OFF INTO THE WILD WET YONDER How does this...
Nailed to the Cross in the Philippines
In what seems a lifetime ago (but was actually just the ‘90s), a friend and I went trekking around the Philippines for a few months. Part of this trip ended up overlapping with the country’s Holy Week and Easter celebrations, during which we began to hear about “nearby crucifixions” taking place just a few towns over. The nearby what? Within a matter of minutes we were tearing off in the general direction on rented dirt bikes, and spent the next few hours enduring the joy there is to be found in being covered eyes-to-nose-to-ears in volcanic soot (from the Mt. Pinatubo explosion) while attempting to avoid being run off the road by oncoming diesels “two deep” on roads intended for one lane of traffic in each direction.
Thoughts began to wander… what a total and complete waste of time this is. Certainly there aren’t actual crucifixions taking place. Something must not be translating here. Or maybe this is some sort of local take on Germany’s Oberammergau Passion Play.
Our doubts turned out to be unwarranted. It was exactly as described… more blood than a Muay Thai bout.
It was a typical Philippines’ afternoon… and by that I mean sweltering hot. The sun was blazing down on the crowds already gathered to see the “parade.” One that could be witnessed the same time each year… a parade of blood, sweat, and anguished cries for forgiveness to the heavens.
Pulling into the town of Cutud we knew we’d arrived at the right place as we began to pass groups of men dragging heavy wooden crosses behind them, masks covering their faces and more often than not a crown of thorns atop. Yes, this was most certainly what we were looking for.
The more we drove on the more medieval (maybe even more tribal than anything) it all looked and felt. Young men walking in slow procession while flogging themselves across the back, from left-to-right and then back again. Blood flying in every direction off of the tattered lashes. Stopping only when necessary for a brief moment of rest (as they had been at this since sunrise), they had friends/followers/nearby strangers take over their lashing until they could return to it. They labored up and down the streets looking like sickly elephants trying to survive on a hot, hot day, beating themselves with their own tails to keep the flies away.
And then there were the cross bearers, dragging their crosses to the center of the “festivities” where they would be nailing themselves to these boards not unlike a railroad worker would be nailing spikes into the ties to hold them in place.
Witnessing all of this in person felt like an intrusion of sorts, as if we truly didn’t belong there. So rather than park our bikes and walk around investigating things on two feet, we opted to stay on them, slowly maneuvering in and around the crowds of people. This, it turned out, was a poor decision, because as the whipping boys got close to us, so did their splattering blood. And so there we were, stuck on our bikes between the crowd and these repentant bloody sinners. All we could think to do was lean our bikes over to as close to the ground as possible, mindful not to lean over “too far” as these were rentals and we wanted our deposits back, but also extremely aware of the flying blood coming our way. As they passed by we were able to turn our faces and with an open hand semi-block the side that was most exposed. While this succeeded in keeping blood out of our eyes and mouths, there were still drips and flings of it across our arms, shirts, and legs. So there we were, laid on the street in the brutal sunlight, semi-straddling our bikes, with some stranger’s (numerous strangers’) blood covering us. On a good day this would be disturbing enough. But as this was in the middle of the ‘90s “AIDS epidemic” to say we were freaked is perhaps putting it lightly.
Nonetheless, we prevailed. And, to the condemnation of the Roman Catholic Church, so does this yearly event. Its popularity seems to have only grown in the interim, with foreigners now even joining in on the gorefest.
Certain that I could resist all temptation to “participate,” I am quite curious to return and see how the event has grown over these past 20 years. Will it become even bigger and more “circus-like?” Will it evolve into something (religiously) rivaling Nevada’s Burning Man festival?—“Screw Coachella and Burning Man, babe… this year it’s the Philippines at Easter. Tattoos? Nope, we’re gonna get nailed to a cross. It’ll be cool. I hear they’re gonna have three crosses going up at the same time this year so we’ll be side-by-side.”
The Madventures guys did a brilliant piece on this a few years back…