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Philippine Festival: Flores de Mayo and Its Origin

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reyna elena_b

Most festivals in the Philippines are religious in nature. This includes the “Flores de Mayo” which is done as a tribute to the Virgin Mary. “Flores de Mayo” in Spanish translates to “Flowers of May”. If you are visiting the Philippines, it might be a good idea to come and see the festival which is just around the corner.

 

“Flores de Mayo” parade usually takes place during the last week of May. It is celebrated in different locations around the country. Just ask around in your local community if you want to know the exact date of the Flores de Mayo parade.

 

Each region also has its own means or style of celebrating “Flores de Mayo”, but it usually involves a mass, praying the Rosary and a novena. One of the most popular events during “Flores de Mayo” is the “Sagala” or the religious procession. This procession is also known as “Santacruzan”

 

The “Sagala” or “Santacruzan” is a parade of women in beautiful and elegant gowns. This parade pays tribute to Queen Helena and her story when she found the Holy Cross or the True Cross where Jesus Christ was crucified. Thus, the word “Santacruzan” means “Holy Cross”.

 

During the “Santacruzan”, the women are given various Marian titles with the most illustrious one being called the “Reyna Elena” (which translates to “Queen Helena”.) Another lady is also given the title “Reyna Emperatris”. This title means “Queen Empress” and is another representation of Queen Helena. These beautiful women are usually escorted by handsome young men who are wearing traditional Filipino male clothing, the “Barong Tagalog”. This is a very formal event synonymous to a beauty pageant with a religious origin.

 

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Reyna Elena and Constantine during the Flores de Mayo festival

 

Being named “Reyna Helena” or “Reyna Elena” in this festival is a prestigious title that is symbolic of wealth and prosperity. In some communities, they even get local celebrities to portray the roles of “Reyna Elena” and “Reyna Emperatris”.

 

The “Reyna Helena” is usually accompanied by a young boy who represents the young Emperor Constantine, son of Queen Helena in Roman history.

 

Traditionally, devotees hold lighted candles during the procession and offer fervent prayers. In other communities, they have turned this event into a livelier one, replacing religious songs and prayer with modern fanfare. Regardless of theme or style, the “Flores de Mayo” festival is a beautiful and colourful event in this country.

 

Historical Background of the Festival

 

QueenHelena

A classic painting of Helena of Constantinople by Italian painter Cima da Conegliano (1459-1517). The painting shows Helena holding a cross that represents the True Cross of Jesus Christ. It was during the reign of her son, Emperor Constantine when the persecution of early Christians came to an end. Catholics honour Helena as “Saint Helena”. In the Philippines, we call her “Reyna Elena”.

 

Filipinos are very religious and the “Flores de Mayo” and “Santacruzan” procession are related with the early history of Christianity during the time of Queen Helena of Rome.

 

Who is Queen Helena and why is she honoured in this festival? History books call her Saint Helena or Saint Helen. She is the mother of Emperor Constantine of Rome. Emperor Constantine was in power in the years 306-337 A.D. He is a very important figure in the history of Rome and of Christianity.

 

In history of Christianity, the organised persecution of the followers of Jesus Christ started in 64 A.D. by Emperor Nero. This persecution continued for centuries. It was only during the reign of Emperor Constantine when the rampant and universal persecution of early Christians ended. The first major step in ending the killing and persecution took place in the year 311 A.D. Emperor Constantine is also the first emperor of Rome who transformed the pagan Roman Empire into a strong Christian country. This is a major turn in the course of history. Today, the seat of the Roman Catholic Church is in Vatican City in Rome, Italy.

 

Other than being the mother of a great Roman emperor, St. Helen is traditionally credited with a pilgrimage to Syria Palestina (a province of Rome in 135-390 A.D.) where she discovered the True Cross where Jesus Christ was crucified. Classic artworks portray St. Helen as a queen holding a cross which symbolises the Holy Cross. This depiction of St. Helen is the inspiration behind the “Santacruzan” during the “Flores de Mayo” festival in the Philippines.

 

 

Author: Expatch Editorial Team  

 

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Photo source:

Painting of St. Helen of Constantinople – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Helena_(empress)

 

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