Semana Santa in Lipa: badge of faith and prestige

Owning a santo is a religious tradition that was introduced during the Spanish colonial times and remains an important aspect of Filipino Catholic communities today. For many, it is a symbol of faith, status, and prestige. Religious objects and traditions are deeply ingrained in the human expression of piety and devotion.

Semana Santa Procession in Lipa (Photo by Jeremy Mendoza)

The exact origin of this tradition in Lipa is unclear, as the San Sebastian Cathedral does not have any archival records related to the town’s Lenten practices. The Spanish-era Court Records of Batangas collection offers insight into the origins of the santo tradition in Lipa. Specifically, the last will and testament of Don Cayetano Catigbac y Calao, who served as Lipa’s gobernadorcillo in 1865, reveals that he was a camarero or custodian of a processional image of the Señor de Tres Caídas, depicting Jesus’ third fall. This document, dated April 6, 1877, serves as a timeline for the tradition’s age. Unfortunately, during World War II, this santo and many other historic structures and artifacts were destroyed, including the numerous stone houses (bahay na bato) and other memorabilia of the old families in the former Villa de Lipa.

La Imagen de la Virgen de la Paz es para mi hija María Catigbac, pero la Imagen de Jesús, María, y José y de Señor de Tres Caídas de que estoy Camarero, dejo su cuidado a mi esposa Doña Ignacia Africa a quien ayudaran mis hijas: Doña Petra, María, y Leoncia Catigbac en arreglar vestidos y atender a dicho Señor si se sacara y llevara en procesión.

Translation. The image of the Virgen de la Paz is for my daughter Maria Katigbak, but the images of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph and that of the Señor de Tres Caídas (Jesus of the Third fall) of which I am the custodian, shall be left to the care of my wife Doña Ygnacia Africa and to my daughters Doña Petra, Maria, and Leoncia Katigbak, who will assist her in arranging the dresses and attending to the said Señor if it will be taken-out and carried in procession.

Clause #18 of the Last Will & Testament of Don Cayetano Catigbac
April 6, 1877, Batangas Court Records, Spanish era

While only five to ten santos used to participate in Lipa’s annual Holy Week procession in the past, a new generation of devout Lipeños has since emerged and begun commissioning and owning santos. As a result, there are now twenty-two santos venerated during the city’s Holy Week procession.

Here is a list of the santos in Lipa, arranged in chronological order based on the year they were commissioned or officially joined the procession:

Pre-World War II Santos (Santos that survived WWII)

Señor atado a la columna (Photo by Jeremy Mendoza)
  • The image of the Señor Atado a la Columna (Jesus tied to the Column), adorned with beaten silver accessories such as the tres potencias, chains, and column, was commissioned by the Torres-Lantin Family in the 1880s.
Señor de la Paciencia (Photo by Renz Katigbak)
  • The Señor de la Paciencia is an image of a seated Christ, right after he was scourged, crowned, and cloaked. For the procession, it is adorned with silver accessories chain necklace, the tres potencias, crown of thorns, and a reed scepter. The image and accessories were commissioned by Doña Macaria Catigbac Vda. de Salas and inherited by her daughter Adela Catigbac Salas-Gatlin.
Santo Entierro de Labac (Photo by Jeremy Mendoza)
Santo Entierro de Labac (Photo by Jeremy Mendoza)
  • The processional Santo Entierro in a silver calandra (or sometimes referred to as Señor Santo Sepulcro) was commissioned by Don Lino Catigbac y Calao, Lipa’s gobernadorcillo in 1869. Following Don Lino’s death in 1896, the camarera role was taken up by his daughter, Doña Juana Katigbak de Manalo. She passed it on to her daughters, Clara and Consuelo, and then to her grandson, Dr. Alfredo Eugenio Manalo, Jr., who was the last descendant from the Manalo-Katigbak branch to take care of the holy image until his passing in 2015. The ancestral home of the Manalo-Katigbak family, located in Barangay Labac, was converted into a shrine where devotees can venerate the image.
Santo Entierro of the Pasia Family (Photo by Jeremy Mendoza)
  • Another Santo Entierro, owned by the Pasia family, is enshrined in the Lipa Cathedral and is used for the paglilibing or burial rite.
Santo Pedro (Photo by Renz Katigbak)
  • The San Pedro, adorned with a silver halo and pedestal, was commissioned in the 1920s by the spouses Don Bartolome Katigbak and Doña Maria Juana Sales de Katigbak.
San Juan Evangelista (Photo by Renz Katigbak)
  • The San Juan Evangelista, commissioned by the Mendoza family, joined the procession in the 1940s.

