Witnessing Bicolandia’s Culture and Tradition: What the Penafrancia Festival is All About

The Penafrancia Festival in Bicol / Image from naga.gov.ph

Tucked away in the heart of the captivating Bicol region, Naga City beckons tourists with its blend of culture, tradition, and spirituality. It is a place where life converges with deep-rooted faith, and it is the very soul of this city that comes to life during the annual Peñafrancia Festival.

But what exactly is the Peñafrancia Festival, and why does it hold such a special place in the hearts of the Bicolanos? Join us as we embark on a journey to uncover the enchanting story of Naga City and the magnificent Peñafrancia Festival that defines its identity.

The history of the Peñafrancia celebration

What is the Peñafrancia Festival, and how did it begin, you might wonder? For the locals and devotees, it is not just a celebration but an embodiment of a firm devotion. Over the years, the celebration has become a testament to unwavering faith and a spectacle that captures the essence of Bicol’s soul.

But before the festival became a grand celebration, the devotion that would become the biggest Marian event in Asia began with a miracle. It all began with Miguel Robles de Covarrubias, the son of a Spanish official living in the Philippines, who was supposedly saved from his suffering by the image of the Virgin Mary. As a form of gratitude for the miracle, the family began praying to this image of Our Lady of Peña de Francia.

Later, they would build a church (now the Nuestra Señora de Peñafrancia in Paco, Manila) with the first copy of the painting near the Pasig River. Eventually, Miguel Robles de Covarrubias was invited to what is now Naga City, where he was ordained into the priesthood.

Upon his settlement into the locality with the image of the Lady of Peñafrancia, reports of miraculous events began, and they were all attributed to Ina, as the devotees refer to the image. The stories of these miracles then spread through towns and provinces, gathering new devotees as they were retold.

Over a century later, a new tradition was born as Bishop Francisco Gainza institutionalized the procession, novena, traslacion, and the Fluvial Procession.

At present the devotion remains strong and Naga dedicates a month-long celebration every September in honor of the Lady of Peñafrancia. As for the miraculous image, it is permanently displayed at the Minor Basilica of Our Lady of Peñafrancia in Naga.

What are the highlights of the festival?

The Peñafrancia Festival is a deeply spiritual celebration that unfolds over several weeks in Naga City. Though the highlight of the celebration is the Lady of Peñafrancia, the festival itself combines the religious feast of the Divino Rostro or the Divine Face.

With the Divino Rostro celebrated every second Friday and the Peñafrancia every third Saturday of September, the two occasions make a longer feast. Hence, it is also common to hear mixing shouts of Viva la Virgen or Viva el Divino Rostro during the celebrations.

Here is an overview of the key events during this extraordinary festival:

Divino Rostro Novena

The Divino Rostro is Jesus’ image, which is said to have appeared on Veronica’s veil as he was about to be crucified. Locally, the devotion to the image in Naga began at the height of the cholera epidemic in Manila that reached the province. Like the Lady of Peñafrancia, the Divino Rostro was said to be miraculous, and it supposedly ended the spread of the disease and challenging times.

Before the main feasts of the Peñafrancia festival, Naga holds a novenario for Divino Rostro, which is a nine-day prayer and devotion to the Divine Face of Jesus at the old Peñafrancia Shrine. The novenario starts with an early evening Mass and procession of the Divino Rostro from Our Lady of Peñafrancia Basilica to the Peñafrancia parish church. Each day during the novenario, there are dawn and evening Mass services, confessions, and at least one penitential procession, often at dawn, at the parish church.

Traslacion Procession

The first high point that marks the beginning of the festivities is the “Traslacion” which is a Spanish word for “transfer” or “movement.” In Peñafrancia traditions, this is the procession of the centuries-old image of Nuestra Señora de Peñafrancia and the Divino Rostro from the Peñafrancia Basilica to the Metropolitan Cathedral in Naga City.

The procession is a solemn and spiritually charged event that symbolizes the journey of the Lady from her basilica to the heart of the city. Members of local churches and devotees from all walks of life come together to witness and participate in this procession. As such, many pilgrims and locals join the procession, either by walking alongside the carriage bearing the image or by attending as spectators.

Fluvial procession / Image from Philippine Information Agency

Fluvial Procession

The Fluvial Procession is the most recognizable event in the Peñafrancia celebrations as devotees transport the image of Nuestra Señora de Peñafrancia on a beautifully decorated barge along the Naga River. The image, carefully placed on the boat, is adorned with flowers, candles, and other religious decorations.

Naga River serves as both the symbolic and physical pathway for the Lady of Peñafrancia. The route is also lined with thousands of devotees who gather along the riverbanks to witness the event. This procession ends at the Peñafrancia Basilica, where the image of Nuestra Señora de Peñafrancia is safely returned.

This moment is then marked by prayers and religious ceremonies, usually officiated by an archbishop signifying the completion of the journey and the Lady’s return to her altar at the basilica.

Feast Day of Our Lady of Peñafrancia 

At the height of the feast, the day begins with a Solemn Pontifical Mass celebrated at the Peñafrancia Basilica. Here, thousands of devotees, pilgrims, and visitors gather to offer prayers and seek the intercession of Nuestra Señora de Peñafrancia.

However, the Feast Day is not just a religious event but also a cultural celebration of Bicolano identity and heritage. Hence, it features traditional music, dances, parades, and vibrant street performances that showcase the rich cultural tapestry of the region.

The day concludes with colorful fireworks displays and a festive atmosphere as people come together to celebrate the Lady’s feast.

Other activities

The Peñafrancia Festival is not only for the devotees. Like other festivals in the country, it features events that are open to all ages. Previous celebrations also featured a street dance competition and a Drum and Lyre Corps parade and competition joined by Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. While it is a month-long activitiy, the high point of the festivities lasts for about nine days.

Government workers and the military also proudly join in, fostering a sense of community pride through the Military Parade and Civic Parade. Lastly, elaborate floats honoring Ina also grace the streets, adding an artistic touch to the festivities.

Overall, the Peñafrancia Festival is more than just a religious event. At its core, it is a time when the community unites in prayer and celebration, making it an important cultural and spiritual festivity.

Preparing for the Peñafrancia Festival in 2023

As early as August, Naga City has activated its joint task force to prepare for the month-long Peñafrancia Festival. Here, representatives from various agencies, including the Philippine Coast Guard, Philippine National Police, Bureau of Fire Protection, Armed Forces of the Philippines, the office of the Mayor and Naga City Hall were present for the signing and involved in the planning.

The collaboration among these agencies ensures that this year’s celebration in honor of the Lady of Peñafrancia will be successful. Ultimately, this advances the festival both as a civic and a religious event.This year’s theme is “A renewed Church journeying with Christ, through Christ and in Christ.”

For festival goers who want to catch the highlights, the following are the dates to remember :

  • Traslacion Procession: Friday, September 8, 2023

  • Fluvial Procession: Saturday, September 16, 2023

  • Feast Day of Our Lady of Peñafrancia: Sunday, September 17, 2023

Immerse in the spirit of Naga City

Experience a different blend of community in Naga City, where faith and culture converge and thrive. Find your ideal home at the economic and cultural heart of Bicol in Camella Naga.

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