The City of Gapan in Nueva Ecija, formerly called Ibon, was founded in 1595, making it the oldest in the province. Local stories say that during the Spanish era, some Spanish soldiers chanced upon a few natives crawling through bushes in the area and asked what the name of the place was. Not understanding Spanish, the natives thought that they were being asked what they were doing and replied, “Gumagapang gapang kami.” (“We are crawling”). The last ‘g’ was dropped and the name Gapan stuck.
Today, Gapan is a famous pilgrimage site among religious devotees all year round. At the heart of its religious heritage is the National Shrine of Virgen La Davina Pastora, dedicated to the Divine Shepherdess. Formerly called the Parish Church of the Three Kings, it is the oldest church and parish in the Nueva Ecija. One account claims that the image of the Virgen La Davina Pastora was originally from Spain and reached the shores of the country through the galleon trade.
At the forefront of its religious celebrations is the feast day of the Divine Shepherdess, which is celebrated every May 1st. The Araquio Festival, otherwise known as Araquio of Peñaranda, is held on the first and second Sundays of the same month to commemorate the finding of the holy cross by St. Helena and Constantine the Great. Street performances in the different barangays in Gapan and a dramatization of St. Helena and Emperor Constantine’s journey are among the many activities that take place.
Gapan is also known for its heritage streets where ancestral houses are found. Most of these are found just across the church and are owned by the families of prominent figures in entertainment and politics. If you want to explore these heritage streets, you can simply ask the tricycle drivers in the area who are more than willing to serve as your tour guides.
Make sure to purchase a pair of tsinelas (slippers) before leaving Gapan. These slippers are well-made and its production is the largest industry in the city as Gapan takes pride in being dubbed as the “Footwear Capital of the North”. The people of Gapan annually hold the Tsinelas Festival where tourists get the witness the giant slipper competition.