Post World War II Santos

Jesus trajo a Pilato (photo by Renz Katigbak)
  • The Señor Condenado (Jesus tied and brought to Pilate), commissioned by the Abaño family, joined the procession of 1948.
Nuestro Padre Jesus Nazareno (photo by Jeremy Mendoza)
  • In 1946, the Nuestro Padre Jesus Nazareno, more commonly known as the Black Nazarene, was commissioned by Benigna Macasaet Flores from a local atelier in Sabang. She did so in memory of her husband, Federico Esguerra Infante, a former Lipa councilor, and those who died with him at the Pamintahan River due to Japanese atrocities. The Nazareno made its primera salida, or first official procession, in 1958.
Santa Maria Magdalena (Photo by Renz Katigbak)
  • The Santa María Magdalena, shown weeping at the foot of the cross, is an exquisite example of the classic Spanish talla en madera estofado style, characterized by its intricate polychromed and ornately carved woodwork. María Kalaw-Katigbak, a prominent figure in Philippine society and culture, acquired this image in a Madrid atelier during her travels in the 1950s.
Santa Veronica (photo by Jeremy Mendoza)
  • The Santa Veronica, commissioned by the Monastrial family, joined the procession of 1962.
Nuestro Señor en la Oración de Huerto (photo by Jeremy Mendoza)
  • The Señor en la Oración de Huerto, a tableau of Jesus’ Agony in the Garden, was purchased by the Katigbak-Luz sisters, Aurora, Pura, and Corazon, in Spain. Like the Maria Magdalena, the image is of talla en madera estofado technique. The image’s primera salida was during the procession of 1970.
Ecce Homo (Photo by Renz Katigbak)
  • The Ecce Homo (Jesus Condemned to Death), purchased by Rita Leyesa Katigbak Vda. de Templo in Rome, Italy, joined the procession of 1974.
Señor de Tres Caídas (Photo by Jeremy Mendoza)
Señor de Tres Caídas (Photo by Renz Katigbak)
  • The Señor de Tres Caídas, a tableau of Jesus’ Third Fall, was commissioned by the couple Alfredo Luz Katigbak and Isabel Reyes-Katigbak in 1975 from the famous Talleres de Maximo Vicente, the well-known early 20th-century master sculptor of Philippine religious imagery.
La Pieta (Photo by Jeremy Mendoza)
  • The La Pieta, commissioned by the Tolentino Family, joined the procession sometime in the 1990s.
Mater Dolorosa during the Good Friday Procession (Photo by Jeremy Mendoza)
Mater Dolorosa during the Salubong (Easter Sunday) (Photo by Jeremy Mendoza)
  • The Mater Dolorosa or Nuestra Señora de los Dolores (Mother of Sorrows ), adorned with a golden rostrillo and sword-pierced heart, commissioned by Mrs. Gloria Malabanan-Morada in 1994, is used for the Viernes Santo procession as well as the Salubong.

    Its history can be traced from an heirloom ivory image (face and hands) of the Virgen de los Dolores owned by Mrs. Morada’s maternal ancestors, Don Pedro Bautista Reyes (gobernadorcillo of Lipa, 1852) and Doña Maria Quizon. The spouses commissioned the Virgen de los Dolores in view of the growing devotion to Our Lady of Sorrows, which was introduced by Pope Pius VII in 1814. The ivory image was eventually passed down to their firstborn, Don Deogracias Reyes and his wife Doña Eulogia Mayo. When the couple met their untimely death, their only son Wenceslao M. Reyes inherited the Virgen. As a young orphan at that time, Wenceslao sought the care of his aunt Doña Tarcila Reyes de Dimayuga, a religious and pious woman, to whom he would eventually bequeath the care of the family’s Virgen.

