First mass in the Philippines

First mass in the Philippines

disputed=May 2008
original research=May 2008
refimprove=May 2008
The first mass in the Philippines was on Easter Sunday March 31, 1521cite news | first =Linda B. | last =Valencia | coauthors = | title =Limasawa: Site of the First Mass | work =Philippines News Agency | pages = | language = | publisher | date = | url = | accessdate =2007-11-12] in an island named Mazaua by eyewitnesses Antonio Pigafetta, Ginés de Mafra, Francisco Albo, the Genoese pilot, and Martín de Ayamonte, at a location today universally—and mistakenly—believed to be Limasawa, a town islet to the tip of Southern Leyte province, and is said to be the birthplace of Roman Catholicism in the country.

The historical event came to pass when Portuguese navigator Ferdinand Magellan fatefully landed in the western port of the island of Mazaua.

Combés invents the word "Limasawa"

The name "Limasawa" is not found in any primary or secondary account of Magellan's voyage. It is not found in any language of the Philippines. It is a neologism, an invention. It may be traced only as far back as 1667 in a historical study of the evangelization of southern Philippines, specifically Mindanao, written by Fr. Francisco Combés, S.J. This placename points to a tiny isle west of Panaon, southern Leyte. Four years before Combés, in 1664, the same isle was named Dimasaua by Fr. Francisco Colín, S.J., to signify that it was "not" the island where an Easter mass was reported by Spanish historian Antonio de Herrera y Tordesillas. De Herrera is the only historian whose faithful account of the Mazaua incident with the correct name—Mazaua, or as pronounced, "masawa"—was ever published from the 16th century up to the very start of the 1933 when the eyewitness account of Martín de Ayamonte saw print. Ayamonte spelling of the name was "Maçava" with a cedilla c, with a tail, which was an archaic form of the sound s, and v with the value w which is absent in the Spanish and Portuguese alphabets.

Both Combés and Colín had adopted a 1536 story originating with Giovanni Battista Ramusio that the island where Magellan's fleet landed was Butuan. Ramusio, in translating a French text of Antonio Pigafetta, had erroniously replaced Mazaua with Butuan. From 1536 until the 19th century, Ramusio's Butuan error was reflected in historical accounts of Magellan's sojourn in Philippine waters. There are a number of versions of Ramusio, the one adopted by Colín talks of a mass in Butuan; this version is represented by the English translation of Richard Eden. The one adopted by Combés is a version of Ramusio represented by the English translation by Samuel Purchas—it does "not" mention any mass anywhere in the archipelago of San Lazaro. A facsimile edition of Samuel Purchas' work is at Go to Images 272 and 273.

Carlo Amoretti equates Combés's Limasawa with Pigafetta's Mazaua

This error—replacing Mazaua with Butuan—was detected in 1800 by Carlo Amoretti who, unfortunately, made his own geographical blunder. He equated Magellan's Mazaua with Combés's Limasawa. Go to John Pinkerton's English translation at See Page 330 regarding Carlo Amoretti supposition Limasawa is “Massana” or “Mazzana”, and Page 333 where Amoretti asserts--very wrongly--that the two islands are in the same latitude, 9° 40' North. Carlo Amoretti was a conservator in the Ambrosiana Library at Milan where he discovered the lost Italian manuscript of Pigafetta in 1798. Amoretti lost no time transcribing the codex. Amoretti, in a footnote, said Magellan's Mazaua may be the "Limasava" found in the map of the Philippines by Jacques N. Bellin. He said both Limasawa and Mazaua are in Pigafetta's latitude 9° 40' North. This is patently wrong. Limasawa is at 9° 56 minutes N; while Mazaua was spotted at three different latitudes, Pigafetta's 9° 40' North, at Francisco Albo's 9° 20' North, and The Genoese Pilot's 9° North.

In any case, Magellan scholars and navigation historians accepted Carlos Amoretti's dictum. In the Philippines, this dictum was altered by historians who altered Amoretti's assertion by removing the name "Mazaua" and replacing it with the phrase "site of the first mass." Thus, was born the classic proposition, "Where is the site of the first mass, Limasawa or Butuan?" Carlo Amoretti's authorship is also omitted so that in historical studies on the Mazaua incident Amoretti is the unheard of, unsung, unhonoured author of a famous dictum. This question is a fallacious dilemma, Mazaua is being equated with an island without anchorage, Limasawa, with a place, Butuan, that is not an island. Mazaua was both an island and an excellent harbor.

