During the Spanish times, Filipinos were usually named after the feast day of saints whom, or religious events that, they share their birthday with. It was, in fact, the usual practice throughout all Hispanized/Catholicized territories (note: it was not a strict religious norm). For example, girls who were born on September 4 were baptized as Consolación because the feast day of Our Lady of Consolation falls on that date. Those who are named Rosario have October 7 for their birthdate, the feast day of Our Lady of the Rosary. Andrés Bonifacio was named as such because he was born on November 30, the feast day of Saint Andrew. Long even after Spain had left our islands, or during the US occupation, Filipinos still followed the practice.
My paternal grandfather, Godofredo Alas, was born on 8 November 1925, on the feast day of San Godofredo, Bishop of Amiens, France. My name, which is even loftier because it was taken from the parents of our Lord and Savior, was given to me by my grandmother, Norma Évora-Alas. Today, May 3, is her birthday. Which led me to think: is there a connection between her name and today’s feast day?
Norma Évora vda. de Alas (3 de mayo – 30 de enero de 2011).
May 3 is the traditional feast day of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross which commemorates the cross used in the crucifixion of our Lord and Savior. The name Norma is Spanish for rule or norm. Hardly any connection, one might say. However, while browsing for gospel readings in connection to today’s feast day, I stumbled upon Saint Paul’s letter to the Galatians (6:14-16):
14 But as for me, it is out of the question that I should boast at all, except of the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.
15 It is not being circumcised or uncircumcised that matters; but what matters is a new creation.
16 Peace and mercy to all who follow this as their rule and to the Israel of God.
The above verses are better read with 2:19 – 3:7 and 13–14 for more context.
Of course, I could be wrong. Perhaps my grandmother’s parents (Paulo Évora and Rafaela Bonilla) must have had other ideas in thinking up of a name for her. But I couldn’t stop teasing myself of the Biblical connection. After all, the Epistle to the Galatians dealt with the controversy between the laws (norma) of Moses and that of our Lord and Savior as well as an emphasis on the Holy Cross (1:1–10 and 6:11–18).
Furthermore, Filipinos of yore were deeply devout Catholics. Unlike today, many of their activities were always hinged upon things spiritual, including the naming of children. Such a practice was not done out of a whim as Filipinos today tend to do. It is now common to Anglicize the first names of their children. Worse, many parents today give some of the most bizarre names to their children just to make people think how uniquely creative they are.
Moving on. Today’s date, incidentally, is also the traditional feast day of my family’s adoptive city, San Pedro Tunasán, La Laguna, now referred to by its Anglicized and coarse appellation: the City of San Pedro, Laguna. When we first moved here in 2004, San Pedro, then still a municipality, was already celebrating its feast day every February 22, and it had been that way for many decades. But when I started delving into its history, I found out (through interviews with its senior citizens) that its grandest fiesta was celebrated every May 3, the traditional feast day of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. It only makes sense because our young city’s most prized historico-religious relic is none other than the fabled Cross of Tunasán, a huge wooden cross made popular when José Rizal made it a victim of his anti-Catholic sarcasm in his novel Noli Me Tangere. The cross was said to be miraculous — it used to be a small crucifix but grew big overtime (could that explain the metal bars attached to all its three upper points, to keep it from growing any further?).
La antigua Cruz de Tunasán (que se encuentra dentro de la iglesia de nuestra parroquia) es uno de los íconos más famosos de mi ciudad adoptiva.
In the past, the Cross of Tunasán was visited in droves by devotees far and wide every May 3, and the old town plaza fronting the parish church was in merriment from sundown to sunset. The town’s best and brightest were also recognized and awarded during the festivities. I just haven’t figured out yet as to why the devotion to this cross suddenly dwindled, and when exactly.
In 2018, for the first time in many years, San Pedro Tunasán’s traditional fiesta was highlighted once more when the city government under Mayor Lourdes S. Catáquiz and then parish priest Fr. Pablo Búgay decided to move the city fiesta (its secular name is Sampaguita Festival) from February 22 to May 3. Hopefully, this calendarial revival would resuscitate old pieties and devotion.
As for me, my heart is gladdened that the feast day of my family’s place of exile is somewhat connected to my beloved grandmother’s name. Because of that, I am reassured that I am at home with her, at least in spirit.
Qué su alma descanse en paz eterna. ¡Feliz fiesta de la exultación de la Santa Cruz (de Tunasán)!