MISSION: The Sto. Niño de Malolos Foundation, Inc. is a non-profit organization that is socially engaged and actively pursues to preserve both spiritual and religious heritage in the City of Malolos.
VISSION: The Sto. Niño de Malolos Foundation, Inc. is a non-profit organization that aims to propagate the Holy Child devotion and to make it relevant in contemporary times.
The Santo Niño de Malolos in time and history
Patterned after the style of Louis XV of France, the Santo Niňo de Malolos stands gloriously in classical splendor with its golden boots, red cape and gold accoutrements (Ang Patron Santo Niňo de Malolos, 2010). Inherited from the ancestors of the Tantoco family of Malolos, the image is currently under the care of the heirs of the late Dr. Angel S. Tantoco and Leonor Viri-Tantoco. It should be noted that the illustrious family, particularly its third generation of heirs, contributed greatly in spreading the devotion to the Santo Niňo in the island of Luzon.
The devotion to the Santo Niňo de Malolos started in Barrio Kamestisuhan, a small district in Malolos where affluent and old Chinese-Filipino families reside since the colonial period. The annual “fiesta” (feast) offered to the Santo Niňo de Malolos in colonial days was said to be elaborate and no match in all of Malolos. Old mansions in Kamestisuhan were all lit and its “capiz” (shell) windows opened to the cool January air. At the time, ladies were dressed to the nines in all Balintawak (an elegant Filipiniana clothing for women) finery while the gentlemen in Camisa-Chino (traditional Filipiniana clothing for men) and red pants. After the Second World War, the annual fiesta was slightly halted given the harsh economic landscape brought by war (Tantoco, 1979).
In 1966, Dr. Luis Santos proposed to start the tradition once again. The doctor then funded a small fiesta that culminated with a solemn mass and procession. Biscuits and candy were also given to children after the procession and Banda Republica, a famous brass band in Malolos, was hired to highlight the festivities. When the image of the Santo Niňo de Malolos was inherited by the family of Dr. Tantoco, the solemn feast continued with a nine-day novena and procession. Relatives also contributed to fund the annual fiesta and soon many of them also joined their own Santo Niňo images in the annual procession (Tantoco, 1979; Bautista, personal communication, 2011).
Since then, the growing devotion to the Santo Niňo de Malolos inspired a great number of devotees all over the Philippines to come to Malolos every last Sunday of January to join the festivities and honor the Child Jesus. In addition, the second generation of devotees pioneered the first exhibit of Santo Nino images at the Casa Real in 1974. It was also the same year that the Santo Niňo de Malolos Foundation, Inc. (SNMF) was established. Since its inception, the foundation is responsible for the successful organization of the annual exhibit and fiesta while being faithful to its main purpose, the propagation of the devotion to the Santo Niňo de Malolos (Maclang, 2010). Through the years, the efforts of the foundation in propagating the devotion to the Santo Niňo paid off as many towns and barrios in Luzon started to ignite the devotion to the Child Jesus in their own vicinity It also inspired the organization dedicated to the Santo Niňo, the “Congregacion del Santissimo Nombre del Niňo Jesus” (Congregation of the Holy Name of the Child Jesus) founded by the fashion czar Benjamin “Ben” Farrales, to spread the devotion to the Holy Child in Manila. In a way, the congregacion is one of the many organizations dedicated to the Holy Child, which were considered offspring organizations of the Santo Niňo de Malolos (Bautista, personal communication, 2011; Florendo, 2002; Santos, 2005).
Preserving culture and the arts through the Santo Niňo de Malolos
“Too much is not enough,” this is how Fr. Vicente “Jay” Lina, Jr., chaplain and spiritual adviser of the Santo Niňo de Malolos Foundation, described how people celebrate the devotion to the Santo Niňo in Malolos. Since the revival of the Santo Niňo festivities in post-war Malolos, the simple fiesta of yesteryears is hardly evident and it evolved for the better. It has set a standard, a trend that would forever mark the ingenuity and creativeness of the people behind the festivities. Starting from the annual Santo Niňo exhibit to the grand Santo Niňo procession on the last Sunday of January, tedious artistic expressions encircle the merriment that tries its best to preserve inspirations from the past and yet continuously discover new artistic possibilities. Past and present inspirations created a fusion of styles and this became the standard bearer in which the Santo Niňo de Malolos festivities are known for. As Basilidez “Dez” Bautista, one of the pioneers of the foundation, puts it: “Ulay [Tantoco] and I did not imagine it evolving this way.”
