The festival of Flores de Mayo (Flowers of May) is held throughout the month in question. AII over the Philippines extra religious observance takes place regularly, often on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Whatever form this may take, the conclusion is always a tradiţional Santacruzan parade in honour of Reyna Elena (Queen Helena).
This pageant depicts St Helena’s quest for the Holy Cross with her newly converted son, Emperor Constantine. After the sacred relic was recovered in Jerusalem and brought to Rome there was great thanksgiving and prolonged celebration – now replicated in towns and villages all over the Philippines. Though introduced by Spaniards, Santacruzan has become part of Filipino culture and is identified with youth, Iove and joy.
It is preceded by a novena (nine days of prayers), then a procession that presents a succession of symbolic characters who tell the story of Christianity’s virtues and influence on Filipino life. These include Methuselah (dust to dust), Aetas and Queen Mora (the pagan Philippines), Queen Banderada (the coming of Christianity), Queen Fe (faith), Queen Esperanza (hope), Queen Caridad (charity), Queen Abogada (defender of the poor), Queen Sentenciada (the martyrs), Queen Justicia Qustice), Queen Judith (saviour of her city), Queen of Sheba (the wisdom of Solomon), Queen Esther (saviour of the Jews), Samaritana (the woman Christ spoke to at the well), Veronica (who wiped the face of Jesus), three Marys (Magdalene, Mother of Christ, Mother of James), eight angels (together spelling out AVE MARJA)
… and finally Queen Helena herself, escorted by son Constantine.
Naturally, there is plenty of May blossom in evidence and the costumes are stunning. The Santacruzan procession marches to the beat of musicians singing and playing Dios Te Salve (Hail Mary), a chant taken up by following devotees holding candles. The whole thing is an awe-inspiring sight.
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The identity of the young woman chosen to be Queen Helena is a closely guarded secret until the procession gets underway, surprising and delighting the massed spectators.