The title isn’t clickbait, I actually went to the Philippines to watch guys get crucifed, by choice, to prove their devotion to God. Intense.
Ok, so here’s the deal. 90% of the Philippines in staunchly Catholic, and every Easter, Good Friday to be exact, in Pampanga district just north of Manilla the capital, people volunteer to be crucifed with their hands and feet nailed to a cross. Yup, volunteer. Then the less hard-core, but still pretty crazy guys, whip their backs with a long rope with small razors on it. Ouch.
I’ve been to the Philippines a few times and it’s one of my favourite countries in the world – the people are super friendly, there’s so much to see and so many beautiful islands on offer, I had heard rumours of this event for years but never managed to see it. So, one day in Bangkok, I took the plunge, booked flights and went, and honestly it was one of the most intense experiences of my life.
The places is super crowded with up to 50, 000 people coming to join in and watch events unfold. As you approach on taxi you reach some heavy traffic and have to walk the remaining kms due to the sheer numbers. From that moment on, the madness starts.
Before you get to the hill where the crucifixations happen, there are groups of men walking shirtless in the same direction, but their progress is much slower. They are ritually undergoing self flagellatiion, whipping themselves every five second until their backs are literally red raw, covered in blood. The streets are covered in bloody, and I even managed to get a few specks on me too, it’s almost unavoidable as everywhere you look there are boy, as young as teenagers, doing this. Crazy sights.
Finally you reach the main event and their is a huge crowd. ‘Helpers’ dressed up as Romans to mimic Jesus getting crucified help the volunteers up the hill, the lie down on the cross and you start to hear the screaming. Slowly the bang the nails through their hands and feet, one nail in each limb, then they hoist the cross up tall. Three of them, all crucified, just as it was in the Bible. People are praying everywhere, the guys are screaming and when they take a break from screaming, they’re reciting bible verses. You can see the blood dripping from the edge of the cross, it’s pretty grim. After some time passes, they’re let down, Normally to a waiting ambulance where they have a chance to recover, as the next set of volunteers ready themselves. And on the day goes.
The rest of the town is in quite a relaxed mood – stalls selling ice-creams and beers, people playing music. For them, they see it every year so perhaps the spectacle isn’t as shocking but for me, it was an eye opener. If you’re in Asia over Easter ever, make the effort to go and check this out, it’s certainly a story for the Grandkids.
The participants believe they’ve done something wrong in their lives, and their begging forgiveness from God. Also, if something ‘lucky’ in their life has occured like their mother surviving cancer earlier in the year, then they offer their bodies to God and say thanks by putting themselves through this ordeal.
The ceremony happens on Luzon, the main island. You can either fly into Manilla’s international airport and take a bus or fly into Clarke Airport and stay around their, organise a taxi to take you the rest of the distance to San Juan.
Ok, that’s the long and short of it. Hope it made you guys want to explore the Philippines a little bit more, it’s an amazing country, with such a strong culture, I can’t wait to go back and explore more. Happy travels.