Hey, hey, hey, dearest Seniors! Did you know where the first Catholic mass in Luzon was held?
Hmm, I bet Filipino Seniors would say, wait a minute, Tita S, I know the answer – my history teacher taught me that the first holy mass was held in Limasawa. Yes, that was the first mass ever held in the country, but that is in Southern Leyte, dearies, which is located in Eastern Visayas, not Luzon! Try again.
Oh, no, I hear protests! It seems that those from Butuan claim that the first mass in the country was held in Masau, Butuan, and those from Pangasinan claim that it was held in Bolinao Bay! Well, this controversy warrants a post soon.
Anyway, at this point, I anticipate most of you will say, I give up, this was not taught to us in Philippine history. All I remember is Limasawa. Where was it held, Tita S?
Well, the first Catholic mass in Luzon was held in the town of Magallanes, in the province of Sorsogon1, in a community then known as Hibal-ong, by an Augustinian missionary, Fray Alonso Jimenez, on October 19, 1569.2 And this year, 2019, marks its 450th anniversary!3
Fray Alonso Jimenez is a native of the City of Malaga in Southern Spain and was ordained priest in Mexico City on August 21, 1558, according to local historian Rogerio H. Escobal.2
He was then sent by Miguel Lopez de Legazpi4 to serve as missionary to the islands of Masbate, Leyte, Samar and Burias.3 (A light bulb moment, I know that particular Miguel, Tita S! For the rest of the Seniors who cannot recall, think one more time. Do you still have a senior moment? Then see my footnote below. Such senior moments happen to me too so my footnotes come in handy, right?).
It seems Miguel Lopez de Legazpi4, while in Cebu in 1567, wrote King Philip II to request for religious to be sent to the Philippines. The King then ordered the Provincial of the Order of St. Augustine in Mexico to dispatch missionaries to the Philippines to help propagate and spread the Christian faith.2
Well, guess what? It so happened that Fray Alonso Jimenez, O.S.A., was in Mexico at that time and voluntarily offered himself to such an apostolic mission, along with Fray Juan de Alva, O.S.A. They boarded the ship “San Juan”, under the command of Captain Juan Lopez de Aguirre, a reputable Viscayan noble and soldier, and arrived in Cebu in 1569.2
On the side, I know what your senior minds are thinking: How come it took 2 years for Fray Jimenez to finally reach the Philippines? How long was the galleon trip from Mexico to the Philippines? Well, based on my research, a Spanish galleon only made one annual round trip across the Pacific between Acapulco and the Philippines from 1565 – 1815.5 It also took at least 4 months to sail that route, one way, according to the Wikipedia page “Manila galleon”.6 So, go figure the length of time for the letter from the Philippines to reach Spain, then for the order from the Spanish king to get to the Augustinian leaders in Mexico, and then for an order for the religious in Mexico, plus the preparations of Fray Jimenez, and the once a year schedule of the galleons, (the total number of which I could not access), with some sinking in the oceans due to bad weather, etc. Gosh, we are so lucky to be born in this era.
Anyway, back to my story. Fray Jimenez and Fray Alva went to Oton, Panay, to meet Legazpi who then sent Fray Jimenez and Spanish Captain Luiz Enriquez de Guzman to explore, pacify and evangelize Southern Luzon. They sailed to Leyte, Samar, Masbate and Burias Island, and across Ticao Pass to Sorsogon Province1, reached Ginangra, a barangay7 of the present-day town of Magallanes, and finally landed at the ancient fishing village of Habal-ong, later called Ibalon (Gibalon). This has become the present day sitio of San Isidro, in Barangay Salvacion, situated at the mouth of the Ginangra River at the western coast of Sorsogon Province.2
The shore was not a forested area. The local fishing community was large, and people converged in that area for barter trade. So, on this shore of Ibalon, now sitio San Isidro, a small bamboo-nipa chapel was built. This was where the first Catholic mass in Luzon was held. The natives were baptized, and Ibalon became the first Christian settlement in Luzon.2
The locals who attended this first mass were more accepting of Catholicism than those on the nearby island of Masbate, and there were accounts of Fray Jimenez using this town in Sorsogon as a base for spreading Christianity to the rest of Luzon, according to historian and Professor Danilo Gerona.3 Moreover, a report from the 1570s showed a large population in this area, and provisions, including gold, were said to be abundant.2
Since then, there are yearly re-enactments of this important religious event at the Gibalon River, usually part of the celebration of Sorsogon’s Kasanggayahan Festival during the month of October.8 Photos were taken from https://www.magallanessorsogon.gov.ph/first-mass-in-luzon-re-enactment/ during the actual presentation and re-enactment on October 22, 2016 at Gibalon River in celebration of the 2016 Sorsogon’s Kasanggayahan Festival.
