The Right Place for Disputed First Mass in 1521

Originally authored on February 22, 2019

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Butuan is racing against time in an attempt to establish the historical truth. With the Quincentennial fast approaching in 2021, it is not giving up on its claim that the first mass was celebrated by Spanish colonizers in Mazzaua, an island in Butuan, 498 years ago. For decades, it has been a long drawn out conflict between Mazzaua and Limasawa in Leyte.

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The pursuit of legitimacy yielded a group of proponents galvanized by a common goal regardless of the existing Republic Act 2733 giving credence to Limasawa as the national shrine to commemorate the first mass held in the country that gave birth to Christianity.

To drumbeat the move, one of the staunchest proponents, historian/writer and president of Butuan Heritage Society, Greg Hontiveros spoke during the event spearheaded by the family of Roy and Ike Seneres of Butuan together with Filipinas Quincentenario at the Manila Elks Club. “It took us a long time to finalize our research and gather more evidence. It was a huge effort, a long process that we took to strengthen the position of Butuan. With our new data and evidence, we are confident to convince critics and skeptics,” said Hontiveros.

To substantiate Butuan’s claim, there are numerous undeniable and compelling reasons to believe that it is highly possible for the first mass to have been celebrated in Mazzaua and one of these was that 10 Balangay boats were accidentally dug up during the water draining operation of the City Engineering Office in 1976. The largest sailing plank vessel of its kind was dated back as early as 320 AD by Gakushuin University in Tokyo. It can be considered as the oldest watercraft artifact in the world that was standing silently for 1,630 years near the river bank of Masao in Agusan. Clearly, it is older than the ships used by the European explorers in 16th century. The boat was made from the Philippine hardest wood kamagong, doongon, and magkuno.

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The find underscores the belief that the Philippines, Butuan in particular, was a major center for cultural, religious, and commercial relations in Southeast Asia. Hontiveros extensively wrote in his books: “Butuan of Thousand Years” and “A Fire on the Island” where he sails us back to our dynamic past.

In another forum in UP on the first mass, Engineer Gabriel Atega explained that Mazzaua, by Pigafetta’s description, was a trade center, land of gold with many balangays. On the other hand, there was no archaeological proof that Limasawa was any of these.

Fr. Joesilo Amalla, curator of Butuan Diocesan Liturgical Museum mentioned an important evidence found in the Yale Codex which he claims is more impressive than the Ambrosiana Codex as used in the past to justify both claims.

Antonio Pigafetta, the chronicler of Ferdinand Magellan wrote and simply named the place Mazzaua which has a set of descriptions that fit the topography of Butuan in 1521 up to the present. Accounts were stressed that on March 31, 1521, Easter Sunday, Friar Pedro Valderrama celebrated mass together with Magellan and his men. The ruler of Mazzaua, Rajah Siagu and Rajah Colambu, ruler of Butuan were present. After the mass, they planted the cross on the highest hill and stayed in the area for seven days.

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An 1872 marker for 1521 mass still exists in Baug island, Magallanes, Agusan del Norte which was part of Butuan in 1521.

Finally, the admission by famous Filipino historian Dr. Gregorio Zaide that he made a mistake of choosing Limasawa was another compelling reason by the Filipinas Centenario group to disprove the declaration under RA2733. Dr. Sonia Zaide, daughter of the late historian confirmed this.

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To date, it remains an uphill climb, that even validation from CBCP has yet to be granted. To break away from dilemma, National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP) reaffirmed its earlier pronouncements that Limasawa was indeed Magellan’s port turning a blind eye on the providential evidences that would ultimately write finis to the debate.

Filipinas Quincentenario faces a blank wall. Where is the truth?

Erwin Mascarinas, MindaNews; Ben Serrano PhilStar;Greg Hontiveros; Fr. J. Amalla; Enr. Gabriel Atega; Filipinas Quincentenario; Chronicles of Love Mindanao

* – credits to the owner/s for the pictures


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