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Caraga historians, archeologists, priest retrace Magellan’s PH route for First Mass

By Ben Serrano

A group of local historians, archeologists, priest and academicians retraced the routes of Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan’s Armada de Moluccas after they set foot first at Homonhon island in Samar-Leyte on March 16, 1521.

Magellan’s Armada de Moluccas (the Indonesian name for the Spice Islands) was composed of five ships Trinidad, San Antonio, Concepción, Santiago and Victoria under Magellan’s command and left Seville, Spain August 10, 1519.

The expedition funded largely by the Spanish crown, Magellan set out from Spain in 1519 with a fleet of five ships to discover a western sea route to the Spice Islands, sail to the Spice Islands from Europe and the first world circumnavigation.

En route, Magellan discovered what is now known as the Strait of Magellan and became the first European to cross the Pacific Ocean.

The fifth ship Santiago never arrived Philippine soil as it was battered by storm and sank but its crew survived.

Out of four remaining four, only two ships returned back to Spain with Magellan, the head of the expedition never returned to Spain as he was killed in Philippines in Battle of Mactan, Cebu.

It was said, Magellan entered through Surigao Strait from Homonhon Island when he first arrived in the country on March, 1521.

The local historians headed by Dr. Potenciano Malvar, who sponsored the retracing of Magellan’s route and Surigaonon historian Fernando Almeda, Jr. with Fr. Marvin Mejia, Catholic Bishop Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) Secretary General lead the retracing that started March 19 up to March 22, 2018 which started in Surigao City then went to Tacloban City to fetch Fr. Mejia and two archeologists, who boarded passenger plane from Manila.

The group then sailed to Homonhon Island, to Limasawa and went to other islands in the Visayas, to Dinagat Island where they spent a night then to Malimono in Surigao del Norte and ended up in Magallanes, Agusan del Norte, location of the Magellan Shrine.

Historians headed by Dr. Potenciano Malvar (right) hoped the First Mass controversy will be resolve before March 31, 2021 when the Philippines celebrates its 500th Year of Christianization.

Malvar-led retracing of Magellan’s route team eventually went to Masao in Butuan City, the final leg of the tour.

Mazaua in Butuan City and Magallanes, Agusan del Norte where the Magellan Shrine is located are claimants of still unsolved issue, where really is site or venue of the first Easter Mass or the first Holy Mass ever held in Philippine soil.

The first Holy Mass also known as the First Easter Mass celebrated by Fr. Pedro Valderrama was believed to have been first held in Philippine soil in March 31, 1521.

It paved the way to the spread of Christianity in the Philippines.

Propelled by Republic Act 2733,  also known as An Act Declaring a site in Magallanes, Limasawa Island in the Province of Leyte, where the first mass in the Philippines was held as a National Shrine, the National Historical Institute (NHI) made also officially designated Island of Limasawa (a Visayan term means “five wives”) in Leyte as site of First Mass in the Philippines.

But local historians in Mindanao and in Caraga region laughed off and argued the Limasawa proclamation saying “history can’t be legislated.”

Thus, leaving two claimants contesting Limasawa, Masao or Mazaua in Butuan City and the site of Magellan Shrine located in Magallanes, Agusan del Norte which was erected in 1872 by then Spanish District Governor D. José María Carvallo.

Magallanes Shrine was one of the oldest Spanish Shrine erected in 1872 and in it written in Spanish words “Al inmortal Magallanes el pueblo de Butuan con su parroco y Españoles en el residentes para conmemorar su arribo y celebracion de la primera misa en este sitio el dia 8 de Abril de 1521. Erigido en 1872 siendo gobernador del distrito D. Jose Maria Carvallo.” (The immortal Magellan the people of Butuan with his parish priest and Spanish residents to commemorate their arrival and celebration of the first mass on this site the day April 8 of 1521. Erected in 1872 as governor of the district D. José María Carvallo.”)

Around the Magellan Shrine are inscriptions about the Old Butuan and Magallanes‘ rich and colorful history: Historians here claimed old Butuan at that time was composed of Magallanes up to Cabadbaran now a city and other towns like Tubay, Jabonga, Santiago formerly sitios and barangays of Butuan, which is now part of Agusan del Norte.

Caraga historians who pushed for Masao and Magallanes as site of the First Mass hoped that this controversy in the country’s history will be resolve before March 31, 2021 when the Philippines celebrates its 500th Year of Christianization or Quincentenial Anniversary.

Others who joined aside from Fr. Marvin Mejia, Dr. Malvar and historian Jun Almeda in retracing the Magellan routes were archeologists Victor Paz and Anna Pineda from U.P.; ship captains who are modern day navigators Captains Milly Jover and Samuel Bagaslao.

A total of 22 historians, archeologists, history researchers, representatives from the religious, academe joined the Malvar-led four day “Retracing Magellan’s route in the Philippines” before the First Easter Mass was held on March 31, 1521 in Philippine soil.

Mejia said he would present his observations to the CBCP. Photos courtesy of Dr. Malvar


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