On this day, March 31

first mass at limasawa
The First Mass at Limasawa” (c. 1955-60) by National Artist Carlos “Botong” V. Francisco

On this day, March 31

On this day, March 31, in 1521, 500 years ago, the 1st recorded Catholic Mass in the Philippines was celebrated in Limasawa, Southern Leyte, on Easter Sunday, officiated by ship chaplain Pedro de Valderrama, & attended by Rajas Kolambu and Siau, with Magellan and crew.

After journeying westward from Spain in 1519 to find an alternate route to the Moluccas, the Magellan-Elcano expedition crossed the Atlantic & Pacific, landing on what would be the Philippines on 16 March 1521. They had only 3 of the original 5 ships.

They were received well by the inhabitants, replenishing their supplies. The ships soon anchored in Limasawa on 28th. On 29th, Magellan met with Raja Kolambu on the ship. Afterwards, 2 crew members performed a blood compact with Kolambu to signify alliance.

Not having been able to observe Holy Week properly (meat abstinence, for ex.), Magellan decided to celebrate the Easter Mass. on March 31, Magellan and 50 of his crew landed on the shore with Fr. Pedro de Valderrama, amidst ceremonial firing of 6 of the ship’s cannons.

Rajas Kolambu, Siau, and their people attended the Mass along the Limasawa shore. The people seemed to only mimic the ceremony. According to the Transylvanus manuscript as per historian Danilo Gerona, they seemed to be “delighted by this worship of the gods.”

Magellan presented them with the crucifix, but all meaning seemed to have been lost in translation. Magellan only told them that the King of Spain would have them “place it in all places where he might go or pass” for “their profit.” They were told it would bring them protection.

Hence, the cross used in the mass was planted atop a hill on the island overlooking the sea. Historians have long disputed the site of the mass. Some say it was in Butuan, but some say in Limasawa. The NHCP organized several panels of historians to settle the debate.

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