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Special Features | National

Was First Mass held in Limasawa or Butuan? Church urged to help settle controversy

The cross and statues at the Blood Promontory in Butuan City commemorate the first mass held on March 31, 1521 by Ferdinand Magellan together with the two brother-kings of Butuan and Mazaua, Kalambu and Siaui. ERWIN MASCARINAS, INTERAKSYON.COM
The online news portal of TV5

BUTUAN CITY – The help of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) is being sought to help seal the controversy surrounding the first mass in the Philippines, with residents here hoping to finally claim the honor for Mazaua in Butuan, and not Limasawa, Leyte.

During the 491st anniversary of the first mass last Saturday, March 31, 2012, local historian Greg Honteviros, also president of the Butuan City Heritage Society, said in an opening speech before the mass their group is confident that with the new information evidence that they have, they can now persuade critics and skeptics that history is on their side.

Honteviros said in an interview late Monday that, “It took us a long time to finalize our research and gather more evidence. We felt the confidence, we finally completed the quest for the truth about this issue. It was a huge effort, a long process and time that we took to have the position of Butuan.”

Honteviros explained that the CBCP has already requested an inquiry, and there is a resolution to investigate the first-mass controversy since the event is very symbolic and important to the church.

Butuan City Heritage Society president and historian Greg Honteviros (right) tells church goers that he and church historian Fr. Joecito Amalla (left) are confident they have new evidence to prove that the first mass was held in Mazaua, Butuan and not in Limasawa, Leyte, at the 491st anniversary of the first mass at the Saint Joseph Cathedral in Butuan City last March 31, 2012.

According to records, on March 31, 1521, Easter Sunday, mass was held and officiated by Friar Pedro Valderrama together with Magellan and his men. With the Spaniards were the ruler of Mazaua Rajah Siaiu, and his brother Rajah Colambu, the ruler of Butuan. They later planted a cross at the highest hill and stayed in the area for seven days and helped in the rice harvest for two days, together with more than a hundred of the Rajah's men.

“When they arrived on Good Friday, they were harvesting rice for two days. That means to say the place where they went was the Mazaua, not in Limasawa, but somewhere in Mindanao. Because they harvested for 2 days, what can you harvest in Limasawa when there is nothing? More than a hundred people helped in the harvest, meaning it was a huge agricultural area. I’ve been to Limasawa a lot of times. They have said that the rice harvested came from the surrounding island, and they said they have harvested in the island itself. So their claim is wrong,” said Father Joesilo Amalla, curator of Butuan Diocesan Liturgical Museum.

Father Amalla also said an important piece of evidence is the Yale Codex. According to Magellan's scholars, this is more impressive than the Ambrosiana codex which was also used in the past to justify both Mazuau and Limasawa's claim. It is called such because it is now in the hands of Yale University. The two other French manuscripts are in Paris, in the French National Library. We included the other versions of Pigafetta because there are subtle indicators that can be used and the other manuscripts there are other things written there that can clarify where it is more specific, he added..

The priest also presented the manuscript for a book that is soon to be published entitled the Anthology of the First Mass Controversy in the Philippines, which he hopes would shed light on the CBCP inquiry.

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