For Naga City's residents, the middle of September is one of the busiest times of the year. That's because the Peñafrancia Festival — in honor of Our Lady of Peñafrancia — is celebrated around that time.
Like many Marian images in the Philippines, Our Lady of Peñafrancia attracts its fair share of devotees. In fact, it's considered one of the biggest pilgrimage sites in Asia, and perhaps the world. If you're visiting the Bicol Region this weekend, you can take a two- to three-hour drive to Naga from Legazpi City, the capital of Albay province.
Once you're there, you can expect:
Masses, Masses and More Masses
It's no coincidence that the Feast of Our Lady of Peñafrancia is celebrated on the Sunday eight days after the Nativity, or Birth, of Mary. Prior to the feast, there'll be nine days of prayers offered to the Virgin.
On the first day, the image of Our Lady will be taken out of the Basilica Minore, and have a procession towards the Peñafrancia Parish Church. On the last day, her route will be reversed.
Between those days, there'll be feasting, drinking and merrymaking all around, courtesy of devotees from Bicol and beyond. People will be flocking in droves to the place, so if you want to join in the celebrations along with everyone else, make sure you book your tickets ASAP.
For the most part, the celebrations will consist of processions and masses. But if you're lucky enough to book a ticket for September 17, 2016, you'll want to stay for the fluvial procession. It'll be held around 4 in the afternoon, according to the Peñafrancia Festival 2016 General Schedule.
As you can imagine, the procession is an incredible sight. The image of the Virgin is carried in a pagoda, a brightly-colored shrine-barge, as it cruises down the Naga River back to the Basilica. Along the way, devotees will shout "Viva La Virgen!" ("Long Live the Virgin!"), and will try to touch the statue. It's said that, even if you fall into the dirty river during the procession, you won't get sick.
You'll also notice that all of the devotees on the barge with the Virgin are men. That's because, according to local superstition, women might cause the boat to sink. It's a strange belief considering the gender of the Virgin herself, but that's Filipino-style Catholicism for you.
Other Tourist Spots to See
In case you booked your tickets too late, and you end up missing out on the highlights of the Peñafrancia Festival, don't fret. If you still have time and cash to spare, you can still drop by these other incredible sights within Naga City.
- St. John the Evangelist Metropolitan Cathedral. This is one of the must-see churches in Naga, aside from the Basilica of Our Lady of Peñafrancia. Located near the center of the city, it's often described by visitors as "simple on the outside, but beautiful on the inside." You can enter it whenever you want, and pray for the good health and prosperity of your family.
- Plaza Quince Martires. On January 4, 1897, fifteen Bicolano men were executed by firing squad because of their alleged involvement with the Katipunan, a Philippine revolutionary group we've talked about several times before. The spot where they died was since named Plaza Quince Martires, or "Plaza of the Fifteen Martyrs." The area is surrounded with food stalls and churches, but you'll have to be careful with your belongings, as the plaza can get pretty crowded.
- University of Nueva Caceres Museum. Like the University of Sto. Tomas in Manila, the University of Nueva Caceres is one of the most historically significant educational institutions in the country. Being the first university in Southern Luzon, it boasts of a large student population and a curriculum that caters to students of all ages. Also, it's the second educational institution in the Philippines to have a museum, which contains objects of interest to arts and science enthusiasts.
- Parks. If you're a nature lover, there are at least three parks in Naga you can visit: the Naga Ecological Park, the Mt. Isarog National Park and the Haciendas De Naga. The Ecological Park is a four-hectare area made up of themed gardens like the Alphabet garden, Palm garden and Japanese garden. Meanwhile, the Mt. Isarog National Park is home to a potentially active volcano, the Malabsay Falls and a host of flora and fauna endemic to the area. Finally, the Haciendas De Naga is a haven for thrill-seekers, as it offers activities like zip lining, wall climbing, horse riding and target shooting.
- Panicuason Hot Spring Resort. Near the foot of Mt. Isarog is the Panicuason Hot Spring Resort. There, you can soak your worries away in clear, blue springs straight from the bowels of the earth.
For more details on what to expect when visiting Naga, bookmark this handy guide to the place. In the meantime, thanks for reading, and have a great weekend ahead!