Holy week in the Philippines is widely observed by the population and taken seriously by devout Catholics. Commemorating Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection is a practice of Filipinos during the Lenten season. For some people, church visits and following Jesus’ way of the cross would suffice. But there are several individuals who would subject themselves to the pain of crucifixion. And more often than not, those who have signed up for being nailed on the cross like Jesus Christ make this activity their yearly vow. Although it is supposed to be a solemn season for everyone, it turns out that the crucifixion can draw so much attention during the holy week.
Some parts of the country are known for crucifixion activities in their region or area. Marinduque, a province in the Philippines, even has a festival called the Moriones Festival. It is annually held during the holy week and people from different parts of the country and the world come to witness the event.
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Lonely Planet explains that the festival began in 1807 when a priest “organised a play based on the story of Longinus, one of the Roman centurions assigned to execute Christ.” His blind right eye was able to regain vision because of Christ’s blood during the crucifixion. Hence, “Longinus instantly proclaimed his faith, whereupon he was chased around town, captured and summarily beheaded.” People taking part in this festival are dressed like Roman soldiers and go around town.
“Throughout the festival week, moriones take to the streets and run amok, engaging in sword fights, dances and sneaky pranks on bystanders, with Longinus hiding behind spectators before undergoing a mock beheading and his ‘lifeless’ body being paraded around town.”
Other provinces and regions in the Philippines also organize the same kind of event on holy week except that it is more serious and with flagellation involved during the procession. In San Fernando, Pampanga, several individuals who sign up to be Jesus on the cross consider such act as their vow of sacrifice or what they call as “panata.”
Devotees walk for miles barefoot while whipping their backs before the staging of the crucifixion. Marvin Tao, an electrician, told the Philippine Star in the past that he started doing it when his mother got sick with kidney problems. “I vowed and prayed to God so that she could be cured,” Marvin recounts.
This practice has been called out by the Catholic Church in the Philippines for “mixing Catholic devotion to folk belief.” But like Moriones Festival, the event has been flocked by spectators not only from other parts of the Philippines but other countries as well. An American tourist, Tracey Sengillo, has said that those who commit themselves to such practice may really have such strong dedication to it. This event was able to gather a large crowd of 4,000 people including foreigners. Devotees who have been crucified on the cross are given medical attention as soon as the re-enactment of the crucifixion is done.
The local government of Pampanga shares that such tradition started in 1955 with the staging of the way of the cross. But actual crucifixion only happened later on in 1962. Artemio Anoza was the one who played Jesus Christ. Anoza was known as a quack doctor whose dream was to become a spiritual leader.
The crucifixion tradition and practice are done in various parts of the Philippines during the holy week. Although very controversial in nature, the Filipino population has been exposed to this practice. In some parts of the world, there were attempts to also stage the crucifixion of Jesus on the cross but to no avail. Christian Times reported that in Manchester, an attempt to raise funds and charge people of £750 for “full crucifixion experience” has been cancelled. For them, such practice is considered blasphemous and unsafe. Cathedral Gardens eventually cancelled the show.
[Featured Image by Aaron Favila/AP Images]