Discovering Flores de Mayo: How Well Do You Know the Queens of Santacruzan?

Most of us are acquainted with Flores de Mayo, a festival often celebrated during the month of May. Chances are high that you personally know even just one person who has participated in Santacruzan. You may have actually witnessed or heard about the pretty faces walking down the streets portraying Reyna Emperatriz or Reyna Helena.

But who are these Queens? And how did this celebration started?

The Story Behind Flores de Mayo and Santacruzan

The Flores de Mayo festival started in the middle of 19th century after the Immaculate Conception of Mary was declared a dogma in 1854. It is said that the first Flores de Mayo was held in Bulacan in 1863. From there, the tradition spread to nearby towns and provinces. The quick adoption of the festival is not surprising since Filipino faithfuls are prominently devoted to the Virgin Mary.
Santacruzan, on the other hand, reenacts the story of Queen Helena’s search for the Holy Cross of Jesus Christ. According to tradition, Queen Helena, mother of the first Christian emperor, went on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem in search of the Holy Cross and miraculously found it. The Santacruzan has become a ritual that is held to commemorate this important event in Christian history.

How Filipinos Celebrate Flores de Mayo Today

Today, the Flores de Mayo tradition lives on and colorful celebrations are held throughout the country to commemorate the event.
During this month-long festival, hymns to the Virgin Mary are sung and novena prayers are said at the church of chapel, followed by the offering of fresh flowers to the image of the Virgin Mary near the altar. The highlight of the Flores de Mayo is the Santacruzan which is a religious festivity done in honor of St. Helena, the mother of Constantine the Great who found the relics of the Holy Cross.

Also known as Sara ng Krus, the celebration starts with a 9-day novena to the Blessed Virgin. On the morning of the 9th day, a mass is held and a celebration which includes traditional Filipino games follows. The most anticipated part of the Santacruzan is the procession which happens on the night of the 9th day.

Prior to the Santacruzan procession, the most beautiful ladies in town are chosen to represent religious figures. Nowadays even women from other towns, including beauty queens and celebrities, are invited to grace such event. Together with their escorts, these belles dressed in gorgeous gowns join the procession under embellished bamboo arches or ornate floats, while there are Cantores (singers) who sing the Dios te Salve continuously. 
In most towns, the Santacruzan does not end with the procession. Usually, a street party is held in celebration of a well-attended and peaceful festival. 

On Why this Tradition is so Ingrained in Filipino Culture

Over the years, even with changing cultural and religious orientation, Flores de Mayo is still celebrated in various parts of the country. While this is considered as an expression of the Filipino faith, there are other factors that reveal the reasons why the tradition is so ingrained in our culture.
1. The Agrarian Calendar

For the people living in farms, May is the harvest season, the time of the year when one can afford to engage in lazy activities, occasionally--before the start of another busy and tiring season. By this time,  field works are already laid; the weather is fine; rice, fruits, crops, and meat are well stocked.

Indeed, it is the month when people have more time to relax and have high spirits for some merry-making. And as Flores de Mayo falls on the same month, it has become the perfect and timely occasion to celebrate a good harvest and enjoy the fruits of their labor in the most festive ways.
2. Penchant for Pageantry

Another reason why Santacruzan is such a popular event among Filipinos even to this day is because it articulates the Filipino penchant for pure beauty--an ideal of Filipino womanhood which is embodied in the Virgin Mary to whom the festival is celebrated for. 
Santacruzan can be viewed as an archetype of beauty pageant which the Filipino people dearly love. While it happens in concurrence with the religious festival, as time passed by, this tradition was caught amidst the intermingling of cultural and social dynamics of the Filipinos, as it is not regulated by the Catholic church.
As such, townsfolk have the freedom to add more muses to the roster of queens even if these “additionals” are very unrelated to the Christian faith. Take for example the addition of the Dalagang Filipina carrying the Philippine flag, the Aetas, the Dalagang Bukid carrying basket of fruits and the Egyptian Queen Cleopatra. With our penchant for pageantry, Santacruzan would certainly be hard to trump.

3. Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary

Lastly, the strong devotion that Filipinos have for Mother Mary, is also a major reason why the Flores de Mayo tradition is so ingrained in the Filipino culture to this day.  The Philippines is largely composed of Catholics and in one way or another, devotees have found ways to make the Blessed Mother a part of everyday life. This is the reason why the Blessed Virgin has become a familiar sight not only in religious places but even in homes, small stores, businesses, and even in vehicles.

For the religious, ‘Mama Mary’ (a name fondly used by Filipinos) is the saint with whom they found a mother-figure. With the Blessed Virgin, they found a saving grace that can give them protection and comfort, especially in times of adversities.

In celebration of the Catholic faith, Flores de Mayo has become the perfect event to express the Filipinos’ love and devotion to Mama Mary, as well as her spiritual significance to Catholics. 

There's no doubt that with the strong faith of the Filipino Catholics, the Flores de Mayo tradition will continue to be a part of our culture and will be passed on from generation to generation.

