Saint James the Greater is the patron saint of Bulusan. It is in his honor that the fiesta is being celebrated annually for the last 380 plus years in Bulusan town. Bulusan is composed of 24 barangays/villages. Each barangay has its own patron saint. Even some sitios (smaller unit than a barangay) have their own patron saints too. For the town fiesta in Bulusan, the barangays of the poblacion are customarily the ones hosting the fiesta of the patron saint.
Traditionally a novena is held before the fiesta. The novenario is the 9-day novena before the feast day of the patron saint. It is during these novena days that the village santos are brought to the parish church.
The gathering of saints is an event in itself– a practice in our town that I always look forward to witness annually. This is the only way I can personally see in one day all the santos/santas from outlying villages. I am from the poblacion and visiting these villages even for a local like me will take some time to complete. Bulusan is composed of coastal and mountain villages. Some outlying villages can only be reached by banca or a long hike.
The religious processions with the saints very much mirror Bulusan’s local village culture. Each individual saint carries a touch of the village and its people.
In sharp contrast with the DLC fiesta morning events and the nighttime revelries during the fiesta nights, these religious activities were sacred and solemn. Prayers and singing of hymns were done late in the afternoon processions after the holy mass for each novena day for nine days ending on the eve of the fiesta.
Each village have ancient hymns and prayers to their saint. Hymns vary. The lyrics are in the standard Bicol language. The melody too varies but most of the hymns are plaintive songs in the form of prayers to honor the specific saint.
In the recent fiesta processions, I learned that anyone is welcome in the singing and praying. There was no need to be perfect in the singing. You just follow. Imagine hearing hymns simultaneously rendered in one procession with some parishioners reciting the holy rosaries — the effect surprisingly was not a noisy one but a chant-like prayer. The loudest sound with a blaring speaker was at the end of the procession with the hymns for the patron saint drowning the sound of the other saint’s hymns. The refrain of the song became my mantra during the afternoon processions:
Patron Niamong Santiago,
Kami Ngani Sorogon mo…
Saint James the Greater will always be the major attraction of the Bulusan fiesta with the entourage of around 25 villages saints.
Two carosas for Saint James the Greater were seen in the religious processions: One image as an apostle and another image as a fierce warrior riding in a galloping white horse.
In Bulusan, there exists a persistent folk story that Saint James the Greater, our patron saint, has this miraculous power to deflect even the most powerful force of nature like typhoons and volcanic eruptions. Many versions from time to time update the story but the common gist is this : the patron saint is ever ready to protect and shield Bulusan town from danger of any kind.
Photographs by Alma P. Gamil