Born and raised in Malaysia, Mazlan is proud of his Malaysian and Asian heritage. He likes to write about its culture and current issues.
Philippines Easter Crucifixion Rituals
In this modern time, religious sacrifice is usually in the form of fasting as a sign of reverence and submission to God. But there are certain communities that will take this even further to a point of inflicting pain to oneself. The Easter traditions in the Philippines are one example.
In the Philippines, during Easter week and on Good Friday, the painful act of self-flagellation and crucifixions are held in the Philippines.
Where is Crucifixion Held in the Philippines?
This event does not happen throughout the Philippines.
The re-enactment of Jesus Christ's crucifixion and self-flagellation happen every Good Friday only in San Pedro Cutud and San Fernando in the province of Pampanga, about a 1.5-hour drive north of Manila.
There are also similar crucifixions held in Kapitangan, Paombong, in the province of Bulacan, and Duljo-Fatima in Cebu City, but on a smaller scale. The biggest event is in the province of Pampanga.
These events attract hundreds of local and foreign visitors. As usual, the Holy Week - Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Black Saturday, and Easter Sunday are the busiest time of the year for these areas.
The crucifixion and self-flagellation in the Philippines are part of the religious ceremony to atone oneself of their past sins, for a vow that they had made, or to thank God. Although not sanctioned by the church, these have now become sacred practices in the week-long celebration leading to Easter in these parts of the Philippines.
Mortification of the Flesh
The devotees will prepare themselves by fasting and going into deep meditation.
To feel the pain and suffering of Jesus Christ, the devotees will carry the wooden crosses before re-enacting the crucifixion. Other devotees will parade the streets and inflict self-flagellation with bamboo sticks.
Good Friday in Mexico
This mortification of the flesh or practices of extreme religious sacrifices is also carried out in Mexico. In other religions, it is practiced by Hindus of Tamil origin in their Thaipusam celebration, and by the Shi'ites in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Iran, but for a different cause.
The Crucifixion Method
While most Christians believed that Jesus was crucified on the traditional two-beamed cross and not on a single upright stake, the placing of the nails whether in the hands or wrist is still unclear.
The crucifixion in the Philippines uses the two-beamed cross with a footrest as it is easier for the devotee to ‘balance’ himself without exerting additional pain.
The placing of the nail is done on the hand and not on the wrist. This is also for a practical reason as the wrist will draw more blood and the possibility of fracturing the bone is higher.
The theories on three, four, or more nails that were used in the Crucifixion of Christ remained uncertain. Again, for a practical reason, the crucifixion in the Philippines uses four stainless steel nails, one on each hand and foot.
How It All Started
The re-enactment of Jesus Christ’s crucifixion started as the staging of Via Crucis with Pedro Cutud as the artist who was 'crucified'. This street play by poet-playwright Ricardo Navarro was performed in Pampangan during the week leading to Easter in 1955.
The actual live crucifixion only happened in 1961 when Arsenio Añoza made a vow to nail himself to a cross every Holy Friday for fifteen years if God would intercede for him.
The news quickly spread and now more than twenty people will do the crucifixion as they see this as another expression of penance. This, of course, attracts many visitors and media both local and foreign to this unique Easter tradition in the Philippines.
The Commercial Side to This Holy Friday
There is also money to be made from this and soon people do makeshift shelters selling drinks, foods, sunglasses, and religious souvenirs. Even multinational companies come in with sales of burgers, ice cream, soft drinks, and sponsorship. Travel agencies will be busy promoting the event.
So what started as a personal religious agenda has now become an annual tourist and media event, which has now exceeded more than 55+ years of continuous practice.
Arsenio Añoza and Ruben Enaje — The Pioneer
Many devotees that took part in the crucifixion had been doing it for years.
Arsenio Añoza, a faith healer who started the 'craze' did it for fifteen years from 1961 until 1976.
Ruben Enaje was crucified 28 times and in 2015 was his 29th attempt. His vow for nine years started after surviving a fall. Then, he continued with another nine years for the cure of his asthmatic daughter.
His third nine years were for his wife. 2013 was supposed to be his last year, but as there was no suitable replacement to take over from him, he decided to continue his yearly Holy Friday tradition. His vow was for his children: for a good job and better health.
Dangers of Crucifixion
Although all steps were taken to ensure safe and trouble-free occasions, things can always go wrong.
In one incident, a devotee lost a large amount of blood after his feet were nailed, probably striking the blood vein.
After many years of being crucified, the holes in their palm have made it less painful whenever nail is driven in during the rituals
The Passion of Christ will not be complete if there are no scenes of flagellation.
So, every year many devotees will walk barefooted on the hot tarmac road and flagellate themselves in a procession that can last for hours. These flagellants, who are mainly men from the lower-income group, will lash their own backs with bamboo flails until raw bloody flesh are exposed.
Interestingly, all of the flagellants are hooded. As to why they had to cover their faces to hide their identity remains unclear.
It was reported that in 2013 more than 3,000 flagellants took part in this unique annual Easter tradition in the Philippines.
Self-Flagellation and the Catholic Church
The practice of self-flagellation is not peculiar to these provinces in the Philippines. It happened throughout most of Christian history.
According to the Catholic historian, Professor Michael Walsh, flagellation and self- flagellation were widespread practices in some parts of the Catholic ministry even as late as in the sixties. According to him, Opus Dei, a branch of the Catholic Church still practices this today. This sect, which is known to be highly secretive, received world attention when it was featured in The Da Vinci Code.
The late Saint Pope John Paul II also practices self-flagellation.
Today, self-flagellation is also done publicly in Mexico and parts of Peru.
