Where:San Fernando, Luzon, The Philippines
When: Good Friday of Easter Week (March or April)
What Happens: A staged ‘crucifixion’ of 10 pious Christians and flagellation by thousands of other participants
Remember to bring: A strong stomache and a little whip
Christian religious festivals rule daily life in the Philippines, particularly in the countryside. San Fernando is a good example, just 40 miles from the city of Manila on Luzon island, this town is famous for being the site of the crucifixion ceremony that takes place on Good Friday each year. To some the event is a display of piety and to thank god for blessings; to others, they are gruesome displays of outdated religious fervour.
What Happens at San Fernando?
As many as ten men each year volunteer to be Jesus and are nailed to the cross with slender silvery spikes. Spectators act out the events of the three days that led up to Christ’s crucifixion that shaped the structure of the whole Christian faith.
If you’re in Manila at this time, it’s easy to get to San Fernando early in the morning of the Good Friday. Come prepared for gore and blood, as it is quite an intense and emotional experience. Like the Vegetarian Festival in Phuket, Thailand, where people do all sorts of painful things with sharpened knives and hooks (apparently painlessly slipping these sharp objects through cheeks, shoulder blades, and other sensitive areas) more than 1,000 participants in San Fernando beat themselves (flagellations) with sharpened chains that bring forth spurts of blood and exposed skin.
The island of Luzon is not the only place this practice occurs; on the island of Marinduque there is a custom called Moriones, where people perform similar acts of self-flagellation in order to commemorate the Roman centurion who was apparently cured when a drop of Jesus’ blood fell into his eye. Participants wear centurions clothes and repeat this every Easter for a whole night.
The Catholic Church actually forbids such forms of extreme piety, but it can’t stop those who want to show thanks to their God for a healed relative, or for a life saving cure for their child. There has even been talk of local officials bribing people to keep the show alive by pushing up the number of participants, realising the financial gains brought in by curious foreign tourists. This is, of course, denied by these government officials who say it’s just another uniquely Filipino tradition.
The festival climaxes with the crucifixion, and several hours after being nailed to their crosses, the men are taken down. Though traveller’s may not follow the strongly held religious beliefs of the Filipino people, attending the Easter festival in San Fernando gives a good indication of how deep Christianity runs in this isolated converted country.
Asia Taipei Times: Filipinos gather for crucifixions
Press account of Crucifixion Ceremony in San Fernando
Travel Notes.org: Holy Week
How Easter is Celebrated Around the World
By Susi O’Neill