Tres de Mayo Celebration in Vigan
The 3rd of May is a very significant religious celebration in Vigan. During this day, the Roman Catholic faithful remembers the successful end of the journey of St. Helena with her son, Prince Constantine, in search of the cross Jesus Christ died in. It is also the community’s appointed feast day for giving thanks to Apo Sto. Cristo, the Black Nazarene the faithful fondly call Apo Lakay or elder. They both are commemorated in activities that are held in the capilla or small church which serves as Vigan’s cemetery chapel and is found in the southern edge of the city, where the main road leading to Vigan’s barangays in the east and west can be found. The Simbaan a Bassit’s architecture is similar to that of Mexico or Southern California’s mission churches. It’s distinctive because it is domed.
In the capilla’s courtyard, a dramatization of Queen Helena and Prince Constantine’s quest is held. This event is significant for Catholics as it signals the time when Catholicism strengthened its hold in Europe under the protection of the monarchies and through their support Christ’s saving faith was introduced to the rest of the world. During the rest of the day a Santa Helena-Prince Constantine pageant is held together with games and arts activities. The day traditionally ends with a candle-lit procession featuring locals and invited personalities dressed up in magnificent garments as Santa Helena and Prince Constantine, and other biblical figures. Festivities continue through the night with a zarzuela (musical drama) or komedya (stage drama) and fund-raising dances and contests.
Throughout the “Piesta ni Apo Lakay,” the main church is closed and the small church or capilla ni Apo Lakay is the center of religious activities. This small church was built on where the black Nazarene was placed after it was rescued from a Spanish galleon that sunk to the west of Vigan. It’s said that the statue became unmovable when people tried to bring it to the Metropolitan Church. The locals understood this as being the will of the statue to stay where it was. Thus, a chapel was built for it.
Apo Lakay is said to have saved Vigan from two plagues, one in 1756 and another in 1882. The locals offered novenas and held processions during both times in supplication. Their prayers to the black Nazarene were immediately answered with the ending of the plague as is documented by historian Damaso King and the Libros de Entierros from 1879 to 1882 and 1883 to 1889. 2008 is the 125th year of the thanksgiving celebrations to Apo Lakay. Up to this day every barangay in Vigan continue to observe tres de mayo; and the faithful all over the country visit Vigan to kiss the hand of Apo Lakay and pray for special intentions.