Limasawa, not Butuan: Gov’t historians affirm site of 1521 Easter Sunday mass in PH

Rose Carmelle Lacuata, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Aug 20 2020 07:59 PM

Photo from the Department of Foreign Affairs on Twitter

MANILA- The National Historical Commission of the Philippines has affirmed Limasawa as the site of the 1521 Easter Sunday mass in the Philippines.

The NHCP Board signed Resolution No. 2, s. 2020 on July 15, where it adopted the recommendation of the panel of historians, saying the 1521 Easter Sunday Mass in the Philippines took place in Limasawa, now located in Southern Leyte.

"The panel unanimously agreed that the evidences and arguments presented by the pro-Butuan advocates are not sufficient and convincing enough to warrant the repeal or reversal of the ruling on the case by the NHI (National Historical Institute). Hence, the panel recommended that Limasawa Island, Southern Leyte, be sustained as the site of the 1521 Easter Sunday Mass," the commission said in a statement dated Aug. 18 and released Wednesday, Aug. 19.

The six-man panel headed by Dr. Resil Mojares, was formed in November 2018 to put an end on the debate on site of 1521 Easter Sunday mass in the country.

The NHCP reopened the investigation into the issue after receiving requests from various groups, including the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines. 

The inquiry was also made in preparation for the country's commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the introduction of Christianity in the country.

The panel is composed of representatives from different universities, and the CBCP.

The Mojares panel visited Butuan and Limasawa to talk to both sides advocating for their respective LGUs.

Among the evidences used by the pro-Butuan group were numerous accounts written by non-eyewitnesses decades after the 1521 Easter Sunday mass, as well as the 1872 monument in Magallanes, Agusan del Norte.

All these accounts claimed the first mass was held in Butuan.

The pro-Limasawa groups, on the other hand, used the accounts written by Antonio Pigafetta, who was part of Ferdinand Magellan's voyage to the Philippines.

Among the first scholars who looked into the topic of the 1521 Easter Sunday mass were Trinidad Pardo de Tavera and Pablo Pastells and both concluded that the mass was held in Limasawa.

The panel also looked into different sources, including the coordinates of Mazaua given by the eyewitnesses, as well as studies and projects that retraced the Magellan-Elcano expedition using modern navigational instruments.

The NHCP, in a statement, also said that the early writers and cartographers of Philippine history relied heavily on the accounts of Gian Battista Ramusio and Maximilianus Transylvanus, "because Pigafetta's original account was not available to them."

According to Prof. Jose Victor Torres of the De La Salle University Department of History, the resolution reaffirmed Limasawa's status as the site of the 1521 Easter Sunday mass in the country.

"Limasawa was just reaffirmed again. But this time with new evidence and accessibility to the sources, including the Pigafetta manuscripts which were found only in archives abroad. Because of technology, we no have high quality digital copies of it," Torres, who is also a member of the Mojares panel, told ABS-CBN News.

He added that this recent report is more complete because of the "large number of sources" that were previously inaccessible.

"And the fact that this time, there were ocular inspections to the sites by the panel members," Torres added.

The Easter Sunday mass was held in Limasawa on March 31, 1521 and was celebrated by Fr. Pedro Valderama, the chaplain of the expedition.

The panel also noted that it is using the term "Easter Sunday Mass" to refer to it, since the Spaniards arrived in the Philippine territory during Holy Week and Valderama probably celebrated some undocumented masses while they were at sea.