Limasawa Island's Magellan Shrine

Limasawa Island’s historic Magellan Shrine

It was the second day of spending a quite time in Limasawa, part of my yearly unplug travel to celebrate my birthday which I have done a few years already. The sun was out, blue skies and the sea was calm when I awoke that early February morning. Having prepared my stuff and had taken breakfast, the resort’s caretaker called out that my habalhabal ride just arrived. Perfect! I said to myself, excited of my plans for the day.

Limasawa Island is an elongated stretch of land, a mass of rocks with hills and plains, especially at the northern end, rising from the depths off the town of Padre Burgos where one gets a pumpboat ride. If not for an accident in history, this would just be another island in the Philippines with its own share of pristine white sand beaches and dive spots. But back in March 1521, after a stopover at the island of Homonhon, it was where the group of Magellan’s fleet celebrated the first mass on Philippine soil.

From Dapdap Resort, it was just less than a 10 minute ride going to the National Shrine of the First Mass. The park is well kept and clean. The main path leading to the building is flanked by gardens. Inside, Sam Galvez, the popular tour guide at the shrine animatedly explained to me a brief history. His voice rises and falls as he dramatically narrated the events of that fateful day on the 31st of March. Supporting his narration are a series of paintings and a tableau of the places history. If you’re asking about the Limasawa controversy, it has long been settled and this island really is the site of the first mass.

I gave him a hundred peso bill as donation to the shrine, thanked him and proceeded to climb the more than a hundred steps to the cross atop the hill. The path is well maintained but having no exercise for the past few months (or years?), I was gasping for breath! So much for being a mountaineer a couple of years ago! But good thing that there were cement benches at rest areas where one can not only collect oneself from the climb but also enjoy the vista towards the sea while a cool breeze blew.

At the top is a thin cross and during that month when I visited, two men were resting from cleaning the area in preparation for the March event. I was hoping that it was at the edge of the cliff, with great views but the cross was surmounted at just a higher elevation. Still a hundred feet away was the edge of the cliff. It was already hot and humid and with no trees to shelter from the sun, I just stayed at the cross site enjoying the cool breeze.

Inside the building that shows through paintings and these sculptures the landing and the first mass celebrated on Philippine soil

Inside the building that shows through paintings and these sculptures the landing and the first mass celebrated on Philippine soil

The building constructed at the National Shrine for the First Mass in the Philippines

The building constructed at the National Shrine for the First Mass in the Philippines

The popular tour guide at the Limasawa Magellan Shrine, Sam Espinosa Galvez

The popular tour guide at the Limasawa Magellan Shrine, Sam Espinosa Galvez

View of the park as seen from the entrance to the shrine building

View of the park as seen from the entrance to the shrine building

Rest areas along the trail to the top

Rest areas along the trail to the top

Scenic view of the sea from atop the mountain via a hundred steps

Scenic view of the sea from atop the mountain via a hundred steps

Replica of the cross that was planted by Magellan's men atop the hill which has more than a hundred steps

Replica of the cross that was planted by Magellan’s men atop the hill which has more than a hundred steps

The National Shrine of the First Mass can be reached via habalhabal in Barangay Magallanes, Island of Limasawa, Southern Leyte.

Estan Cabigas is freelance photographer, blogger and writer based in Makati City, the Philippines. A true blue Cebuano, he makes stunning images and meaningful photo stories. His work has been published in local and international publications including National Geographic Magazine, Geo (Germany), Sunday Times Magazine (London) and other publications. He is also a peripatetic traveler and has traveled to all 81 Philippines provinces. I'm open for work, collaborations and inquiries, including hotel, restaurant and site features and reviews.

5 Comments

  1. Estan Cabigas (@EstanCabigas)
    July 4, 2016 @ 15:19

    Limasawa Island’s historic Magellan Shrine: It was the second day of spending a quite time in Limasawa, part … https://t.co/MyBzLYALOb

  2. Estan, Ang Langyaw (@LangyawMedia)
    July 4, 2016 @ 15:29

    Why not visit Limasawa Island, site of the first mass on Philippine soil?

    https://t.co/EEdpxZrSR9 https://t.co/dcjyA6xAxt

  3. Cleofe Kuizon Delfino
    March 26, 2018 @ 13:54

    I am heartened to view the First Catholic Mass Shrine. in Magallanes , Limasawa Island of Southern Leyte. I wish to write in a local Cebu newspaper a short reminder of the commemoration every March 31, can I publish your photos. I have a collections of many March 31 celebrations including that which PGMA had graced. We the Kuizon clan would always go there as our Father Lazaro Manile Kuizon had inherited a good portion of the real property in Magallanes

  4. Cleofe Kuizon Delfino
    March 26, 2018 @ 14:15

    Masao in Butuan which is the place mentioned in the controversy (advocated by the then Congresswoman of Butuan) cannot be seen at the very site when the expedition of Magellan was entering the Pacific Ocean from Guiuan Samar or from Homonhon Island. The bonfire referred to is from the small island of Limasawa. The Easterly wind was drifting them to the very shore of Magallanes. It is impossible to proceed to Masao because the expedition will be going against the current. swift current due to the proximity of the sea channels from the Panaon Island, still in Southern Leyte, and Surigao channel. Further, the account of Pigafetta in the archive in Spain stated about the breadfruit trees which abound in the place (Magallanes). Even your graphics show the breadfruit trees. The documents about the Pigafetta account and other relevant documents were gathered upon the initiative of the late Bishop of Maasin. he handed the brown envelop to my sister in my presence. Upon the request of the Bishop whose days on earth were numbered, my sister handed it over to the Congressman of the Lone District of Southern Leyte. Soon after, history was re edited to conform with the Philippine law and concurred by the Historical Commission. FYI

  5. estan
    April 16, 2018 @ 21:34

    Thanx for this info Cleofe!

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