Masked “Roman soldiers,” called “Morions,” will once again roam the streets of the island of Marinduque and turn it into a “Roman garrison” next week.
Holy Week observance in this laidback island features the retelling of the story of Longinus, a centurion who supposedly stabbed the crucified Jesus with a spear and who was healed by the Lord’s blood.
For the people of Marinduque the festival is not only a display of creativity and art but is a religious observance.
For the faithful on the island, the centuries-old observance is a “religious vow” handed to them by their ancestors since the arrival of Christianity on their shores.
During the weeklong observance three groups of people will roam the island: the “Legions,” the “Brotherhood,” and the “Mistah.”
“We are all united in our faith,” said Jose Manay, 25, one of the “soldiers” of the “Brotherhood” in the town of Boac. In the past years, he wore the helmet and armor he inherited from his grandfather, Jose “Ka Oti” Manay.
The late “Ka Oti” was known on the island as a maskmaker.
“I cannot count the number of masks and vests he made,” said the younger Jose who joined the “Brotherhood” to follow his father’s and grandfather’s footsteps.
He said he started wearing a “morion” helmet and armor since he was five years old.
“They started me young,” he said, adding that it was only when he got older that he understood the significance of what he was doing.
“We all sacrifice, pray, and participate to atone for our sins, for good luck, and to thank the Lord for his blessings,” said the young man.
Ronaldo Layag, 38, played the role of Jesus in the past year’s observance. He has been “Jesus Christ” in the annual Lenten play, dubbed the “senakulo,” in the past.
“You have to be physically fit to take a role,” said Ronaldo, adding that preparations take months.
He admitted that he gets nervous when the Holy Week nears that is why he readies himself as early as January.
“I do this hoping that God will grant me a healthy life and future, and to spare Marinduque from calamities,” said Ronaldo.
Wearing a Morion’s costume – a Roman centurion’s helmet, cape, breast plate, leggings and weapons – and walk around town under the heat of the sun is no easy feat.
The costumes weigh up to 20 kilograms, and a “soldier” must learn to walk with the heavy “caligae” or military boots.
The Moriones festival traces its roots to 1807, when Padre Dionisio Santiago, parish priest in Mogpog town, organized a group of players to re-enact the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.
The staging of the play evolved around Roman centurion Longinus, who it is believed also served as officer of the guards outside Jesus’s tomb and witnessed the resurrection.
Tradition holds that Longinus was the one who rushed into town to spread the news, which prompted the high priest and scribes to order his execution.
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