifications that contribute to the religious atmosphere:
AVE MARIA – consists of eight little girls dressed in white each holding a letter which spells out the word Ave Maria.
Metusalem (Methusalah) – an old bearded man bent with age
Reina Banderada (Banner Queen) – a young lady dressed in red with a yellow pennant to represent the arrival of Christianity.
Tribal or Regional ethnic group (Aetas, Mangyans, Ati, etc) – to represent the indigenous and aboriginal groups who have embraced the Christian faith.
Reina Mora (Queen Moor or Moroland) –dressed  in Muslim costume to represent the Virgin Mary’s status in Islam
Reina Saba (Queen Sheba) – an unnamed queen associated with King Solomon and carries a jewelry box
Reina Judit / Infanta Judit (Queen Judith) – represents the biblical widow of Bethulia and carries the head of Holofernes in one hand and a sword in the other.
Reina Ester (Queen Esther) – the Jewish Queen of Persia and carries a scepter
Cleopatra (Queen Cleopatra VII Philopator) – the famous last pharaoh of Ancient Egypt elaborately dressed and made-up and escorted by a gorgeous-looking guy representing Mark Anthony.
Samaritana / St. Photina (The female Samaritan) – dressed in peasant costume and carries a jug on her shoulder.
Sta. Veronica (St. Veronique) – the woman who wiped the face of Jesus that left iconographic three miraculous imprints of Jesus’ face.
Tres Marias (Three Marys) – Mary Magdalene with a bottle of perfume, the Virgin Mary with a black handkerchief and in mourning, and Mary of Cleofas, the mother of James, and carries a bottle of oil.
Reina Fe (Queen of Faith) – symbolizes faith, the first of the three theological virtues and carries a cross
Reina Esperanza (Queen of Hope) – symbolizes hope, the second of the three theological virtues and carries an anchor
Reina Caridad (Queen of Charity) – symbolizes charity, the third of the three theological virtues and carries a red colored heart
Reina Sentenciada (Queen Convicted) – dressed modestly with her hands bound by a rope to represent the early Christians martyred for faith. Two Roman soldiers accompany her.
So far, the Marian titles are equally interesting with eye-catching costumes, as well.
Reina Abogada (Queen Advocate/ Lawyer) defender of the poor and the oppressed, she wears a black graduation gown with cap and carries a large book.
Reina Justicia (Queen Justice) –  a personification of the “Mirror of Justice”, her attributes are a weighing scale and a sword.
Divina Pastora (Divine Shepherdess) – dressed in white and bears a shepherd’s staff
Reina delos Angeles (Queen of Angels) – dress in white and bears a bouquet of flowers while escorted by angels.
Luklukan ng Karunungan (Seat of Wisdom) – the bible bearer
Susi ng Langit (Key of Heaven) – bears two keys, one gold and the other silver, a design adapted from the keys on the Papal arms.
Reina de las Estrellas (Queen of the Stars) –dressed in gold and white, crowned with a star and  holds a wand topped the same
Rosa Mistica (Mystical Rose) – carries a bouquet of rose
Reina del Santisimo Rosario (Queen of the Most Holy Rosary) – displays a huge rosary
Reina Luna (Queen Moon) – she represents the moon which serves as the footstool of Mary as the Woman of the Apocalypse.
Reina Candelaria (Queen of Candles) – she carries a long lit candle symbolizing the Purification of Mary
Reina de la Paz (Queen of Peace) – dressed in white and holds a white dove
Reina de los Patriarcas (Queen of Patriarchs) – bears a wooden rod
Reina de las Profetas (Queen of Prophets) – she holds an hourglass
Reina de los Confesores (Queen of Confessors) – she holds a scroll
Reina de los Martires (Queen of Martyrs) – she wears a crown of thorns or a pierced heart to represent the Mater Dolorosa (Mother of Sorrows)
Reina de los Apostoles (Queen of Apostles) – dressed in peasant attire and carries a lamb and cane
Reina de los Santos (Queen of Saints) – in white garment and wears a golden wreath
Reina del Cielo (Queen of Heaven) – dressed in very light blue gown with a bouquet of white roses and accompanied by two little angels
Reina de las Virgenes (Queen of Virgins) – holds a rosary or a white lily to signify chastity and also escorted by two angels
Reina de las Flores (Queen of Flowers) – as the Queen of Flores de Mayo, she walks beneath an arch festooned with assortment of blooms and carries a huge bouquet of flowers.
Reina Emperatriz (Queen Empress) – another representation of St. Helena alluding to the imperial Roman title of Agusta (Empress or Queen Mother) which her son Constantine bestowed upon her.
Reina Helena (Queen Helena) – the actual personification of St. Helena and always the last biblical figure in the procession. She carries a crucifix in her arms escorted by a young boy as Constantine who is dressed in princely raiment.
In the truest essence of this religious representation, the Reina Emperatriz and Reina Helena are but one and the same but maybe due to the voluminous turn out of potential role players and a great number of beauties available, early santacruzan organizers deemed it proper to have a dual exposure of the main queen to accommodate every one.
Over the years and due to the love of the Filipinos for innovation and their penchant for creativity, the current adaptation of this religious practice has considered a recently crowned beauty queen titlist or a popular actress or celebrity as Reina Helena and an equally known male model or actor for her escort. The unrestrained display of these biblical characters and symbolic figures participating in the procession made the significant attributes to the Blessed Virgin even more.
This night of alluring pageantry also enables even the less privilege but stunning maidens to be of equal footing with the heiress of the rich during the religious parade.
But the main queen of the festivity is the Blessed Virgin Mary as her image consistently occupies the final spot while a choir (cantores) continuously chants “Dios Te Salve (Hail Mary) throughout the procession.
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1 Comment
  1. Very interesting background of Santacruzan. Thank you so much for enlightening. Annie Wraight, a Filipina.

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