The Santo Niňo de Malolos festivities start with the traditional “panaog” every third Friday of January. Literally means “going down,” the image of the Santo Niňo de Malolos joins in procession from the house of the Tantoco family in Barrio Kamestisuhan to the Templete de Santo Niňo (Chapel of the Holy Child). Dancers do the waltzing and the brass band provides the festive rhythm to the tune of traditional fiesta songs like “Santa Clara” and “Lerion” while the image of the Santo Niňo de Malolos parades in the streets of the town proper. One highlight of the panaog is the annual visit of the Santo Niňo de Malolos in the city hall where it is welcomed by the incumbent mayor and his constituents. From the city hall, the procession continues and ends at the templete. The image of the Santo Niňo is then detached from the “carroza” (carriage; float) and enthroned solemnly on the altar. The panaog also pilots the first day of novena in honor of the Santo Niňo, so a “novenario” (novena) and novena mass are said for nine days till the Visperas Mayores (day before the actual feast day). In the duration of the novena days, the templete is adorned with the best floral decors and the novena masses are celebrated with great liturgy, regal solemnity and soulful music provided for by the “tagapagtaguyod” (sponsors and benefactors).
By third Sunday of January, devotees not only flock the templete to attend the novena mass, but they also anticipate the visit of the image of the Santo Niňo de Malolos to the annual exhibit of Santo Niňo images in the Museo Diocesano de Malolos at the Barasoain Shrine Complex. After the novena mass, the congregation waits outside the templete and the image of the Santo Niňo is then taken from the altar to its carroza. A procession commences going to Barasoain where a “pasinaya” (opening ceremony; ribbon cutting) happens. Since 1974, the annual Santo Niňo exhibit is always a well-attended spectacle that showcases antique and new images of the Santo Niňo in various mediums (wood, ivory, resin, clay or painting) and iconography. Devotees as far as abroad bring their images tirelessly every year to be exhibited in the aim to inspire and spread the devotion to the Holy Child.
The exhibit area is divided into different halls: Hall of Popular Devotion, Marian Hall, Hall of Native Devotion, Hiyas ng Bulacan, Hermanos Hall, Munting Santo Niňo and Hall of Patrons. In the Hall of Popular Devotion, Santo Niňo images bearing popular titles are exhibited such as Santo Niňo de Medico (Holy Child as a doctor) or Santo Niňo de Labrador (Holy Child as a worker). Santo Niňo images that have an association with any titles of the Blessed Virgin Mary, as deemed accepted by the Church, like Santo Niňo de Salvacion (Holy Child of Salvation) that has a reference to Nuestra Seňora de Salvacion (Our Lady of Salvation) or Santo Niňo de la Paz y Buen Viaje (Holy Child of Peace and Good Voyage), which is related to Nuestra Seňora de la Paz y Buen Viaje (Our Lady of Peace and Good Voyage) of Antipolo, are distinctively placed in the Marian Hall. Meanwhile, images that have deep reference to a particular place – say Santo Niňo de Cebu (Holy Child of Cebu) or Santo Niňo de Pandacan (Holy Child of Pandacan) – are exhibited in the Hall of Native Devotion. Also known as the Governor’s Hall, Hiyas ng Bulacan features the Santo Niňo of the provincial capitol and other Santo Niňo images owned by close friends of the governor or popular personas in Bulacan.
In the Hermanos Hall, the principal and most awaited hall annually, Santo Niňo images of incumbent and past Hermanos Mayores (major sponsors of the annual festivity; family or a group who shoulders the expenses of the fiesta) regardless of the title are featured. The Munting Santo Niňo is a cutely decorated niche that features curio type images of the Santo Niňo, normally heirloom and ivory pieces. The Hall of Patrons, however, is the extension of the Hermanos Hall and exhibits images of past hermanos; the hall is always anticipated for its ostentatious decorations designed and sponsored by a known production designer. Every year, each hall is sponsored by a particular member of the foundation and all halls follow a central theme, which is agreed by the fiesta committee and present hermanos. The chosen theme transcends beyond the exhibit for it normally becomes the overall theme of the annual fiesta as well. For five days, the exhibit is opened for public viewing.
