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Senakulo: Traditional Dramatization of the Passion of Jesus Christ

The senakulo is a traditional Filipino dramatization of the life and times of Jesus Christ. Done in singing (pasyon) and recitation, it is presented in the public squares in many towns, in houses and streets during the season of Lent.


The senakulo is a traditional Filipino dramatization of the life and times of Jesus Christ. Done in singing (pasyon) and recitation, it is presented in the public squares in many towns, in houses and streets during the season of Lent.

The Senakulo (from the Spanish cenaculo) is a Lenten play that depicts events from the Old and New Testaments related to the life, sufferings, and death of Christ.

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The senakulo is traditionally performed on a proscenium-type stage with painted cloth or paper backdrops that are called telon. It takes at least eight nights - from Palm Sunday to Eastern Sunday - to present the play. Christ is presented traditionally as meek and humble, submitting lamb-like to his fate in obedience to authority.

In urban areas, there are developed versions of the senakulo that run for only one or two hours. They may be presented in different types of locale: on the traditional stage, on the streets, in a chapel, or out in the open. Comedy, courtship, and special effects may be incorporated. Furthermore, modern senakulos tend to focus not on Christ’s submissiveness, but on his reason and resolve in courageously standing up for the unfortunate against their oppressors, suggesting how current problems may be resolved.

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Street senakulos is another form of penance where the people are walking with the procession. People near the church wait eagerly to witness the reenactment. Locals act as Roman soldiers with their menacingly painted masks and armors, pounding on doors to search for Jesus. Most anticipated among the episodes are the judgment of Jesus, the Crucifixion and His Seven Last Words. Spectators may range from devotees to the merely curious or tourist alike. For some, it is the time to reflect on the life of Jesus, while others take it as a chance to spend time with family and friends.

The routine of the reenactment has not changed, but its presentation is infused with a fresh flavor to reach the modern-world absorbed consciousness of the new generation.

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Senakulo in Manila is an occasion that is filled with processions in every Philippine town. The Senakulo signifies the Holy Week and is kept with great piety and pageantry.

During the Manila Senakulo one can see rituals that are derived from Christ's suffering, passion and death. During this time one can see the locals enacting the similar way the Christ was crucifixed and processions leading with one carrying the cross and culminating in nailing that is enacted to affiliate with Christ.

These interesting reenactments are the passion processions that draws large crowd that tries to identify the sufferings of Christ 2000 years ago. The reenactment is done through narrative recitation or role-playing. Everyone in the neighborhood is waiting for the procession to pass by. The street Senakulo of Manila is another form of penance where the people are walking with the procession.

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In other words the Manila's Senakulo is the century’s old passion play. It is now faster paced, lively and richer in music. The procession and enactment is interesting to see as the endeavor is to know what happened in the past and keeping it contemporary.

The Holy Week is an awaited holiday in Manila as it is packed with lot of activities that are held in churches and town plaza. The foreign and the local tourists can witness the Senakulo in Manila that is held in March/ April. The tourists would find the Senakulo in Manila has been absorbed into the local culture and is practiced with great warmth and intensity.

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One example is the authentic Senakulo in Marinduque. Senakulo is one of the highlights of Moriones Festival during the Lenten season. Starting from the cast, venue, stage, props, and other equipment were combined perfectly. It is like you are there witnessing the events that are happening in the present time. The realistic Senakulo of Marinduque pioneered way back in 1977. Since then, it has been passed from generation to generation and has been very consistent on making the dramatic presentation of Senakulo more astounding. Furthermore, most of the participants say that this is their way to show their abstinence before and during the Lenten season.

Note: On the whole, Senakulo is one of the MUST SEE during your holy week stay here in the Philippines. But recently the church is discouraging penitence-crucifixion just for tourism sake.


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Comments (6)

I think I will add attending this presentation to my Bucket List. My wife would enjoy seeing this in person too...the eight night version. Thanks for bringing this to my attention.

This would be difficult to see and yet a must for Christians. Well explained to me since I doubt if I will see this in person. Thank you.

The Catholic traditional dramatization of the life and times of Jesus Christ is nothing but mockery to the Lord JESUS CHRIST himself. System of sacrifice and crucifixion had already finished when JESUS CHRIST said – “It is finished” (John 19 : 30). In my opinion this kind of drama should be stopped or it may mislead hundreds of thousands of people from knowing the real sacrifice of the Lord JESUS CHRIST.

Thanks for all the comments Jerry and Roberta, you got a great point here Mukhia, noted and thanks for the thoughts.

Very nice work. I love this piece. thanks.

Thanks Martin.