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Carigara and its Town Fiesta

Carigara and its Town Fiesta

My hometown, Carigara, on the island of Leyte, in the Philippines, has been celebrating its town fiesta every July 16 since 1595 in honor of “Santa Cruz del Triunfo” also known as  “El Triunfo de la Santa Cruz”.  A huge cross, with the image of Christ nailed to it, dominates the main altar of the parish church - the traditional place of honor for a town's Titular/”Patron”.  

There are three chapels dedicated to the three Santa Cruzes in Carigara:

1. Santa Cruz (Invencion)  - on Real St., next to Farmacia de Guzman and is
                                                venerated as the “Patron” of the Baybay District;

2. Santa Cruz (Exaltacion) - at corner of Exaltacion St. & Real Extension St.,
                                                venerated as the “Patron” of the Ponong District;

3.   Santa Cruz (Triunfo)     - on Triumfo St., Sawang District; if you are facing
                                                West towards the parish church, this chapel is on
                                                the right side of the street between Del Carmen
                                                & San Roque Streets.  

Why was this 3rd chapel built on this street?  Come to think of it, why did Carigara name this particular street Triumfo*? There is only one logical and sensible reason - because the original entrance of this church (its construction was started back in 1608 and finished in 1628) was on this street facing south.  In 1866, the main altar was moved from the northern to the southern end; the entrance had to be moved accordingly to face north unto Rebolledo Street as seen today.  A visit to these three chapels will show that only the 3rd one has the crucified image of Christ on it, the other two has either a white or purple cloth hanging from it.

In 1994, there was a move to change the image of our “Patron” from the Crucified Christ to the Resurrected Christ.  The alleged reason behind this change was Vatican II Council held in Rome from 1962 -1965, that supposedly provided this
new ecclesiastical meaning of  “The Triumph of the Holy Cross” to be the Resurrection of Christ - His triumph over death.

I have no problem understanding and accepting this new reasoning of the Catholic Church.  However, what the interest group behind the move did not take into consideration or must have set aside was the reason behind this traditional celebration of the Feast Day of “The Triumph of the Holy Cross”.  

Lately, with some free time and access to the Internet, I decided to do some cyber-space research.  I found a web site
with this article, which I had to shorten for brevity's sake:

                         EVANGELIZATION AT CARIGARA 1      
Five men in black made the sign of the cross as they made their way down the gangplank of the boat in the early Sunday morning of July 16, 1595. They walked to the beach and, kneeling, kissed the white sand shore. There was no sign of welcome on the island, but the newcomers were unfazed. Their arrival at their destination - northern Leyte, near the ancient town of Carigara - after an exhausting month-long journey by sea from Manila was sufficient cause for celebration.

The men in black cassocks were members of the Society of Jesus. Their highest superior in Manila, Vice-Provincial Fr. Antonio Sedeno, took his orders from the Jesuit provincial, an ocean away in Nueva Espana (Mexico), or waited for instructions from the superior general in Rome. But even with the trickle of priests arriving from Spain and Mexico, Sedeno sensed that the Society was ready to branch out to the Visayas in 1595. Nevertheless, only four priests and a brother could be spared for the new mission after a long wait.

The Manila superior personally chose Fr. Pedro Chirino, a native of Osuna, Spain, to head the Leyte mission. Those chosen to labor with Chirino were Fr. Juan del Carpio of Seville, Spain, and Fr. Cosme Flores of Zacatecas, Mexico. Bro. Gaspar Garay, also Seville born, was assigned to keep temporal house for missionaries. The fifth member of the team was Fr. Antonio Pereira, a Portuguese Jesuit who had sailed to the Philippines from the Moluccas to assist in mission work. Early in 1595, he and Chirino were sent to Tigbauan in Panay to establish a mission house on the island. He was left in Tigbauan to supervise the mission when Sedeno recalled Chirino for the new assignment. To beef up the order's expansion to the Visayas, the provincial ordered the temporary closure of the Tigbauan mission and sent Pereira to catch up with the rest.

Chirino and three others left Manila on June 15 and set sail on a boat owned by a benefactor, Don Geronimo de Alvez. Reaching Oton, Iloilo, the travelers paid their respects to another benefactor, Gov. Esteban Rodriguez de Figueroa, who was then in Oton to supervise preparations for an expedition against the Muslims of Mindanao.  Here, Chirino's team was joined by Pereira as well as a Christian male servant, Martin, a native of Ternate whom Don Geronimo had provided.