There is also a Gibalon Shrine in Barangay7 Siuton, Magallanes, Sorsogon1 which marks the historical area where this first mass was held. Tourists are most welcome to visit the site.8 Photos were taken from https://www.magallanessorsogon.gov.ph/gibalon/
Finally, the present time: On October 19, 2019, a concelebrated mass was held, led by Apostolic Nuncio to the Philippines, Gabrielle Giordano Caccia, for the 450th anniversary of this significant event. Bishop Arturo M. Bastes, Catanduanes Bishop Manolo A. De los Santos, Masbate Bishop Jose Bantolo, and Fr. Andrew Rivera, assisted the Papal Nuncio.9 Photos taken from https://www.facebook.com/pg/officialchizescudero/posts/?ref=page_internal
Ambassador of Spain to the Philippines, H.E. Jorge Moragas Sanchez, Governor Francis Joseph Escudero, Congresswoman Evelina Escudero, and the rest of the provincial and local government officials also joined the pilgrimage mass.9 Photo taken from https://www.facebook.com/pg/officialchizescudero/posts/?ref=page_internal
The cover picture collage is a combination of pictures taken from https://www.magallanessorsogon.gov.ph/first-mass-in-luzon-re-enactment/ and https://www.magallanessorsogon.gov.ph/gibalon/.
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The following terms are defined for foreigners and interested readers, especially those with “Senior-Moments” and those too busy or lazy to Google such terms:
1Sorsogon is a province in the Philippines, located in Region V, the Bicol Region. It is the southernmost province in Luzon and is subdivided into 14 towns and one city, its capital, Sorsogon City. It is at the tip of the Bicol Peninsula, borders the province of Albay to the north, and faces the island of Samar to the southeast, across the San Bernardino Strait and Ticao Island to the southwest. The local people are called Sorsogueños. The information was obtained from the Wikipedia page “Sorsogon”.10
2https://www.magallanessorsogon.gov.ph/the-true-site-of-the-first-mass-in-luzon/ (A repost of an existing blog entry in http://rhescobal.tripod.com/
by author-historian Rogerio H. Escobal.)
4Miguel Lopez de Legazpi (1502 – 1572), also known as El Adelantado11 and El Viejo (The Elder), was a Spanish navigator and governor who established the first Spanish settlement in the East Indies12 when his expedition crossed the Pacific Ocean from the Viceroyalty of New Spain in modern-day Mexico, and arrived in Cebu, Philippines, in 1565. He was the first Governor-General of the Spanish East Indies which included the Philippines and other Pacific archipelagos, i.e., Guam and the Marianas Islands. He eventually made Cebu the capital of the Spanish East Indies in 1565, and later transferred to Manila in 1571. The information was obtained from the Wikipedia page “Miguel Lopez de Legaspi”.13
6“Manila galleon,” accessed October 22, 2019,https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manila_galleon
7A barangay is the smallest administrative division in the Philippines and is the native Filipino term for village or ward. It was formerly called a barrio. It is informally subdivided into smaller areas called purok (“zone”), barangay zones consisting of a cluster of houses, and sitios, which are (usually rural) territorial enclaves far from the barangay center. The information was obtained from the Wikipedia page “Barangay”.14
10“Sorsogon,” accessed October 22, 2019, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sorsogon
11Adelantado was a title held by Spanish nobles in service of their respective kings during the Middle Ages. It was later used as a military title held by some Spanish conquistadores of the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries. The information was obtained from the Wikipedia page “Adelantado”.15
12 The Spanish West Indies were the colonies of the Spanish Empire in Asia and Oceania from 1565 – 1901. At one time or another, it included: (a) Las Islas Filipinas (present day Philippines): Manila, Luzon, Visayas, Palawan, Northern Mindanao, Zamboanga, Basilan, Jolo, Balambangan Island, Palmas Islands, Spratly Islands; including isolated outposts in Keelung, Taiwan, and in the islands of Gilolo, Ternate and Tidore in the Maluku Islands and Manado in the northern part of Sulawesi (formerly Celebes); (b) Islas Carolinas (the Federated States of Micronesia); (c) Islas Marianas (Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands and the US Territory of Guam); and, (d) Islas Palau (Republic of Palau). The information was obtained from the Wikipedia page “Spanish East Indies”.16
13“Miguel Lopez de Legaspi,” accessed October 22, 2019, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miguel_L%C3%B3pez_de_Legazpi
14“Barangay,” accessed November 2, 2018, https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barangay
15“Adelantado,” accessed October 22, 2019, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adelantado
16“Spanish East Indies,” accessed October 22, 2019, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spanish_East_Indies