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The first Catholic Mass in the Philippines was held on March 31, 1521, Easter Sunday. It was said by Father Pedro de Valderrama along the shores of what was referred to in the journals of Antonio Pigafetta as "Mazaua".

First Mass in the Philippines
Carlos V Francisco First Mass in the Philippines.png
A detail of Carlos V. Francisco's First Mass in the Philippines painting
Date31 March 1521 (Easter Sunday)
LocationUncertain. Possibly Mazaua, Southern Leyte or Masao, Caraga, Mindanao

Today, this site is widely believed by many to be Limasawa at the tip of Southern Leyte,[1] though this is contested by some who assert that the first mass was instead held at Masao, Butuan.[2]


Landing on Philippine shoresEdit

When Ferdinand Magellan and his European crew sailed from San Lucar de Barrameda for an expedition to search for spices, these explorers landed on the Philippines after their voyage from other proximate areas. On March 28, 1521, while at sea, they saw a bonfire which turned out to be Mazaua (believed to be today's Limasawa) where they anchored.[3]

Blood compactEdit

The island's sovereign ruler was Rajah Siaiu. When Magellan and comrades set foot on the grounds of Mazaua, he befriended the Rajah together with his brother Rajah Kulambu of Butuan. In those days, it was customary among the indigenous—and in most of southeast Asia—to seal friendship with a blood compact. On instigation of Magellan who had heard the Malayan term for it, casi casi, the new friends performed the ritual. This was the first recorded blood compact between Filipinos and Spaniards. Gifts were exchanged by the two parties when the celebration had ended.[4][5]

First MassEdit

On March 31, 1521, an Easter Sunday, Magellan ordered a Mass to be celebrated which was officiated by Father Pedro Valderrama, the Andalusion chaplain of the fleet, the only priest then. Conducted near the shores of the island, the First Holy Mass marked the birth of Roman Catholicism in the Philippines. Colambu and Siaiu were the first natives of the archipelago, which was not yet named "Philippines" until the expedition of Ruy Lopez de Villalobos in 1543, to attend the Mass among other native inhabitants.[4][6]

Planting of the crossEdit

In the afternoon of the same day, Magellan instructed his comrades to plant a large wooden cross on the top of the hill overlooking the sea.[7] Magellan's chronicler, Antonio Pigafetta, who recorded the event said:

"After the cross was erected in position, each of us repeated a Pater Noster and an Ave Maria, and adored the cross; and the kings [Colambu and Siaiu] did the same."[8]

Magellan then took ownership of the islands where he had landed in the name of King Charles V which he had named earlier on March 16 Archipelago of Saint Lazarus because it was the day of the saint when the Armada reached the archipelago.[4][6]

Proclamation of the national shrineEdit

On June 19, 1960, Republic Act No. 2733, called the Limasawa Law, was enacted without Executive approval on June 19, 1960.[9] The legislative fiat declared The site in Magallanes, Limasawa Island in the Province of Leyte, where the first Mass in the Philippines was held is hereby declared a national shrine to commemorate the birth of Christianity in the Philippines.[10] Magallanes is east of the island of Limasawa. In 1984 Imelda Marcos had a multi-million pesos Shrine of the First Holy Mass built, an edifice made of steel, bricks and polished concrete, and erected on top of a hill overlooking barangay Magallanes, Limasawa. A super typhoon completely wiped this out just a few months later. Another shrine was inaugurated in 2005.[11]

Limasawa celebrates the historic and religious coming of the Spaniards every March 31 with a cultural presentation and anniversary program dubbed as Sinugdan, meaning "beginning.".[12] Yet this has no reference at all to a Catholic mass being held on March 31, 1521.

