Dozens of people were nailed to crosses in the devoutly Roman Catholic Philippines yesterday, in a gruesome re-enactment of the crucifixion, while others atoned for their sins by flaying themselves with bamboo whips or paddles tipped with broken glass.
The ritual has become a Good Friday tradition in certain villages, where tourists flock to hear the locals scream in agony as seven-inch nails are driven into their hands and feet. Penitents are then hoisted up on crosses and left for five minutes in the scorching sun before the nails are pulled out.
In San Pedro Cutud, a hamlet that has become well known for its crucifixions, there was a festive atmosphere. Hawkers sold beer, ice cream and souvenir whips to those watching the bloody spectacle.
The Catholic Church frowns on such practices, and the Health Department warned those taking part to get tetanus shots and make sure nails were sterilised. It also advised people that dirty whips could cause infections.
But such warnings did not deter the likes of Ruben Enaje, who donned a crown of thorns in Cutud before being nailed to a cross for the 22nd time. Mr Enaje, a 47-year-old decorator, told Agence France Presse that he had missed the ritual only once, eight years ago. He was subsequently stricken with stomach ulcers and his wife was taken ill. "It is painful and difficult," Mr Enaje admitted. "But I will continue doing this for as long as I can. This is my pledge to God."
Authorities in Cutud, about 50 miles north of the capital, Manila, said eight men were crucified yesterday. Earlier, they had been dragged through the village streets by neighbours dressed in Roman centurion costumes. At a barren hillside, where about 2,000 tourists waited, they were nailed one by one to wooden crosses, over which they lay spreadeagled. The ritual was preceded by scores of hooded, half-naked men whipping their backs into a bloody pulp, as VIPs watched from an elevated viewing platform.
In Cutud, where the annual ceremonies are organised by the village council, with the help of the national tourism department, the parish priest, Fr Norman Vitug, said: "The Church does not recommend it, because the Church is against self-flagellation." He added: "But we cannot question somebody's faith." The local bishop, Deogracias Iniguez, complained that it was just a "show", saying: "The spiritual dimension is totally lost."
Travel agents in the Philippines offer packages to Cutud to see the spectacle. In the past, some foreigners have undergone Good Friday crucifixions. They include a Japanese man who later allowed footage of his ordeal to be used in a pornographic film.