Now that we’ve covered all things essential about Flores de Mayo and Santacruzan, it’s time to present the Queens of Santacruzan and their symbols in this infographic. 

Discovering Flores de Mayo: How Well Do You Know the Queens of Santacruzan?

The Queens

Reyna Banderada - Yellow & White Flag Representing the arrival of Christian faith, the Banner Queen wears a long red gown.
Reyna Mora - Dressed in Moorish garment The Moor Queen celebrates the recognition given by the Islamic faith to Mary, mother of Jesus Christ as evinced by the 19th Surah of Qur’an named after her, Maryam.
Reyna Fe - Cross Queen of Faith that personifies the first theological virtues according to Apostle Paul.
Reyna Esperanza - Anchor The Queen of Hope represents one of the cardinal virtues.
Reyna Caridad - Red Heart The Queen of Charity carries the symbol for Charity--one of the four cardinal virtues.
Reyna Justicia - Scale of Justice and Sword She embodies justice, one of the cardinal virtues.

Did you know?

Flores de Mayo is also called Flores de Maria as it is a festival dedicated to Mama Mary.

Reyna Abogada - Large Book The defender of the poor and oppressed, Reyna Abogada carries a large book while wearing a graduation gown.
Reyna Sentenciada - Hands bound by a rope and escorted by two Roman Soldiers The Queen Convicted portrays the hardships and persecutions endured by the early Christians.
Reyna Judit - Head of Holofernes and a Sword Queen Judith celebrates the triumph of womanhood. In the bible, Judith saved her city from the Assyrians by beheading Holofernes.
Reyna Saba - Jewelry Box Queen Sheba is the Ethiopian queen who visited King Solomon to seek his wisdom. The jewelry box represents the lavish gifts of gold, precious stones and spices she gave to King Solomon.
Reyna Esther - Scepter Queen Esther is the Jewish Queen of Persia who saved the Jewish people from oppression. She embodies the cardinal virtue of prudence.
Reyna de las Estrellas - Wand with a Star Dressed in sparkling gold and white, the queen holds a wand with a star symbolizing another Marian Title.

Did you know?

St. Helena was 75 years old when she set out for Calvary to find the True Cross of Jesus.

Reyna de los Angeles - Flowers escorted by angels Dressed in white, she carries a bouquet of flowers while accompanied by angels.
Reyna de la Paz - Dove The Queen of Peace, dressed in white and holds a white dove which stands for one of the many Marian titles.
Reyna del Santisimo Rosario - Huge Rosary The queen with his huge rosary represents the mysteries of the holy rosary.
Reyna Luna - Moon scepter The Queen Moon represents the footstool of Mary as the Woman of Apocalypse.
Reyna Candelaria - Long lit Candle The Queen of Candles symbolizes the Marian title and the Purification of Mary.
Reyna de los Patriarcas - Wooden Staff The Queen of Patriarchs represents the patriarchs of the Christian faith.

Did you know?

There’s no other festival that lasts as long, as widespread, and is as glamorous as Flores de Mayo, the Queen of Filipino Festivities.

Reyna de las Profetas - Hourglass The Queen of the Prophets symbolizes a Marian title. The hourglass represents the prophets.
Reyna de los Confesores - Scroll or Purple Candle The queen carries the symbol for confession, one of the Sacraments of the Catholic church.
Reyna de los Martires - Crown of Thorns or Palm of Martyrdom The queen symbolizes the martyrdom of the saints.
Reyna de los Apostoles - Lamb and cane The Queen of Apostles carries the symbols for the Catholic Church, priesthood and apostleship.
Reyna de los Santos - Golden Wreath The golden wreath carried by the Queen of the Saints symbolizes the crown of the saints.
Reyna del Cielo - White Flowers escorted by two angels The Queen of Heavens while dressed in pale blue, carries a bouquet of white flowers and escorted by two angels.

Did you know?

The Reyna Elena is the much-coveted throne in the Santacruzan and is usually given to the most beautiful belle in town.

Reyna de las Virgenes - Rosary The rosary represents the Virgin title of Mary. The queen walks the procession accompanied by two angels.
Reyna de las Flores - Flowers The bouquet flower she carries symbolizes feminity. This queen walks the procession with an arch decorated with blossoming flowers.
Reyna Emperatriz - Orb Dressed in imperial cape and carries an orb, the Queen Empress represents the title given to Queen Helena, mother of Constantine the Great who found the Holy Cross.
Reyna Helena - Crucifix escorted by young Emperor Constantine the Great The highlight of the Santacruzan, she portrays Queen Helena who found the Holy Cross in Jerusalem. She is escorted by a boy in princely garment portraying Constantine her son.

Did you know?

Contrary to popular belief, the most important part of the festival is not the Santacruzan, but the dressing and crowning of the Blessed Virgin Mary, as well as the sacrificial offering of prayers and flowers.

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