Historical controversiesEdit


Some Filipino historians have long contested the idea that Limasawa was the site of the first Catholic mass in the country.[13] Historian Sonia Zaide identified Masao (also Mazaua) in Butuan as the location of the first Christian mass.[7] The basis of Zaide's claim is the diary of Antonio Pigafetta, chronicler of Magellan's voyage. In 1995 then Congresswoman Ching Plaza of Agusan del Norte-Butuan City filed a bill in Congress contesting the Limasawa hypothesis and asserting the "site of the first mass" was Butuan.[14] The Philippine Congress referred the matter to the National Historical Institute for it to study the issue and recommend a historical finding. Then NHI chair Dr. Samuel K. Tan reaffirmed Limasawa as the site of the first mass.[15]


Odoric of Pordenone, an Italian and Franciscan friar and missionary explorer, is heartily believed by many Pangasinenses to have celebrated the first mass in Pangasinan in around 1324 that would have predated the mass held in 1521 by Ferdinand Magellan. A marker in front of Bolinao Church states that the first Mass on Philippine soil was celebrated in Bolinao Bay in 1324 by a Franciscan missionary, Blessed Odorico.

However, there is scholarly doubt that Odoric was ever at the Philippines.[16] Ultimately, the National Historical Institute led by its chair Ambeth Ocampo recognized the historical records of Limasawa in Southern Leyte as the venue of the first Mass, held on March 31, 1521.[17][18]


  1. ^ Valencia, Linda B. "Limasawa: Site of the First Mass". Philippines News Agency. Archived from the original on 2007-10-15. Retrieved 2007-11-12.
  2. ^ "Limasawa first mass not a 'hoax' – experts". CBCP News. June 8, 2014.
  3. ^ "A short Philippine History before the 1898 Revolution". Newsletter of the District of Asia. 2001. Retrieved 2007-11-12.
  4. ^ a b c Agoncillo, Teodoro A. (1974). Introduction to Filipino History. Quezon City, Philippines: GAROTECH Publishing. ISBN 971-10-2409-8.
  5. ^ Mercado, Monina A. (Editor) (1985). Dioramas:a visual history of the Philippines. Metro Manila, Philippines: Ayala Museum.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  6. ^ a b Agoncillo, Teodoro A. (1962 by Del Carmen Juliana). Philippine History. Manila, Philippines: Inang Wika Publishing Co. Check date values in: |year= (help)
  7. ^ a b Halili 2004, pp. 73
  8. ^ Pigfetta, Antonio (2008) [c. 1525, historical reproduction republished c. 1905]. Helen, Emma; Robinson, James Alexander (eds.). The Philippine Islands 1493-1898. BiblioBazaar, LLC. p. 129. ISBN 978-1-4264-6706-6. ISBN 1-4264-6706-0, ISBN 978-1-4264-6706-6
  9. ^ "Republic Act No. 2733". June 19, 1960.
  11. ^ Borrinaga, Rolando O. (2007-04-14). "The right place for disputed first Mass in Limasawa". Inquirer Visayas. Retrieved 2007-11-12.
  12. ^ "Southern Leyte Is Famous For..." Wow Philippines. Archived from the original on 2008-02-12. Retrieved 2007-11-15. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)
  13. ^ "Butuan to pursue claim it was site of First Mass in RP, 485 years age". The Philippine Star. April 2, 2006.
  14. ^ Ben Serrano (April 4, 2006). "Butuan reclaims part as first mass venue". Retrieved 2008-12-13.
  15. ^ Isagani Medina (1981). An Evaluation of the Controversy on the First Mass in the Philippines. Manila: National Historical Institute. pp. 31–35. ISSN 0115-3927.
  16. ^ "[T]hat the name of Luzon [Dolrdiin], which Mr. Romanet in his work Les voyages en Asie au XIV siecle, took for original in the work of Bl. Odoric de Pordenone is due to the natives and not to the foreigners; secondly, that for Odoric the so-called islands of Dondiin, comprise Ceylon, a part of Sonda, probably Berneo and the Island Hainan, but by no means the Philippine Islands.” - Cited by Isacio R. Rodriguez, “Bibliography on Legazpi and Urdaneta,” Philippine Studies 13, n. 2 (1965), 296 - 297
  17. ^ Fuertes, Yolanda (17 Nov 2007). "Bolinao stakes claim to Mass held in 1324". Northern Luzon Bureau. Retrieved 23 Dec 2014.
  18. ^ "Was First Mass held in Limasawa or Butuan? Church urged to help settle controversy". April 3, 2012.