More than a dozen people were expected to be nailed to wooden crosses in the Philippines on Friday while others whipped their backs bloody in an annual re-enactment of the suffering and death of Jesus Christ.
Tens of thousands of devotees and tourists flocked to the northern provinces of Pampanga and Bulacan to witness the Good Friday rituals that highlight the celebration of Easter in the predominantly Catholic country.
The crucifixions were being held in three villages in San Fernando City in Pampanga province, 75 kilometres north of Manila, with the main event taking place in San Pedro Cutud village, where at least 10 men signed up to take part in the event
Another eight people would be crucified in the nearby villages of San Juan and Santa Lucia.
In Bulacan province, just north of Manila, the crucifixions were being held in Paombong town, where four men were expected to participate, local officials said.
Ahead of the crucifixions, dozens of hooded men walked shirtless and barefoot in the streets, hitting their backs with bamboo sticks attached to ropes or whips fitted with broken glass as penance for sins, offerings for wishes or a sign of thanksgiving.
Others carried wooden crosses around their villages or lay on the hot pavement as men flogged their backs.
Ruben Enaje, a 50-year-old painter, began joining the crucifixions in San Pedro Cutud village 25 years ago after he survived unscathed a dangerous fall during work.
“I am marking the silver anniversary of my promise to be nailed to the cross every year,” he said. “I promised to be nailed to the cross every year until 2013, and no one can stop me.”
The Roman Catholic Church officially frowns on the bloody rituals but makes little effort to discourage the highly popular practices.
Foreigners used to join the crucifixions in San Fernando City but have been banned since 1997 after authorities found out that a Japanese man nailed to a cross the previous year was actually an actor being secretly filmed for a pornographic video.
In 2009, Australian comedian John Safran was allowed to be nailed to a cross in Paombong town in Bulacan, claiming he was a Catholic student whose mother was suffering from cancer.
Local officials were furious when they found out Safran was crucified for a comedy television show, prompting a strict screening process to avoid a similar incident.
The religious celebrations culminate on Easter Sunday, which marks the resurrection of Jesus.
It is a major religious event in the Philippines, where more than 85% of the population is Catholic.
Most of the week had been declared public holidays to allow Filipinos to go home to their provinces or take vacations.
Government offices, private companies and most commercial establishments, such as shopping malls, are closed.