The missionaries spent days navigating the inland seas of the Visayas and eluding storms and squalls. Their boat reached the calm waters of northern Leyte shortly after daybreak of July 16. From afar, a postcard view of the island appeared before their eyes. Beyond the shore loomed a backdrop of breath-taking plains, bamboo trees and mountains that stirred a sense of home-coming among the weary travelers. But as the distance to the land shortened, they saw only the mouth of the Carigara River opening to the sea. Chirino made up his mind and directed the ship's captain to the exact spot where he wanted to land.

It was no ordinary Sunday in the Spanish calendar. The black-robed missionaries were of a mind not to let the day pass without marking its significance.  On that day, Spain was celebrating the Feast of the Triumph of the Holy Cross, in memory of a great victory - the Christian army under King Alfonso had triumphed over the Muslim forces under Miramamolin on the plains of Las Navas de Tolosa in July 16, 1212 A.D.  That victory, however, was won less by a feat of arms than by a blinding light of a cross that, tradition says, appeared in the sky above the field of battle. It struck terror and panic among the enemy ranks and led to their decisive defeat.  Since then, every July 16 is marked by a grateful people, as a sacred day equal in importance to the feast of Santiago de Compostela on July 25.

But the motley crew of pioneers would celebrate the day of their arrival in Leyte less to honor past victories than to pray for the conquest of hardships and obstacles that lurked ahead. Chirino wanted an emblem that would fire the missionaries with zeal; like what Constantine, the Great had  -  the monogram of Jesus Christ on his soldiers' shields on the eve of his victorious battle against the forces of Maxentius at the Milvian Bridge in 312 A.D.

He ordered that the makeshift altar be built on the beach itself. Then, with the backs toward the sea, the four priests said the Mass of the Triumph of the Holy Cross under the rites of the Council of Trent. Garay served mass and received Holy Communion. On the final "Deo Gratias," the celebrants took out a wooden cross, recited a solemn prayer, and planted it on the spot. One by one they knelt to kiss it as a sign of their commitment to conquer souls for the heavenly kingdom.

The missionaries decided to spend the night not far from the mouth of the Carigara River, where they waited for their guides to lead them to their destination about a kilometer inland. Meanwhile, news of their arrival traveled through the countryside and roused the natives settled along the river. Early the next morning, a number of them trooped to the riverbank and led the black-robed visitors into the interior. The sight of houses and welcomers warmed the hearts of the Jesuits. The encomiendero himself, Don Cristobal de Trujillo, stepped forward and embraced each priest in welcome.

Soon after the Jesuits arrived, Don Cristobal summoned the datus, principales and other pillars of the encomienda to a meeting. The agenda was threefold: to celebrate the arrival of the Jesuits, to inaugurate the foundation of a mission residence and to arrange with the people the schedule of their instructions in the faith. Prominent residents and principales from Ogmuc (Ormoc), Alang-alang, Barugo, Salog (Jaro), Leyte, Palo, Malaguicay (Tanauan), Dulag, Dagami and other settlements were invited too.  

Preparations for the festivity took a week. By Saturday, the eve of the celebration, people from the four corners of Leyte had begun converging in front of the small Carigara chapel, where games and other forms of amusement were held until the wee hours of the following morning. On the day of the festivity, July 23, 1595, the Octave of the Feast of the Triumph of the Holy Cross, cannons were fired to signal the start of the solemn procession.

To this day 400 years later, Carigara and its inhabitants have been faithfully observing the Feast of the Triumph of the Cross on July 16. The Jesuit missionaries adopted the Feast of the Triumph of the Holy Cross as the titular feast of the first Leyte town that they reached.  For what could be more powerful than the cross that they had just planted, the cross that brought redemption to mankind, that defeated Constantine's rival to the throne and ended the Roman persecution of the Church; that routed the Muslim armies at the Battle of Las Navas de Tolosa in Spain on July 16, 1212 A.D. and decided the Spanish colonization of the Philippines?

The chapel built in the 1580s at Binungtuan by the Augustinian Fr. Alonso Velasquez was replaced with a bigger structure through the efforts of Frs. Chirino, Del Campo and Flores, and completed during the time of Frs. Sanchez and Encinas. A major renovation of the same church started in 1605 and completed in March 1608, when Fr. Alonso Rodriguez was the rector of the Carigara residence - made it the biggest and most beautiful in the islands. During the Muslim raid led by Datus Buisan and Mura on April 7, 1608, this church, along with the Jesuit residence, was put to the torch.

After the raid, the Jesuits and the civil authorities persuaded the residents to transfer the town site north, nearer to the coast. The natives began settling down at a place called Punong, and the missionaries under Fr. Luis Gomez directed the construction of a new church in 1608 on the spot where Chirino and the pioneers planted the cross in 1595. The church was finished in 1628 by Fr. Melchor de Veyra, who built a fortification around it. Again the church was retouched and beautified in the late 1680s under Fr. Juan Davila, in time for the first centennial in 1695.  This was the same church taken over by the Augustinians after the expulsion of the Jesuits in 1768.

