Bullfights, plays, magic tricks: A festival in 17th-century Manila

They sure knew how to pray and party back in the day! Consider this account of an eight-day festivity held in Manila in February 1630 for the beatification of the first Franciscan martyrs of Japan—as cited by W. E. Retana from Fr. Juan de la Concepción’s Historia general de Philipinas (1788):*

The eight-day religious festival began with a grand procession that Juan Niño de Tavora, governor and captain general of the Philippines, concluded. Nonetheless, let us hear from a meticulous chronicler [Concepción] who had summarized the events that took place in Manila:

[The procession] entered the cathedral in this order, while vespers were being sung by seven choirs in harmonious music under the direction of Franciscan Father Martín de Carmena, an excellent musician. The bishop said Mass with the participation of the priests. The following evening there were lights, fireworks display and ringing of bells. The next day the procession was promptly arranged again, left the cathedral in the same order and headed towards the church of Saint Francis. The same most reverend bishop said mass and Maestro Juan de Arriola delivered the sermon. The sacred religious orders continued the succeeding days with masses and sermons. Bullfights, plays, and magic tricks skilfully played by Japanese nationals provided entertainment in the afternoons, while in the evenings there were fireworks displays. There were literary festivals, poetry contests in praise of the Holy Martyrs with valuable prizes for the winners consisting of gold, silver, pearls and diamonds. The judges were composed of priests and laymen. There were fancy costumes complete with masks and expensive uniforms, and the honorable governor attended as commander-in-chief.


*In W. E. Retana, Noticias histórico-bibliográficas de el teatro en Filipinas desde sus orígenes hasta 1898 (Historical and Bibliographical Account of Theatre in the Philippines from Its Origins until 1898) (Madrid: Librería General de Victoriano Suárez 1909). Translated into English for the Philippine Performance Archive by Prof. Anna Maria M. Yglopaz of the Department of European Languages, UP Diliman (2017, in progress). Full text of the English translation will be available soon in the repository of the Philippine Performance Archive as new and original content.