    From then on, it was Doña Tarcila who took charge as the camarera of her parents’ revered santo. As early as this time, and as far back as anyone can remember, the Virgen de los Dolores of the Reyes family, has been used for the annual Viernes Santo procession in Lipa. Every time it would be carried in procession, it would be garbed in its black embroidered vestment, accessorized with a silver rostrillo and sword-pierced heart, and mounted in its silver carroza. After the procession, the image would be brought back to the house and a modest meal would be served for the family, relatives, musikero, cantor and cantora.

    The eldest daughter of Doña Tarcila Reyes and Don José Dimayuga, Gliceria, married to Hugo Latorre, would inherit the Virgen. This tradition continued with Seriang and then passed on to her children. Such was her devotion to the Blessed Mother that she named one of her daughters, Dolores, after their family’s Marian image.

    The Virgen’s participation in the annual procession would be disturbed by World War II. During this time, its custody was under Seriang’s eldest daughter Dr. Mariquita Latorre, married to Vicente Malabanan. With the emergence of war, their family had to hide in the mountains. They only took with them the Virgen’s ivory face, hands, and its rostrillo and heart accessories, leaving behind its body frame and carroza in their home in Calle Republica (later renamed P. Torres St.).

    After the War, Mariquita and her family moved to a new home in Calle Real (later renamed CM Recto St.) and as they rebuilt their lives, the family took on the task of restoring the Virgen’s old glory, commissioning a new body frame, vestments, and carroza.

    When Mariquita died in 1989, her children and their family carried on the legacy of taking care of the Virgen and its annual participation in the prusisyon. Unfortunately, a tragedy struck this century-old tradition when in 1993, the Malabanan-Latorre house and the Virgen were consumed by fire. Only the Virgen’s burnt ivory face was left. Dolores Latorre, Mariquita’s sister, tried to have it restored but it was totally irreparable. The incident did not deter Mariquita’s children to continue the legacy and devotion to the Virgen de los Dolores. The family had another statue commissioned, which was as close to the original ivory face of the Virgen.

    Through seven generations and countless adversities, though the century-old ivory statue of the Virgen did not survive; the devotion to Nuestra Señora de los Dolores in Lipa lives on.
Dagit during the Salubong (Easter Sunday) (Photo by Jeremy Mendoza)
The Salubong tradition (Photo by Jeremy Mendoza)
The Salubong tradition (Photo by Jeremy Mendoza)
  • The Resurrected Christ was purchased by Erlinda Katigbak Templo vda. de Tarnate in Rome, Italy in 1993. It is used during Easter Sunday’s traditional Salubong.
Jesus Meets the Women of Jerusalem (Photo by Renz Katigbak)
  • The tableau of Jesus Meets the Women of Jerusalem, commissioned by the Librada Family, joined the procession in 1991.
Jesus Dies on the Cross (Photo by Renz Katigbak)
  • Jesus Dies on the Cross, commissioned by the Burgos family, joined the procession in 1994.
Jesus Stripped of His Garment (photo by Jeremy Mendoza)
  • The tableau of Jesus Stripped of His Garment, commissioned by the Leyesa family, joined the procession of 2005.
The Last Supper (photo by Jeremy Mendoza)
  • The Last Supper, commissioned by the Reyes Family, joined the procession of 2011.
Santa Maria Salome ( Photo by Renz Katigbak)
  • The Santa María Salome, acquired by the Africa/Villanueva-Maravilla Family in 2015 from an old family in Quezon City, joined the procession in 2016. The image is adorned with their family heirloom jewelry, a silver Damascus collar necklace, and a Jerusalem cross pendant embellished with diamonds.