Day 4: Witnessing the crucifixion in San Pedro Cutud, Philippines

Day 4: Witnessing the crucifixion in San Pedro Cutud, Philippines

I woke up at 6am. Today, we were to witness a very unusual event here in San Fernando, Philippines. Every year, people re-enact the crucifixion of Christ in real by actually allowing them to be nailed on the cross for the atonement of their sins. Though the catholic church condemns this event, it is still followed among some Catholics here in Philippines which started as a street play in 1955. So to witness this strange event, we flew to Manila yesterday and then travelled by bus to Angeles City where we stayed for the night.

Caution: The content below is of extremely disturbing nature both in photographs as well as text. Discretion is advised.

We got out of our hotel by 8am and took a trike to get to the Dau bus terminal from where we took a Jeepney to San Fernando. It took us just 30min to arrive at the city and as we reached the city, I could see some guys whipping themselves on their back and walking around the city. Seeing them, I got down from the Jeepney and started taking photographs of them. Blood was oozing out of their back by the constant whipping of the lashes and some of the blood got sprayed onto me as well when I went near them to photograph. Since I knew this would happen, I was well prepared and had worn my dress accordingly.

We moved on. Next we wanted to get to the Metropolitan Cathedral and so, we walked a bit further to reach the cathedral. In front of the cathedral, we found that all these flagellants were converging and bowing down where they were whipped further by others! The smell of blood was all over and this was surely not a place for the squeamish! But surprisingly, it seemed like a family event for the locals as we could see even small children happily watching the flagellants as they torment themselves! ‘What is acceptable and what is not is just what the society decides’, I wondered. And that is what makes human beings so different and interesting! So I wouldn’t pass any judgement on whether it is right or not. I am here just to witness this strange ritual and report it in my blog for the world to see.

We then got into the church, were some other believers silently prayed inside. Overall, it was an irony of sorts to see such non violent forms of worship that too in the same church! We got out of the church and bought some Gatorade and water from the 7-eleven store and then took a trike to San Pedro Cutud, where the crucifixion was to happen. Though the roads were partially blocked because of the flagellants, we managed to reach the place by 10am. We registered ourselves and got to the ground. We could see three crosses fixed on a small embankment and a fence around. I saw a media platform quite near to the cross and wondered if could find a place there! So I took out my photography academy ID and explained at the media registration desk that I am a student of photography from India and I own a travel website for which am preparing an article on tourism in Philippines. That convinced them and they immediately issued me a media pass for the event!

I then proceeded to the media platform and took a spot in the front. I could see photographers from the Associated Press, Reuters, TV5, and other reputed news agencies already in the media platform. This is the first time I am sharing the media space with such big photographers and I was feeling so proud of it. But without any shade, it was scorching hot in this April sun in here and there was no respite from that. So I started having a gulp of water every 15min and another of gatorade, every 30min. “That should help me avoid dehydration”, I thought.

Meanwhile, the flagellants were constantly coming to the cross and placing their “crown of thorns” at the base of the cross, kneeling down and then going back. Around 12noon, a large number of flagellants arrived and I knew that the street play, “Via Crucis”(Way of the cross), was about to start. As we were watching, the guys dressed as the Roman guards first entered the area, followed by those dressed in as the Jewish teachers, Mary, Mary Magdalene, disciples with Jesus carrying the cross in the middle. Then, the guys dressed as thieves were put on the cross, tied up and then raised.

Yeah, they weren’t nailed to the cross. Then came the time for nailing the “Jesus dude” to the cross. [In order to distinguish the mention of Jesus Christ and this guy acting as Jesus, I would be mentioning the guy dressed as Jesus as the “Jesus dude”] Yeah, now it was completely real. I guess I should explain this process a bit too. The nail was made of stainless steel and seemed extremely sharp. First they apply disinfectants on the nail and the hand, place the nail on the hand and one small hit by a hammer, and it’s in. This was in quite contrast to the scenes I have seen in the movie, “passion of the christ” or other movies on Jesus, where they hit it hard with a big swing of their arm. So either the nail must be too sharp or the human hand is too soft that a nail can pass through without much resistance or it is the property of the wood used for the cross that makes it so easy, I have no clue! Anyways, it hardly required more than a couple of small hits by the hammer for the nail to completely go in.