Both Fr. Francisco Combés and Carlo Amoretti had read not one single eyewitness account, save, in the case of the latter, the Italian extant manuscript known as the Ambrosiana codex. Most important they had not read the account of Ginés de Mafra, the only crewmember who came back to Mazaua in 1543, staying there with 99 other crewmates for six months. The Magellan visit was only for 7 days. Ginés de Mafra was part of the expedition under the command of Ruy Lopez de Villalobos. In his testimony, de Mafra said the port of Mazaua was west of the island contradicting the popular belief it was east as affirmed four times by the National Historical Institute of the Philippines; that the isle was 45 nautical miles below Butuan of 1521; that its circumference was 3-4 leguas which translates to an area of from 2,200 hectares to 3,930 hectares.

The important event created one more stir in the Philippines when Butuanon folks appealedcite news | last =Serrano | first =Ben | coauthors = | title =Butuan reclaims part as first mass venue | work =Sunstar Cagayan de Oro | pages = | language = | publisher| date =(2007-04-04) | url = | accessdate =2007-11-12] to the claim as false, bearing Pegafetta's diary, because, accordingly, the mass occurred in Mazaua Island (now Barangays Pinamangculan and Bancasi), an old district in Butuan, a city in Caraga Region near to the south portion of Southern Leyte province where the event was originally claimed.

Landing on Philippine shores

When Ferdinand Magellan and his European crew sailed from San Lucar de Barrameda for an expedition to search for spices, these folks 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 where they anchored. [cite web |url= |title=A short Philippine History before the 1898 Revolution |accessdate=2007-11-12 |accessmonthday= |accessdaymonth= |accessyear= |author= |last= |first= |authorlink= |coauthors= |date=2001 |year= |month= |format= |work=Newsletter of the District of Asia | |pages= |language= |doi= |archiveurl= |archivedate= |quote= ]

Blood compact

The island was ruled by Rajah Siaiu. When Magellan and comrades set foot on the grounds of Mazaua, he befriended the king together with his brother Rajah Colambu of Butuan. In those days, it was customary among Filipinos—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. Ginés de Mafra gave the most vivid description of the incident: " [They] drew blood from the chests of both men, to toss it into a glass so that the blood unites, to mix it with wine, then [for] both to drink a half." This was the first recorded blood compact between Filipinos and Spaniards. Gifts were exchanged by the two parties when the celebration had ended.cite book |last=Agoncillo |first=Teodoro A. |authorlink= |coauthors= |title=Introduction to Filipino History |year=1974 |publisher=GAROTECH Publishing |location=Quezon City, Philippines |isbn=971-1024-09-8] [cite book |last=Mercado |first=Monina A. (Editor) |authorlink= |coauthors= |title=Dioramas:a visual history of the Philippines |year=1985 |publisher=Ayala Museum |location=Metro Manila, Philippines |isbn=]

First mass

On March 31, 1521, an Easter Sunday, Magellan ordered a mass to be celebrated which was headed by Friar Pedro Valderrama, the Andalusion chaplain of the fleet, the only priest then. The other priest, the French Bernard Calmette (Bernardo Calmeta) had been marooned at Patagonia with Juan de Cartagena for being implicated in the mutiny. Conducted near the shores of the island, the Holy First Mass marked the birth of Roman Catholicism in the Philippines. Kulambu 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 inhabitants, presumably from Butuan, who were with the entourage of Rajah Colambu, king of Butuan.cite book |last=Agoncillo |first=Teodoro A. |authorlink= |coauthors= |title=Philippine History |year=1962 by Del Carmen Juliana |publisher=Inang Wika Publishing Co. |location=Manila, Philippines |isbn=]

Planting of the cross

On the same day, Magellan instructed his comrades to plant a cross on the top of the hill overlooking the sea, southwest of the island as shown in the map of Mazaua in all the extant manuscripts of Antonio Pigafetta, i.e., MSS Nancy-Libri-Phillipps-Beinecke-Yale, 5650 and 24224. 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 [Kulambo and Siaiu] did the same."

Magellan then took ownership of the islands where he had landed in the name of King Charles V and called them as Archipelago of St. Lazarus because it was the day of the saint when he founded the islands.