The festivities do not stop in the Santo Niňo exhibit. In fact, majority of the images on display join the so-called “dapit” or “sunduan” during the Visperas Mayores before the grand procession the next day. The dapit is a very Tagalog tradition where brass bands signal the merriment of the fiesta. In the case of Malolos, the dapit starts when brass bands do the “pasyo” (continuous play of music) in all corners of the town proper. When a brass band approaches a street, all Santo Niňo images in that particular location, on their beautifully decked and lighted carrozas, join the brass band in procession going to the templete. At least fifty carrozas fetched by the brass bands park gracefully in the perimeter of the templete after the procession surrounded by open and sparkling ancestral houses in Kamestisuhan, which always causes awe and delight to spectators and guests. After the dapit, the final novena mass is said in honor of the Santo Niňo de Malolos. The “translacion” then commences afterwards. In the translacion, the image of the Santo Niňo de Malolos is transferred from its templete to the cathedral nearby in solemn procession led by other images of the Santo Niňo. The translacion ends with a final benediction. Subsequently, the traditional “testimonial dinner” offered by the present hermanos to the members of the foundation happens, while the image of the Santo Niňo de Malolos then stays at the cathedral for the night in preparation for the next day’s grand fiesta.
On the last Sunday of January, the feast of the Santo Niňo de Malolos is celebrated with great anticipation, pomp and solemnity. In the morning of the fiesta day, a high mass is offered at the templete followed by the “prusisyon ng mga bata,” a special procession for children. Together with the Santo Niňo de Malolos, children of all ages join the morning procession with the “higantes” (Papier-mâché giant), stilts men, folk dancers, brass bands and, sometimes, as far as clowns and magicians. The procession is capped by distributing biscuits and candies to the joy of children. In the afternoon, the most awaited part of the festivities happens – the grand Santo Niňo procession in honor of the Santo Niňo de Malolos. Before the procession, the Hermanos Mayores Pontifical Mass is offered in the cathedral and this is officiated by the Bishop of Malolos. After which, a gleaming spectacle awaits at the cathedral’s patio where at least a hundred carrozas bearing Santo Niňo images can be seen. Santo Niňos of varied iconography and carrozas of various types and shapes are to be found. This is the time where visitors, guests and even devotees get a taste of Bulaqueňo (native of Bulacan) artistry. Tons of flowers sourced locally and abroad are meticulously decorated in each carroza. Some go as far as decorating theirs with the most bizarre, ethnic and avant-garde materials.
The procession starts with the “salida” (exit) of the “ceriales” (sacristans holding the cross and two candle poles) followed by at least a hundred-fifty carrozas of Santo Niňo images. Each carroza proceeds at the stage where the hermanos and commentators are. As each carroza passes by, the commentators give a concise, witty and liturgical background regarding the image of the Santo Niňo in front of them. This way, the masses are also informed and liturgically educated why there is such depiction of the Holy Child. After the last carroza, the Santo Niňo de Malolos, accompanied by the carroza of the “Reina del Cielo” (Mary as Queen of Heaven) and San Jose (Saint Joseph), exits the cathedral together with the hermanos and their family members. The procession traverses the streets of Pariancillo (Kamestisuhan), Barangay San Vicente, Barasoain complex, Casa Real then to the cathedral with many people watching to the rhythm of the brass bands, waltzing folk dancers and continuous fireworks display in all corners of Malolos. The procession ends with the blessing of each carroza and the arrival of the Santo Niňo de Malolos in the cathedral.
At the end of the day, all excess and pageantry are only a humble offering to God – the Holy Child that came to be known as the Santo Niňo de Malolos. After all, as Fr. Jay said: “Too much is not enough for God.”
About the author
Assistant Professorial Lecturer at De La Salle University in Manila; Content Creator on Arte Sacra Ph; and Archivist and Editor-in-Chief of the Sto. Niño de Malolos Foundation, Inc.