Southern Leyte

First Holy Mass in the Philippines Anniversary

First Holy Mass in the Philippines Anniversary, also known as First Easter Mass in the Philippines Anniversary, is held in Limasawa Island, Southern Leyte, Philippines every March 31st. As the primary highlight of the Sinugdan Festival organized by the local government, this annual event commemorates the first Catholic mass that took place in 1521.

It holds historical and religious significance not only in the island of Limasawa but in the entire country for it marks the start of Christianization in the Philippines.

March 31st is a special working holiday in Southern Leyte by virtue of Republic Act No. 11373 that was signed on August 22, 2019.

History of the First Easter Sunday Mass in the Philippines

Portuguese colonizer Ferdinand Magellan sailed in a Spanish-sponsored expedition to the Moluccas beginning in September 1519. His objective was to establish a westward route for the trading of spices to Europe as an alternative to an existing sea highway that was ruled by Portugal.

By March 16, 1521, he and his exhausted men reached Homonhon Island, Eastern Samar. It was their first landfall in the Philippines after a long, difficult journey through the Pacific. Moreover, the crew was sick and they needed to replenish their dwindling provisions. The island was deserted upon their arrival, yet the expedition was sighted by the natives who came by their boats and engaged in trading food and supplies with them. It was the first recorded contact between European colonizers and the people in the archipelago.

On March 25, they set sail again and reached the island of Mazaua on March 28, a Maundy Thursday. They encountered a small outrigger boat called boloto with eight native sailors who refused to come on board their ships and instead turned back to inform their ruler. Two large sea vessels called balangay arrived later, and in one of them was Rajah Kulambo, the ruler of the island.

The next day, Good Friday, Magellan and Rajah Kulambo entered into casi-casi, a blood compact, as a sign of their newfound alliance. The following day, they were joined by Rajah Siawi, the brother of Rajah Kulambo and the ruler of Butuan (Agusan del Norte) and Calagan (Surigao).

On March 31, an Easter Sunday, Magellan and his sailors disembarked from their ships to hear a mass in the island and they were met by the two kings. Fr. Pedro de Valderrama, the chaplain of the expedition, celebrated the mass in a place prepared for the occasion.

Venetian chronicler Antonio Pigafetta who joined the Magellan expedition wrote,

On Sunday, the last day of March, and feast of Easter, the captain sent the chaplain ashore early to say mass, and the interpreter went with him to tell the king that they were not coming on shore to dine with him, but only to hear the mass. The king hearing that sent two dead pigs. When it was time for saying mass the captain went ashore with fifty men, not with their arms, but only with their swords, and dressed as well as each one was able to dress, and before the boats reached the shore our ships fired six cannon shots as a sign of peace. At our landing the two kings were there, and received our captain in a friendly manner, and placed him between them, and then we went to the place prepared for saying mass, which was not far from the shore. Before the mass began the captain threw a quantity of musk rose water on those two kings, and when the offertory of the mass came, the two kings went to kiss the cross like us, but they offered nothing, and at the elevation of the body of our Lord they were kneeling like us, and adored our Lord with joined hands. The ships fired all their artillery at the elevation of the body of our Lord.

Antonio Pigafetta. The First Voyage Round the World/Pigafetta’s Account of Magellan’s Voyage

Afterwards, a sword-play was held to the delight of the two kings. Magellan gifted them with a cross, along with nails and crown. After dinner, the cross was planted in the highest mountain of the island.

Rajah Kulambo and his brother Rajah Siawi often came to hunt in the island of Limasawa. The Spaniards remained in the island for seven days until they continued their journey westward to Cebu. Once there, Magellan gifted the wife of Cebu’s ruler, Rajah Humabon, with the image of Sto. Niño which started the Sinulog Festival. Magellan would meet his untimely end at the hands of Lapu-lapu as reenacted in Kadaugan sa Mactan.

The exact location of Mazaua, the island on which the first mass on Easter Sunday was celebrated by Fr. Pedro de Valderrama, was in contention for quite some time. Throughout the colonial period, it was thought that the site was located in Magallanes, Agusan del Norte.

Historians later concluded that the site of the first mass in the Philippines recorded in history occurred in Limasawa Island in Southern Leyte. It was supported by, among other resources, information gathered from the publication of the logbook of Victoria, one of the five ships in the expedition of Magellan.

It was officially confirmed in the program (written by historian Trinidad Pardo de Tavera) for the quadricentennial anniversary of the arrival of Ferdinand Magellan in the country in 1921. Four investigative panels called by the government in 1980, 1995, 2008 and 2018 also reached the same conclusion.

The site where the first mass was held in Magallanes, Limasawa Island was declared a national shrine pursuant to Republic Act No. 2733, otherwise known as Limasawa Law, that was enacted without executive approval on June 29, 1960. The Shrine of the First Holy Mass was built on a hill overlooking Barangay Magallanes in 1984. It was destroyed by a typhoon, and another shrine was constructed in 2005.

The island was also declared a tourist zone by virtue of Republic Act No. 7822 that was approved by President Fidel V. Ramos on November 18, 1994.

First Easter Mass in the Philippines Anniversary Activities

Religious activities are organized by the Holy Cross and The First Mass Parish under the Diocese of Maasin. The diocese holds religious motorcade of sacred icons (Sto. Niño de Limasawa, Sto. Niño de Tacloban, Nuestra Señora de la Peregrina), pilgrimage, vigil, the Diocesan Youth – Festival of Light, and spiritual talks. On the anniversary, a High Mass is celebrated.

Sinugdan Festival

Secular activities are spearheaded by the local municipal government of Limasawa in a celebration called Sinugdan Festival.

The name of the festival comes from sinugdan, a word in the local language that means origin.

It is a fest that combines historical commemoration, cultural celebration, and competition into one that aims to remind people of the significance of the first Easter Sunday mass in 1521. Its most awaited events are the dance showdown and the reenactment of the historic arrival of Magellan in the island.

Other activities include art exhibit, concerts, workshops, clean-up drives, boat races (Local Bancarera, Baroto Race, Nine-Man Boat Paddling Race), swimming compeittions, sports, tournaments, and more.

How to reach Limasawa Island

Take a ride to Padre Burgos Port (three-hour drive from Tacloban Airport and also accessible from any of the sea ports along Leyte) and get on one of the regular ferry trips to Magallanes port, which is an hour sea travel.


First Holy Mass in the Philippines Anniversary Summary

NameFirst Holy Mass in the Philippines Anniversary
ChurchHoly Cross and The First Mass Parish
DateMarch 31
Historical eventThe first Holy Mass celebrated on Easter Sunday in the Philippines
LocationLimasawa, Southern Leyte
OrganizerMunicipal Government of Limasawa
Simultaneous eventSinugdan Festival