Proclamation of the national shrine

In 1800, Carlo Amoretti, a conservator at the Ambrosiana library in Milan, published his transcription of a newly discovered authentic manuscript of Antonio Pigafetta. In his edition of what is now popularly called the Ambrosiana codex, Amoretti equated Mazaua—which he called "Messana" and/or "Massana," the name popularized by Maximilianus Transylvanus—with Combés's Limasawa. In 1905, Philippines scholar James A. Robertson translated Pigafetta's manuscript for the Philippine Islands, 1493-1898, a 55-volume collection of Spanish documents on Philippine history translated into English and edited by himself and Emma Helen Blair. In the translation, based on the Italian transcription by Andrea da Mosto which finally established the text of the Italian manuscript, Robertson asserted in footnote No. 26 in volume 33 that "Mazaua" was "now called the island of Limasawa"." In actuality, Robertson was paraphrasing the dictum of Carlo Amoretti,except that he used the correct name, "Mazaua" and not "Messana" or "Massana" which Amoretti used interchangeably.

To be precise, Amoretti's surmise was that "Messana" may be the "Limasava" found in the map of Jacques N. Bellin. This map was a copy of Fr. Pedro Murillo Velarde which for the first time shows an island sandwiched between Bohol and Panaon, the southmost island of Leyte. Limasava (the value of v is w which is absent in the Spanish alphabet) was the placename invented or fabricated by Fr. Francisco Combés, S.J., who had not read a single primary or secondary account of Magellan's expedition. His view of the Magellan voyage was based on the corrupted version of Antonio Pigafetta's account written by Giovanni Battista Ramusio. Ramusio wrote that the anchorage of Magellan's fleet from March 28-April 4, 1521 was Butuan. In one version Ramusio wrote in Butuan an Easter mass was held by Magellan, his men, and inhabitants there. Ramusio replaced Mazaua with Butuan. Combés dismissed the version of Antonio de Herrera y Tordesillas who wrote a faithful story of the incident which names the island-port of Magellan's fleet as Mazaua. Combés also dismissed the name "Dimasava" given to the same Leyte isle by Fr. Francisco Colín, S.J., five years earlier in 1663. Like Combés, Colín also had dismissed de Herrera in favor of Ramusio. Colín's version of Ramusio talks of a mass held on March 31, 1521; Combés's had another version which talks of "no" mass at all. Combés is a negation of de Herrera's Mazaua, where an Easter mass was held. His Dimasava means "this is not the island where a mass was held." The prefix "di" is Bisaya for "not" or "no." Since Combés story does not talk of a mass being held anywhere, he coined another word by using a different prefix, "Li" which is absent in any Philippine language or Spanish. Limasawa is a pure invention.

On June 19, 1960, Republic Act No. 2733 was passed by Congress declaring Barangay Magallanes, which is "east" of Limasawa Island, Southern Leyte—Magellan's port was west of Mazaua—as a national shrine to commemorate the First Mass and "the birth of Christianity" in the Philippines. [cite news | last = | first = | coauthors = | title =Legislations on Culture in the Philippines | work =Philippine Culture and Information | pages = | language = | publisher =Philippine Information Agency | date =(1998-06-18) | url = | accessdate =2007-11-15] Unknown to the lawmakers the basis of the law was Amoretti's equating Pigafetta's Mazaua with Combés's "Limasaua" which four years earlier Colín called "Dimasaua" expressly to signify it is not Mazaua.

The law and the flawed historiography behind it remains. It has been reaffirmed more than four times by the Philippines' National Historical Institute (NHI). The framework against which the NHI has viewed the issue is expressed in the proposition, "Where is the site of the first mass in the Philippines, Limasawa or Butuan." In the most comprehensive study so far undertaken on the issue by Vicente Calibo de Jesus, he showed that this question consists of the fallacy of the false dichotomous question or false dilemma. It requires the reader the choose between two erroneous or false alternatives: Limasawa that has no anchorage, and Butuan which is not an island. Mazaua was a port with an excellent anchorage.


In 1996 a bill was filed by then Congresswoman Charito B. Plaza of Agusan del Norte claiming the Easter mass on March 31, 1521 was held at Butuan not Limasawa. The bill's contention was that the the wooden boat called "balanghai" dug up at Butuan proved it was Mazaua.

