The Black Nazarene is one of the most important religious icons in the Philippines. This life-size dark wooden statue of Jesus Christ dates from the 17th century and is said to possess the power of healing. Huge crowds of faithful pilgrims come to Quiapo Church every day to pray for intercession on behalf of themselves and their loved ones.
The church itself dates its origins back to the late 16th century, when it was housed in a simple bamboo hut. Like many other historic buildings in Manila, it has been substantially rebuilt several times following fires and the devastating earthquake that destroyed much of the city in 1863. The present building was reconstructed in 1933 after yet another fire, taking this opportunity to add the dome and a second belfry to its lovely late-19th century facade.
Once inside, all eyes turn immediately to the altar, above which hangs the venerated Black Nazarene, robed in maroon and carrying a cross. A special novena is held every Friday, when pilgrims pack the church to join in prayers and devotional hymns. The service is relayed on a giant screen in the square outside for the benefit of those who are unable to find space in the church itself.
The scenes in the surrounding streets, especially on Fridays, are unique, and onlookers will be fascinated to watch the pilgrims, many walking on their knees in penitential reverence. The special atmosphere is enhanced by stalls selling alternative medicines, folk cures, candles and religious ephemera, while strolling fortune-tellers and faith healers add their colourful presence to the heady mix.
Catch a bus or taxi to Plaza Miranda in the city centre, or avoid the traffic by taking the light rail to nearby Carriedo station. Quiapo Church is open daily and admission is free. No photography is allowed within the building although it is permitted to take non-flash pictures from the entrances. The official website carries full details of services and times.