In 1843, the church in Carigara came under the administration of the Franciscans, who undertook not repairs but also major works. Upon the instructions of Cebu Bishop Romualdo Jimeno, the Franciscan pastor of Carigara, Fr. Jose Hilarion Corvera initiated major repair and renovation of the church in 1859, a venture recorded in yellowing documents preserved in the parish convent. The renovation, directed by Maestro Remigio Tecson, went on for 20 years and was completed only in 1879.

In 1866, the altar, which was moved from the northern to the southern side, was inaugurated, and a plaque bearing the year was etched over one of the entrances facing east. (Still visible in the 1960s, the plaque was made the subject of a centennial celebration in 1966.) The façade of the church, which used to face south, was transferred to the north.

In 1994 or thereafter, the plan to change the image of our “Patron” (from the Crucified Christ to
the Resurrected Christ) was presented to the parish council but there was a lot of opposition and
it was not approved.  Those opposed to the plan believed that this is a 400-year old tradition that had been handed down the generations since 1595 and should not be changed.

When the Jesuit missionaries landed on the shores of Carigara and offered Holy Mass on its shores, that particular day (in the Spanish calendar of 1595) was the annual commemoration by the Catholic Church in Spain, under the title of “El Triumfo de la Santa Cruz”2, for the decisive victory of the Christian army under King Alfonso VIII over the Almohades forces of Calipha Miramamolin (Abu Mohammad al-Nasir) 3 at the Battle of Las Navas de Tolosa, in July 16, 1212 A.D.  Had the Jesuits arrived in Carigara a day earlier or a day later and the Spanish calendar showed that the day was reserved as the Feast Day of any saint, that particular saint would probably be venerated as the
Titular Saint of Carigara to this date.

This is a tradition not so much to honor The Triumph of the Holy Cross, i.e., the victory of
King Alfonso VIII over the Muslim forces in 1212 A.D., nor the victory of Emperor Constantine over
his enemies for the control of Rome in 312 A.D. 4  (the Holy Cross appeared in the sky on both occasions); rather most importantly to commemorate the historic arrival of the Jesuit missionaries to Carigara.  This is part of our town's heritage.

However, a cursory check of any Catholic calendar will always show that July 16 is the Feast Day of “OUR LADY OF MOUNT CARMEL”.  This had always puzzled me since childhood that I decided to include this apparent inconsistency in my Internet research.   

I found out that this Feast Day was instituted by the Carmelites between 1376 -1386 to celebrate the victory of the Carmelite Order over its detractors in obtaining the approval of its name and constitution from Pope Honorius III on January 30, 1226. It was assigned to July 16 because, according to Carmelite tradition, on that day in 1251, the Blessed Virgin had appeared and gave the scapulars to St. Simon Stock.  But, the celebration to honor that event was only observed in their churches and monasteries.  In 1674, Pope Clement X granted the celebration of the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel to Spain and its colonies.5  The following year, it was also granted to Austria; in 1679, it was granted to Portugal and its colonies. It was only in 1726 that the Pope granted the celebration to the entire Latin Church.

So in 1674 or thereafter, the “Santoral” (Spanish calendar of Saints' days) must have been changed, reserving July 16 as the Feast Day of “Our Lady of Mount Carmel”, and transferred permanently the celebration of the Feast Day of “The Triumph of the Holy Cross” to another day.  
At that time, why did the Jesuit missionaries in Carigara not conform to this change nor urged
the people to venerate “Our Lady of Mount Carmel” as their new “Patron”? To this date, why is Carigara still celebrating its town fiesta in honor of the Triumph of the Holy Cross?

The reason can be summed up in two words - Tradition & Heritage.  There is no doubt
about that, and must be honored and preserved for the Kalgaran-on generations to come.

by  Simon Q. Riel
      Ft. Washington, MD             Send comments or questions to:

or express your views at The Forum
* Note:  The street is listed as Triumfo in the Map of Poblacion, Carigara, Leyte as published  
in the 1995  Fiesta Souvenir Program.  Triumfo & Triunfo are both used in the Internet  
sites I came across.  However, only triunfo is listed in the Internet Spanish-English
dictionaries and translate it as “triumph”.   


1   “Evangelization in Carigara”,

2    Ramon Ruiz Amado, “Castile and Aragon” Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume III,

3    “Historia Mundo - Mouros vs. Cristaos: Las Navas”,  (translated version)
4     “Battle of Milvian Bridge”, Bridge

5    Frederick G. Holweck,  “Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel”, Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. X,