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March 31, 1521, Easter Sunday, the First Recorded Mass in Philippine History was Held.

On this day, 500 years ago, March 31, 1521, an Easter Sunday, a Mass was officiated by Father Pedro Valderrama, the Andalusian chaplain of Ferdinand Magellan’s fleet, and the only priest in the expedition. It was conducted near the shores of Limasawa island, thus known as the First Holy Mass and the birth of Roman Catholicism in the Philippines. Today Marks the 500 years of the First Holy Mass in the Philippines.

First Mass in the Philippines by Carlos “Botong” Francisco (www.gocebu.com)

Antonio Pigafetta, the chronicler of the expedition, reported in his document entitled, First Voyage Around the World (Primo Viaggio intorno al Mondo), that on March 16, 1521, after almost two years of hardship at sea, they saw the island of Samar in the eastern part of the country. There Magellan met some local chiefs with whom he had a cordial relationship. Then on Easter Sunday, the first recorded mass in Philippines history, was held in a small island called “Mazaua.”

Below is an excerpt from Pigafetta’s First Voyage Around the World:

Early on the morning of Sunday, the last of March and Easter-day, the captain-general sent the priest with some men to prepare the place where mass was to be said; together with the interpreter to tell the king that we were not going to land in order to dine with him, but to say mass. Therefore the king sent us two swine that he had killed. When the hour for mass arrived, we landed with about fifty men, without body armor, but carrying our other arms, and dressed in our best clothes. Before we reached the shore with our boat, six pieces were discharged as a sign of peace. We landed; the two kings embraced the captain-general, and placed him between them. We went in marching order to the place consecrated which was not far from the shore. Before the commencement of mass, the captain sprinkled the entire bodies of the two kings with musk water. During the mass we made our offerings. The kings went forward to kiss the cross as we did, but they did not offer the sacrifice. When the body of our Lord was elevated, they remained on their knees and worshipped Him with clasped hands. The ships fired all their artillery at once when the body of Christ was elevated, signal having been given from the shore with muskets. After the conclusion of mass, some of our men took communion.

The Philippine Islands, 1493-1898. Volume XXXIII

The mass was attended by 50 expedition crew, including Ferdinand Magellan himself, in their best dress (not in their military attire), unarmed. Also in attendance were the local chiefs, the siblings Rajah Colambu of Limasawa and Rajah Siaiu of Butuan-Calaghan.

After the mass, Magellan held a fencing exposition to amuse the rulers of Mazaua and Butuan. Afterward, a cross was planted at the highest peak in Limasawa. In the evening, Magellan was told about how prosperous and active the trading was in the port named Cebu.

Readings of Pigafetta’s document have differed as to the place of the first mass; whether it was the small island of Limasawa, south of Leyte or Butuan in northern Mindanao. Scholars, however, have presented evidences which tended to favor Limasawa.

Below is the Official Position of NHCP:

On August 21, 2020, the Board of Commissioners of the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP), issued its official position on the Site of the 1521 Easter Sunday Mass. The Board signed on 15 July 2020 Resolution No. 2, adopting the report submitted by the panel that reviewed the issue surrounding the site of the 1521 Easter Sunday Mass in the Philippines. The panel recommended Limasawa, in today’s Southern Leyte, as the site of the said event.

The panel was convened in response to the requests from various institutions, including the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), even as the anticipation of the Filipino Catholic faithful had just begun for the 500th anniversary of the introduction of Christianity in the Philippines.

Republic Act No. 10086 or Strengthening People’s Nationalism Act of 2009 mandates the NHCP to “actively engage in the settlement or resolution of controversies or issues relative to historical personages, places, dates and events.”

http://www.nhcp.gov.ph

Sources:

Ancheta, Jopol AlvinC. Bernal, Michael S., Camagay, Maria Luisa T., Guiang, Francisco Jayme Paolo A., Malban, Francis Justine M., Ramos II, Dondy Pepito G. Unraveling the Past. Readings in Philippine History. Quezon City, Philippines: Vibal Group, Inc., 2018.

The Philippine Islands, 1493-1898. Volume XXXIII

The National Quincentennial Committee, Republic of the Philippines

http://www.gocebu.com

http://www.nhcp.gov.ph

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