CUTUD, Philippines (Reuters) - More than a dozen Filipinos were nailed to crosses and scores more whipped their backs into a bloody pulp on Friday in a gory ritual to mark the death of Jesus Christ.
The voluntary crucifixions in the northern Philippines were the most extreme displays of religious devotion in this mainly Catholic country, where millions are praying and fasting ahead of the Easter weekend.
In the small village of Cutud, about 80 km (50 miles) north of Manila, seven men cried out as nails the size of pencils were driven into their hands and feet before they were hoisted up in the scorching heat.
Up to 20,000 people watched the spectacle, which has grown from a village production started in 1962 to a media and tourist attraction copied in other parts of the country.
The atmosphere was festive, with hawkers selling beer, ice-cream and souvenir whips. Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” blared out from speakers before the penitents approached the crosses.
“I don’t like the festivities. It should have been more solemn,” said Pauline, a tourist from Poland, but added: “I believe in the sincerity of the volunteers, it was very moving.”
Local travel agents offered overnight packages for curious visitors and VIPs watched from a specially elevated “viewing platform”.
For hours before the crucifixions, lines of men, hooded and half naked, flayed their backs with bamboo whips and paddles tipped with broken glass. Blood splattered over the road.
The country’s dominant Catholic Church disapproves of the crucifixions and flagellations as a misrepresentation of the faith.
But participants, many of whom have been nailed multiple times, say they do it as a sacrifice for their families.
A priest from Bangladesh said the ritual was a wonderful experience.
“Through this, faith can be solidified. I was very touched by it,” said Father Robert Gonsalves, who is studying in the Philippines.
Some foreigners have previously been crucified including a Belgian nun and a Japanese man, who later allowed footage of his ordeal to be used in a pornographic film.
No one has ever died during the rituals.