In light of the 500-year anniversary of the “first” Mass in the country, the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP) has confirmed that Portugese explorer Ferdinand Magellan and his Spanish crew celebrated the first Mass in Limasawa Island, Southern Leyte. It was held on March 31, 1521.
In the past, proponents have insisted on Butuan City in Agusan del Norte as the real site of historic Eucharistic celebration in the Philippines. However, the NHCP has found that evidence and arguments presented say otherwise. (Read: Catholic Church to Celebrate 500th Anniversary of PH Christianity)
“The panel unanimously agreed that the evidence 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),” NHCP chair Rene Escalante said in a statement.
This is the fourth time that a study and research was conducted at the site where the Mass is assumed to have taken place. The previous studies were conducted in the years 1980, 1995, and 2008—all of which concluded that the site of the first Mass was celebrated in Limasawa.
For the sake of their investigation, the NHCP has examined the Italian and French versions of Italian chronicler Antonio Pigafetta’s accounts during the expedition. Their findings showed that the coordinates of the 1521 Easter Sunday Mass are closer to Limasawa. (Read: The 500-Year History of Catholicism in the Philippines)
These findings were supported by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP). The CBCP has its own church historian as a member, and they are also associated with several members of the Church Historian Association of the Philippines.
The 1895 journals of historians Trinidad Pardo de Tavera and Pablo Pastells, SJ, also emphasized that the first Catholic mass in the country was held in Limawasa, not Butuan.
Moreover, the 1971 expedition of naval historian Samiel Eliot Morison and Colombian historian Mauricio Obregon and the accounts of Spanish naval engineer Ignacio Fernandez Vial and merchant marine captain Jose Luis Ugarte retraced the Magellan-Elcano voyage and concluded that the crew landed in Limasawa and held the first Catholic mass in Philippine soil. (Read: 3 Miraculous Events in History That Are Attributed to Mama Mary)
The Limasawa mass marked the birth of Christianity in the country—it remains as the nation’s dominant religion in the country until today.