The Philippine Congress referred the matter to the National Historical Institute (NHI) for it to study the issue and recommend a historical finding. The NHI created a panel headed by retired Associate Supreme Court Justice Emilio Gangcayco, and members Bartolome C. Fernandez Jr. and Dr. Ma. Luisa T. Camagay, and ex-officio members, Dr. Samuel K. Tan, Chairman-Executive Director, NHI; Asst. Director Emelita V. Almosara; and Prof. Augusto V. de Viana, who was secretary of the Panel and keeps the minutes of all the Panel meetings. No one in the panel is an expert in Magellan historiography or in Renaissance navigation history; in fact no had written anything on those subjects except Dr. Tan who co-wrote a thin five-page article cite book |title= An Evaluation of the Controversy on the First Mass in the Philippines |last= Tan |first= Samuel K. |coauthors= Isagani Medina |year= 1981|publisher= National Historical Institute|location= Manila |issn= 0115-3927 |pages= 31-35

In the course of the two-year investigation by the NHI, the Ginés de Mafra account was "discovered" by Vicente Calibo de Jesus who advised the panel of the implications of de Mafra's testimony among which was that Mazaua was an island separated from 1521 Butuan by some 45 nautical miles, that the port was located west of Mazaua and that it had a good anchorage, and that the circumference of the isle was 3-4 leagues or 9 to 12 nautical miles. Another "discovery" of de Jesus was that Limasawa, according to the Philippine Coast Pilot, a seaman's "bible" which is updated periodically, had no anchorage.

In the morning of Tuesday, December 17, 1996 the entire NHI panel met to deliberate on the various studies submitted by the pro-Limasawa and by then pro-Mazaua sides. The panel accepted the findings of Mr. de Jesus, especially his analysis of the testimony of Ginés de Mafra which radically changed the parameters of the whole discussion. Whereas before de Mafra it was a question of whether the harbor was Limasawa or Butuan it now became clear that Mazaua was an island separate from Butuan and that it had a precise area and most significant it had a good anchorage.

On March 31, 1998, the National Historical Institute "adopted" the finding of the Gancayco Panel which dismissed the Ginés de Mafra account as fake and forthwith unilaterally reverted the discussion to pre-de Mafra context which was back to whether the "site of the first mass" was Limasawa, the isle without anchorage, or Butuan, which is not an isle. The NHI reaffairmed its previous pronouncements that Limasawa is Magellan's port.

The findings of the National Historical Institute is printed in full in the discussion section of the article on Ginés de Mafra at This document has virtually been kept secret by officials of the National Historical Institute since 1998; it has proven to be an embarrassment as it is full of irrelevance and ignorances.

Its exact status is uncertain. On the day NHI announced to the media the panel's finding, then NHI Chair-Executive Director Dr. Samuel K. Tan categorically stated it was the official stand of the Institute. The finding is variously cited as such by Philippine historians. The NHI has not officially nor publicly disavowed it. Incumbent NHI Chair Ambeth R. Ocampo privately confide the Board of Directors has not approved the panel's finding. On March 27, 2006 Ocampo wrote a letter to Mr. Alfredo M. Rafanan, Secretary of the Provincial Board of Agusan del Norte, affirming NHI's past findings not excluding the Gancayco Panel's.

NHI is in a kind of quandary. To affirm a public lie that it wants to distance itself from but at the same time it abhors having to confess it had committed and foisted a grievous if not deliberate falsehood.


The Christian religion brought by Magellan holds a distinction of being embraced by 94 percent of the Philippine population with 81 percent to the Roman Catholic Church, two percent composed of Protestant denominations and 11 percent either to the Philippine Independent Church (Aglipayan), Iglesia ni Cristo and others. The remaining percentage belongs to Muslim religion and others.

A new Shrine of the First Holy Mass, an edifice made of bricks and polished concrete, was erected on top of a hill overlooking the barangay Magallanes was inaugurated in 2005.cite news | last =Borrinaga | first =Rolando O. | coauthors = | title =The right place for disputed first Mass in Limasawa | work =Inquirer Visayas | pages = | language = | publisher | date =(2007-04-14) | url =| accessdate =2007-11-12]

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." [cite web |url= |title=Southern Leyte Is Famous For... |accessdate=2007-11-15 |accessmonthday= |accessdaymonth= |accessyear= |author= |last= |first= |authorlink= |coauthors= |date= |year= |month= |format= |work=Wow Philippines | |pages= |language= |doi= |archiveurl= |archivedate= |quote= ]


See also

* Andrés de San Martín
* Antonio de Herrera y Tordesillas
* Butuan City
* Carlo Amoretti
* Dimasaua
* Gatighan
* Ginés de Mafra
* Jacques N. Bellin
* Limasawa, Southern Leyte
* Martín de Ayamonte
* Mazaua

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