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First Mass in the

On Holy Thursday, March
28, the fleet landed in
Masao-Butuan, Agusan
del Norte.
On Easter Sunday, March 31,
1521, the first mass held in
the Philippiness, officiated by
the Fleets captain Fr. Pedro
de Valderrama.
HELD? Masao or Limasawa?
The first kingdom visited by Magellan
in 1521, and the site of the first
recorded Mass in the Philippines,
have been the subject of controversy
since the Spanish era. In 1872, a
Spanish district governor erected a
marble monument at Magallanes,
then, the center of Butuan, to
celebrate Magellans first arrival and
the commemoration of the first
So where is the site of the first
mass? Although Limasawa, Southern
Leyte, has the official title at
present, and it would take new
legislation to dislodge it, the
evidence points to Masao, now a
Municipality of Butuan, Agusan del
Norte, as the site of the first
kingdom, and hence, the first mass.
The evidence for Masao, rather than
Limasawa, are as follows:

1. The name of the place. In all

the primary sources, including the
diary of Antonio Pigaffeta, the
chronicler of Magellans voyage,
the name of the place was three
syllables Masao or something
close to it. Limasawa has four
syllables and begins with another
2. The route from Homonhon.
According to the primary records,
again, the expedition travelled 20 to
25 leagues from Homonhon, their first
landing point, to the site of the first
mass, taking a west southwest course.
If they had been at Limasawa Island,
the distance is only about 14.6
leagues, or one half of that length.
Moreover, the island of Limasawa is
blocked from Homonhon by the tip of
Southern Leyte.
3. The latitude position. Some of
the primary sources locate the
place at 90 North latitude, and
others at 9 2/3 degrees. The
latitude position eliminates
Limasawa, because it is closer by
ten degrees, and strengthens the
claim of Masao, Butuan because
it is exactly at nine degrees.
4. The route to Cebu. The route to
Cebu taken by the explorers is almost
exactly similar to the one now taken by
motor vessels from Cebu to Butuan. The
King of Masao (Kolambu) even guided
the explorers to Cebu and acted as
their interpreter and intermediary when
they met the Cebu king. On the
contrary, there is no sea traffic from
Limasawa to Cebu, then or now. And the
distance to Cebu, according to
Pigaffeta, was 35 leagues (140 miles). If
it were Limasawa that they came, the
distance would only be 80 miles, or only
half of the alleged distance travelled.
5. The geographical features. The
following physical features of the first
kingdom point to Butuan, rather than
Limasawa, as follows:
a. The bonfire: the explorers where
attracted to the light present the night
before they came to shore. Now, the
name Masao, in Butuan precisely
means bright, which could refer to
the local custom of celebrating a
harvest by cooking rice flakes in open
fires. By contrast, there are no
ricefields in Limasawa.
b. The balanghai: which was a
prominent feature of the story of
their stay in the first kingdom. It
was said that the king came to
their ship in a balanghai, and
Pigaffeta and his companion
attended a party in a ritual
balanghai, with the local king.
Butuan is now the site of at least
nine excavated balanghai
relics; by contrast, Limasawa has
no significant archaeological
relics or balanghai tradition.
c. Abundance of gold: the
Western explorers got excited at
the abundance of gold in Masao
and Butuan, for that was the
main currency at that time. Both
archaeological relics (e.g. the
Gold Image of Agusan) and gold
mines today attested to the
abundance of gold in the Agusan
valley. However, there is no gold
in Limasawa.