Once they nailed the hands, they raised up the cross and after raising it up fully, they also nailed his legs and yeah, unlike Jesus Christ, this “Jesus dude” is nailed on both the legs with two nails! But surprisingly, all this while, the “jesus dude” hardly made a twitch or a sound when the nails were pierced through his hands and legs. So now that all the three crosses were up, the ones dressed as Jewish elders came up and spoke out at the “jesus dude” and yeah, forgot to mention that all of them had mics! So you can hear the weeping and the jeers too! Now, one of the Roman soldier came and poked a pole with something tied on the end at the face of the “Jesus dude”. I thought this was about the vinegar given to Jesus, but no, it was a mic attached to the top for the “Jesus dude” to speak the last words of Jesus on the cross! Anyways, I found the whole thing quite amusing but it was indeed a good show to watch.

Soon, they climb up and pull out the nails and lower the cross and took the “Jesus dude” out of the cross. And yeah, this is a funny part, after crucifixion, the Roman guards hand over the “Jesus dude” to the medics waiting with a stretcher! Just when I thought it was over, I saw more “Jesus dudes” coming in. So even when the enactment was over, and the ones dressed as Mary, Mary Magdalene, Jews, etc move out of the area, the Roman guards still stood there to crucify the other “Jesus dudes”. So one by one, they go in to the cross and this time, the ones getting crucified on to the cross on the left and right, who were supposed to be thieves, also had their hands actually nailed to the cross. But unlike the first “Jesus dude”, these guys screamed and twitched in pain as their hands were pierced by the nails and the crowd too shouts a “oohhh” as an automatic response. Standing in the media platform, I could hear a sudden burst of clicks with almost all cameras there set to burst mode, everytime the nails went through the hands of the “jesus dudes” as everyone out there was trying to photograph the expression of the “Jesus dude” when the nail goes through his hands. “Sadists we all are”, I chuckled as I too was taking in continuous bursts in my camera.

One by one all the “Jesus dudes” were nailed to the cross, lifted up the cross, nails were pulled out, lowered and put on the stretcher as if this was some kind of assembly line in a factory! But there was one “Jesus dude” who really walked out after crucifixion! I thought he deserved a standing ovation. In this part of the crucifixion, it was more of showmanship than anything religious. I could see that as they were nailing the “Jesus dude” someone from the media box would yell out to the guards to move so that they can get a clear shot at the nails and his expression! This was sadism in its worst form!

And finally, there came one “Jesus dude” dressed in a bright red outfit near the cross and the guards called out everyone to come in to see. There was almost a stampede as the crowd rushed in to see the nails being hit on to the “Jesus dude” from very close. I too got down from the media platform and ran towards the cross. There was so much of people out there that I could hardly get a shot when they nailed him to the cross. But somehow, I managed to get near and take some really close shots at the nails that were pierced to this guy’s hands. But I felt bad at the plight of this guy as the entire crowd was photographing him, touching him and jostling around him, all while he was in pain! So I got out and went to our predetermined assembly point where Sujith and Agarwala were waiting.

Since the crowd was moving out, there was no scope for getting a trike and so we decided to walk to San Fernando in that hot sun! But after walking for 30min, the traffic eased out and we got into a trike to get to the city and then back to Dau by a Jeepney from where we took a trike again to the hotel. Back at the hotel, first thing I wanted to do was to get out of my blood stained clothes which was smelling of blood for a long time and get fresh. And as I was checking out the photographs, every time I saw photographs of the flagellants, the smell of blood was coming in my nose. This seems so freaky, but yeah, am telling the truth. Is this the corollary of the Pavlov’s classical conditioning theory?

Location: Angeles City, Philippines

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