LÅNCHON KOTPUS IN HAGÅTÑA IN THE 1920s
Catholics around the world celebrate an annual feast called Corpus Christi, recalling the Catholic belief in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Holy Eucharist.
What Guam, the Marianas and many other places do, but which not all Catholics do, is erect outdoor temporary altars, or stations, to be used during the procession held on Corpus Christi. Chamorros call these altars Lånchon Kotpus. It literally means "Corpus ranch," and no one knows for sure why Chamorros a long time ago called them that.
Before the war, when Catholicism was extremely strong in our culture, the Corpus Christi procession was a grand affair, especially in Hagåtña.
The Låncho, as can be seen in the photo above, was exquisitely decorated with the best fabrics, lighting fixtures, religious statuary and plants.
The Låncho were built by lay people in one of the residential homes. Usually, a whole family was committed to setting up the Låncho as an annual project. Other people, too, would come and assist.
Looking at the elaborate design and all the details of the old photo, one can tell that people put a lot of time and effort into making the Låncho.
CORPUS CHRISTI PROCESSION IN HAGÅTÑA
The procession, too, easily involved thousands of people; perhaps 80% or more of the 10,000 people who made up the pre-war Hagåtña population. Men and women marched separately. The priest was assisted by two other priests as deacon and subdeacon in full vestments. A canopy was held over the priest as he carried the Monstrance containing the Sacred Host. Men occupying high roles in the Church wore white suits and special sashes and escorted the clergy in the procession.
You can see in the photo of the procession how the women, dressed in mestisa, knelt on the bare earth when the Monstrance passed by. Such was the faith of the people back then.
AFTER THE WAR
A LÅNCHO IN 1953
The 10,000 people originally from Hagåtña before the war were scattered all over central and northern Guam after the Liberation. People were still recovering from the war and so, in the early post-war years, it's understandable that not all the material adornments could be had.
In time, the Låncho designs started to change from intricacy to simplicity.
A Låncho of the 1960s in Sinajaña shows how, even then, there was a turn towards more simplicity.
By the time I was old enough to serve Mass in the 1970s, one could already start to see the changes. My first recollections of the Corpus Christi procession in the early 70s included :
- the Låncho, three in number, were still at private homes
- the procession was on Sunday afternoon; yes, it was hot
- the route was long, since the homes where the Låncho were located were not always near each other
- the number of participants was large, but not overwhelming
In Sinajaña, for example, we would process from the church to the first Låncho at one end of the baseball field; then clear across over to Bishop Baumgartner side where the second Låncho was at Ton Antonion Gas' house (San Nicolas). The final and third Låncho was near the present-day Payless Market. That was a long route, in the late afternoon heat.
By the 1980s, some parishes started to experiment having the procession at other times to avoid the heat. Some chose to have it after the earliest morning Mass. Today, many have the procession after the Saturday late afternoon or evening Mass.
But, even then, one could count on only 80%, if that, of the crowd at Mass to participate in the procession. Attendance has gone down dramatically, even when the procession avoids the hottest time of the day.
Another difficulty that developed by the 1980s was finding places for the Låncho. Some families gave up the tradition when the matriarch or patriarch in the family, who was committed to the Låncho, passed away. Sometimes pastors themselves looked for spots closer to the church in order to shorten the route, even if it meant that the Låncho would no longer be at a private residence.
Designs for the Låncho continued to become simpler and simpler. Sometimes carports were turned into Lånchos, and then later pop-up tents or canopies were used. The ornate pre-war designs are seen no more. The huge crowds, the canopies used in the procession; the VIP men in their white suits and sashes; the veiled women kneeling on the ground...all a thing of the past.
In some parishes, all the Låncho are right there on church property, at different corners or even lined up in a row, making for a very short procession. Attendance at the procession is still focused on those who attend the preceding Mass, with perhaps a few others especially devoted to this feast participating.
THE LÅNCHON KOTPUS TODAY
So, the hallmarks of the tradition of the Lånchon Kotpus and procession today include the following :
- simple but beautiful designs, set up by dedicated people still loyal to the tradition
- proximity to the church for a shorter route
- at an hour of the day which is cooler
Perhaps some parishes can consider keeping some of these accommodations to modern conditions, but also reviving some of the wise customs of the past that stirred up our faith through external signs.