Quiapo: Where mystery and reality meets

QUIAPO, Manila — I’ve been a frequent visitor of Quiapo, but the place never fails to amaze and amuse me.

Every Friday, the whole Plaza Miranda and the entire Carriedo, even the side streets of Gonzalo Puyat (formerly Raon) and Evangelista, are teeming with people. Most of them intend to visit the Black Nazarene (also known as the Nuestro Padre Jesus Nazareno), the image of the suffering Christ from Acapulco, Mexico.

The image of the Black Nazarene enshrined in Quiapo Church. The image, which came from Mexico, had been the center of stories of miracles - from healing sicknesses to restoring family relations. (Photo by Noel Sales Barcelona)

The alleged miraculous image was brought from Mexico to Manila, through a galleon, by the Augustinian Recollects on May 31, 1606. The image of the Nuestro Padre was initially enshrined to a small church in Luneta (formerly Bagumbayan, the place where the Filipino national hero of Chinese decent, Jose P. Rizal was shot to death by the Spaniards on December 30, 1896 because of allegations of being a rebel and instigator of the 1896 Revolution led by the clandestine revolutionary organization called Katipunan) and now is currently enshrined to the St. John the Baptist parish, which is also known as the Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene. It has become the Nuestro Padre‘s home since the 1600s.

The devotion of the Filipino catholics to the Nuestro Padre, is said to be triggered by its depiction of poverty, humility, and suffering. The Filipino people or the devotees of the Nuestro Padre identify the suffering and the struggles of Christ, during his Passion and death on the cross, as their own struggle and suffering. It is understandable, as the gap between the rich and poor in the Philippines are getting wider and wider, notwithstanding the said improvement on the local economy.

In addition to this, the miracles connected to the devotion to the Nuestro Padre are also one of the magnets that attract millions of people to Quiapo. Even Manny Pacquiao, the world famous boxer, and the former vice-president of the Philippines and veteran news anchor, Noli de Castro, had been magnetized by the enigma or the miracles brought by the Black Nazarene.



Quiapo: As the center of culture, commerce and entertainment

WHAT makes Quiapo more interesting to visit is the fact that it is the melting pot of cultures. Across Quiapo is Sta. Cruz, where the Filipino-Chinese community is found (better known as Chinatown). In Quiapo you will also find the Golden Mosque, surrounding it is one of the largest Muslim communities in Metro Manila.

The Golden Mosque: symbol of the Islamic faith thriving in Quiapo (Photo courtesy of Ms. Stephanie DyChiu, http://www.stephaniedychiu.com/)

Being part of the Metro’s former downtown (Ermita, Sta. Cruz, Quiapo and C. M. Recto are considered Metro Manila’s former commercial district before Quezon City and Makati rose to fame as the favorite strolling and entertainment area of those who are living in the urbs), you will find different things that can attract curious and meticulous shoppers.

Along side with these goods are some forms of entertainment. You can find cartomancers there and from time to time, some street performers. I found one before we just went home. However, it is in C. M. Recto, corner Quezon Boulevard.


All over Quiapo, you will find Chinese (as in pure Chinese from mainland China) selling goods from China and Hong Kong. Along the streets of Evangelista, Raon and even in the Palanca and C. M. Recto, you will find small Muslim businesspersons selling different kinds of goods: cheap perfumes, imitation cosmetics, counterfeit DVDs and CDs, fancy jewelries, toys, bags, shoes, electronic products and gadgets, knives, food and drinks, and even sex toys (dildos, vibrators, penis rings, etc.) and aphrodisiacs (sex enhancing medicines and supplements).

Quiapo: the mystical hub of Manila

However, the most sought after merchandise in Quiapo is not the above-mentioned; it was the anting-antings or amulets, which is the superstar among the things being sold in Quiapo.

Some of the "mystical" things that the author has bought from Quiapo.

Different medallions, roots, branches, oils, dried fruits (coconut for example) and even stones that are believed to bring good luck or longevity or even extraordinary strength to the bearer are being sold along side with candles of different colors (each color corresponds to one’s wish or prayer request) in Evangelista street.

However, the antingeros (those who are with anting-antings or believers of anting-antings) caution people in buying these “mystical” goods. According to Master Jeff, one of the mystics in Quiapo, most of the medallions, even mystical books, being sold in the sidewalks of Quiapo are fakes. He says, that there are some unscrupulous merchants, who pose as authentic antingeros, are selling either fake goods (just like the dignum wood) or incomplete mystical books.

One time, when I talked to one of the sought after seller of mystical books, sacred talandros (handkerchiefs), and other “sacred” goods, Moneth, she said that most of the sellers in Quiapo take advantage of the curiosity of people over mystical things that’s why, there are so many had fallen victim of fraudulent goods.

Myself, being interested in the Filipino spiritual culture and evolution, is also fond of ‘mystical’ things. I have some medallions, oils, images, and even a crystal ball myself — all are bought from different stalls in Quiapo. But I have my own sukis (favorite stalls), which I don’t want to reveal here. 😛

A different kind of trade

Interestingly, while Quiapo is considered as one of the center of religion (Christianity and Islam), it is also the center of the mundane or carnal activities. Along the streets of Carriedo and C. M. Recto, even in Plaza Lacson in Sta. Cruz, there is a different trade happening.

Even in the 1970s, C. M. Recto (a.k.a. Avenida Rizal) is known for its flesh trade. There were brothels and cheap motels just around the corner. Hookers are everywhere. Alongside with the different goods being sold, there were young women also selling a different type of commodity: themselves.

These prostituted young women (ages 14 – 17) are commonly found on the stairs of the LRT-Carriedo station and even along the sidewalks of Avenida. Most of their customers bring them to the small motels that are found in small streets of Quiapo area. I will make a separate blog entry on this matter, soon.

Quiapo is also known as a haven for pickpockets for there are many instances that a buyer or a churchgoer has lost his or her wallet as he or she’s bumping with the crowd.


Food trip in Quiapo

If strolling and looking around is making you hungry, there are some cheap restaurants and hamburger joints in Quiapo. There were also food stalls and pushcarts that can satisfy your hunger and thirst. Along Quezon Boulevard, you will find the famous R. Ma Mon Luk restaurant, which offers a variety of hot Chinese food — from noodles to siopao.

But I prefer street foods in Quiapo: kwek-kwek (quail eggs wrapped in breading and deep fried), the penoy (fried duck egg) and the samalamig (gelatin or sago, sometimes buco juice).

If you want something natural, then you can buy fresh fruits in pushcart vendors along Carriedo street, Quinta market.


Quiapo for me is where the ephemeral and the ethereal things meet. It offers satisfaction both for the body (as food and apparel) and the soul (the church and the mosque). So if you want to explore Manila, you must drop by in Quiapo.



About Noel Barcelona
A journalist, art and social critic, poet, fiction writer, and essayist from Malabon City - the city of floods, rich history, old churches, good food, and fond memories. He and his family is now moving in the City of Antipolo, the very heart of the province of Rizal. A town where culture, religion, and politics meet.

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