Source: BBC News magazine
Philippines Church Leader's View on Crucifixion
The annual crucifixion, as act of repentance or as thanksgiving, is a practice discouraged by the Philippines Catholic Church.
To quote Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma of the Catholic Bishops Conference:
"Our identification with Christ should be internal...more about spiritual renewal"
Fr. Rex Reyes, general secretary of the National Council of Churches on the other hand, wanted to ban the crucifixion rite.
Bishop Marino Inong of the United Church of Christ said it is akin to fanaticism and fatalism.
Bishop Moises Chungalao of the Free Believers Fellowship said these acts are wrong interpretation of Christ's admonition.
So Why They Continue to Do It?
Despite these condemnations by the Church, the devotees continue to practice the rites as they believe it is a personal matter between them and God.
Source: The Christian Century
Christianity in the Philippines
To further understand these practices of religious self-mortification, let’s look at the country’s history.
Christianity came to the Philippines in the form of Ferdinand Magellan, who colonized the archipelago from 1521 onward and entrenched it with Hispanic Catholicism. Today, the Philippines is the largest Christian country in Asia with more than 80% of its population belonging to the Catholic faith.
However, Catholicism is mixed ranging from deep understanding to superficial understanding, especially among the rural folks. This resulted in some remnants of cultural, traditional, and pre-Hispanic rituals still being practiced.
As the country progresses and prospers the gap between the rich and poor also widen and the poor are left to fend for themselves. Filipinos are religious people and in this predominantly Catholic Philippines, religion is the source of comfort.
This may have a bearing on how minority group seeks religious blessing, forgiveness, and gratitude.
Easter Holiday Watching the Crucifixion and Self-Flagellation
Are you brave enough to witness this unique Easter celebration in the Philippines, live? Will you spend your Easter holiday joining the hundreds of tourists that travel far and wide and be part of this emotional journey of faith? Can you withstand the heat and dust?
Please share your views in the comment below. Cheers.
My Other Religious Festival Articles
For more festivals by the Hindu and Chinese communities, check the following articles on:
- Thaipusam, the Hindu festival of sacrificial acts in exchange for answered prayers
- Pongal, Hindu festival for thanksgiving
- Diwali, another Hindu festival to celebrate the triumph over eveil
- Chinese New Year, the most important celebration for Chinese all over the world
- Qingming Festival, the Chinese festival to pay respect to the departed
The 26th Crucifixion of Ruben Enaje in 2012
- Wikipedia: Self-Flagellation
- Wikipedia: Crucifixion in the Philippines
- Wikipedia: Crucifixion of Jesus
- Asia Society: Religion in the Philippines
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2015 Mazlan A
Mazlan A (author) from Malaysia on April 04, 2017:
PinoyWitch, I agree with you. Somehow people tend to 'manipulate' religion for their own gain, whether commercially or otherwise. In some countries, their cultural and traditional values are mixed with the religion and outside people think that it is part of the religious teaching. No religion in the world asks you to kill people or treat a woman as second class citizen. These are all part of their ancient cultural practices that got mixed up with the religion. Sad but true.
Ian Spike from Cebu, Philippines on April 04, 2017:
Thus hub is good, especially for the coming Easter next week, you can expect a lot of blood in the streets, literally. First of all, I do not oppose how other people practice their own religions, if it makes them closer to the divine. But being Filipino and raised in the Catholic faith, I personally think this tradition is barbaric and deeply traumatizing to children present. I know I was. The fact that its not promoted by the church goes to show that it has become a widely commercial event in order to gain international attention.
Mazlan A (author) from Malaysia on June 10, 2015:
Hi mikeydcarroll67,. Certain ethnic groups somehow will mix religion with their cultural practices. And when this happen, others will misinterpret this as part of that particular religion's teaching.
That's how many had misunderstand certain religion in this misinformed world!
Thanks for dropping by.
mikeydcarroll67 on June 08, 2015:
It is interesting that this is practiced today!
Ireno Alcala from Bicol, Philippines on March 25, 2015:
It's still been observed here in the Philippines, especially on Good Friday during the Holy Week.
I watched the Passion Play as the Life of Christ is depicted by local theater artists.
I might as share my own experiences about Holy Week.
Thank you for sharing.
Mona Sabalones Gonzalez from Philippines on March 10, 2015:
I was a child when our family went to see the flagellants. It was the first and the last time. I thought it was the most horrible thing I had ever seen, ever.
Mazlan A (author) from Malaysia on February 25, 2015:
Hi travmaj, it is a fact that anything that is weird, unique, beautiful, historical etc will be a subject of interest to tourist. This include any religious ceremonies such as Maha Kumbh Mela in India, Gion Matsuri in Japan or even the Pope’s weekly address to the masses at St. Peter’s Square. Commercialism will come in any form.
Thanks for dropping by and sharing your thoughts.
Mazlan A (author) from Malaysia on February 25, 2015:
Hi Jake. In most communities around the world, tradition and culture are very often mixed into the religious practice, and they now can't see the differences. This is wrong, but unfortunately it is now ingrained into their daily 'behavior'.
I was looking at your profile, but could not the article that you mentioned (humorous interpretation on traditions) or was it a statement you made somewhere else?
travmaj from australia on February 23, 2015:
This is most informative and interesting. I'm not sure I could watch such suffering but then, rightly or wrongly, it is a choice they make.
It somehow seems wrong that this is now a tourist attraction - I wonder about myself, if I happened to be there at that time would I join the crowds - I don't know.
Perhaps the film - The Passion of Christ - was easier because we realise people are acting, it is a film.
You certainly gave me much to think about today...
Jake Michael Peralta from Indio, California on February 23, 2015:
Well, this makes my humorous interpretation on traditions harsher in hindsight. Wow.