Filipinos have forever been said to be religious people – in fact, too religious, if one might say. It is one characteristic of Filipinos that describes their identity. Try entering houses of Filipinos you know, you would notice there would always be a special place for their altars. They always reserve a certain part in their houses not always necessarily as a “place of worship” but sometimes just for the traditional way of being religious.
Altars are first introduced in the Philippines during the Spanish colonial times. They mostly consist of saints in different carvings, either with the use of wood or ivory. Eventually, having an altar inside the house grew as a Filipino tradition that until now is observed.
In an altar, the primary attraction is either the figure of Jesus or the Virgin Mary, perfectly crafted and painted. When the figure does not include carved garments, rich ornate robes of satin were fashioned. Beads of gold and silver accentuate their clothing.
Altars in different homes may vary depending on their size, location or adornments. There are altars exaggeratedly huge and elegant, adorned with different statues of angels and saints in a rock formation backdrop. Sometimes, altars and gardens are combined as one, producing a beautiful scenery. These kind are those seen outside their houses, located in their backyard. Such altar may contain of a small pond surrounded by flowers of different colors and plants of different sizes with the statue of the Virgin Mary centered inside.
There are also the simple and ordinary altars inside their houses. It is usually easily seen upon entrance inside a house of a Filipino. The reason for this is because when they enter and leave the house, they touch or kiss the forehead of the figure. Mostly, the important components of such altars are candles, rosary, the Bible, a crucifix and of course, the figure of the Virgin Mary and/or Jesus.
Ornamentation are only added optionally. Plastic plants/flowers may be used or sometimes the better, fresh flowers. Specifically, Filipinos most often prefer sampaguita. Aside from the fact that it has a unique sweet smell, it is cheap. Sampaguitas are hung like a lei on the body of the figure.
Not only are altars found in a Filipino’s home. Even schools hear in our country have small altars located inside their classrooms. Most commonly, they are located on one corner of the classroom. Usually, a small table covered in clean white cloth serves as the base of the altar. The usual things are placed on top of the table, only that they are in a much smaller version. Pictures of the Holy Family are also sometimes posted on the wall.
Altars symbolize the devotion of the Filipinos to their Catholic religion. It had been an important part of their tradition. Hopefully, as years go by, they may not be forgotten.
Courtney from Study Moose
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