Every Good Friday, in various parts of Philippines, most famously in San Pedro Cutud, Roman Catholic devotees voluntarily self-flagellate and crucify themselves to bear similar sufferings to that which Jesus bore. In order to not appear vain, most flagellants cover their faces with cloth, and some even wear cloth with Jesus’ face printed on.
This is certainly not a festival for the faint-hearted or hot-tempered. We recommend this only for those who are willing to go out of their way, even suffering a little, to experience something unique. Observers and participants alike, you’d most definitely learn the meaning of “no pain, no gain.”
Although the self-flagellation and crucifixions are the most well-known aspects of the event, indeed there’s much more to take in. The weekend of “Holy Week” encompassing Good Friday and Easter Sunday are by far the largest holiday in The Philippines, with many parades and carnival-like atmospheres. Great activities and celebrations can be found across the country, although the more extreme reenactments only take place in specific locations such as San Pedro Cutud.
As some self-flagellants were smiling, for a moment, we thought that it was just red paint they were spreading over their backs. In truth, these cuts were made by razors and as they whip themselves, they are spreading their own blood that could splatter on you if you get too close.
If you’re wondering if this event is suitable for kids, we’d say it depends on the kids in question. The local children were eagerly soaking up the carnivalesque atmosphere set by the food, drinks and shopping options. While no kids have volunteered, we saw some kids preparing to volunteer.
Waiting hours for the crucifixion to finally begin was excruciating. One member of our group passed out twice due to heat stroke. Many locals gave me friendly reminders to stay hydrated as heat strokes are common
Don’t Miss an Event
- Hotels and AirBNB opportunities in San Pedro Cutud are very limited, so book early if you plan to stay in town. Search for a hotel or AirBNB.
- If staying in San Pedro Cutud isn’t an option, EG recommends you stay as near as you can to San Pedro Cutud and as near as you can to any church.
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- International travelers will likely fly into Clark Airport (CRK). Search for flights.
- Book flights to Clark early and you’ll avoid Holy Week’s ungodly traffic from Manila
- If you fly into Manila (MNL) we highly recommend you arrange transport to San Pedro Cutud a few days in advance if you want to avoid hours upon hours–we sat in traffic for 6 hours–of traffic jams.
- Traffic in The Philippines is notoriously challenging on a normal day, and this weekend is the busiest travel week of the year. Be ready for many many many hours in traffic.
- Clean and affordable buses leave from several points around Manila
- Try to get a Grab or otherwise hire a driver
- Don’t be afraid to get creative if you’re driving north out of Manila. Many will be traveling, so it may be possible to network and find someone’s friend or cousin with an empty seat.
- For short distances, experience the local transportation–tuk tuk (known there as tricycles) and Jeepney. Tuk tuk drivers can bring you anywhere you want, while Jeepneys have fixed routes. Jeepneys have fixed prices that are super cheap; tuk tuks require haggling or they can be more expensive than Grab.
Self-mortification was introduced as penance in the 16th century by Hispanic missionaries. In 1961, the practice of imitating Christ was taken to its extremes—crucifixion—by Arsenio (aka Artemio) Añoza, a Philippine faith healer. Añoza saw crucifixion as a “means to get closer to Christ in his passion”.
Añoza’s legacy has been followed by Ruben Enaje, whose crucifixion we witnessed. Enaje has been crucified more than 30 times since 1986. He started by committing to being crucified for 9 years after surviving a fall from a three-story high billboard he was painting. He later renewed his vow for another 9 years for his eldest’s good health, and again for his wife’s miraculous recovery.
During the 4 hours we were in San Pedro Cutud, we saw about a hundred young men whipping themselves, no females. We did, however, see Mary Jane Sazon, a 39 year old Fillipina, who was crucified after Enaje. We went very early hoping to get great pictures and videos. We weren’t lucky enough to nab free tickets that were given out for the day before at the Barangay Centre, starting at 8am. If you miss out too, fear not. There are still many good vantage points that are first-come, first-served.
Re-enactments of Christ’s passion gained a critical mass following in 1991, after the eruption of Mt Pinatubo. Many flagellants in the succeeding years made vows to plead for God’s mercy as the volcanic eruption led to floods that prevented villagers from returning home. This tradition has survived more than half a century despite opposition from Church leaders who have sought to end these gruesome spectacles.
Today, dark tourists and devotees, mostly local, continue to be drawn to this controversial tradition.
The Philippines has a long and fascinating history (particularly intertwined with both Spanish and American culture). Don’t worry if you don’t speak Tagalog – English is spoken and understood everywhere. Some basic knowledge of Spanish is a bonus when reading menus, but isn’t required.
As with any trip abroad, check ahead of time to make sure your destination is safe and open to the public. In recent years, some rural parts of The Philippines have been targets by extremist groups and/or closed to tourists for refurbishing. We spent all of our time on Luzon, the largest island and home to Manila (the capital city, with a staggering 23 million people), and felt extremely safe the entire time (even when wandering the streets of San Pedro at 4am looking for our bus departure point).
After my 10 days in The Philippines, I have newfound respect and love for the wonderful Filipino people. They are extremely kind and helpful, especially to a couple of foreigners struggling to get around. What would be a hardship to those us who have lived a comfortable life is commonplace or even a luxury here – we saw families of 3 and 4 people crowded onto a single motorbike, sitting in the beating hot sun, stopped for hours in traffic.
For these reasons, The Philippines is at once a challenging and rewarding place to visit. Be prepared for difficulties posed by lacking infrastructure, and be amazed by the kindness and grace of the locals around you.
We bought beautiful bracelets to thank the kind shopkeeper for giving me his seat when I was suffering from a heatstroke. They serve as beautiful yet inexpensive momentos of our experience of Filipino friendliness.
The Filipinos we met were all soft-hearted and hardy people. We’ve learnt to take their reviews of how challenging something is with a handful of salt. This experience of Good Friday felt like death; thank God for the relaxing concert in Manilla park, which resurrected us 3 days later.
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