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Motto: First Mass site in Asia

Map of Southern Leyte with Limasawa highlighted
Location within the Philippines

Coordinates: 09°56′00″N 125°04′20″E / 9.93333°N 125.07222°E / 9.93333; 125.07222Coordinates: 09°56′00″N 125°04′20″E / 9.93333°N 125.07222°E / 9.93333; 125.07222

Country Philippines
Region Eastern Visayas (Region VIII)
Province Southern Leyte
Congr. district Lone district of S. Leyte
Barangays 6
 • Mayor Melchor Palero Petracorta
 • Vice mayor Sim Balane Olojan
 • Total 6.98 km2 (2.69 sq mi)
Population (2010)[3]
 • Total 5,835
 • Density 840/km2 (2,200/sq mi)
Time zone PST (UTC+8)
ZIP code 6618
Dialing code 53

Limasawa is a sixth class municipality and an island of the same name in the province of Southern Leyte, Philippines. According to the 2010 census, it has a population of 5,835 inhabitants, making it the smallest municipality in the province, both in population and area.[2][3] It lies south of Leyte, in the Mindanao or Bohol Sea. The island, also known as Sarangani Island, is about 10 kilometres (6.2 mi) long from north to south.


Limasawa is politically subdivided into 6 barangays.[2]

  • Cabulihan
  • Lugsongan
  • Magallanes
  • San Agustin (Tawid)
  • San Bernardo (Tigib)
  • Triana


The island was first visited by foreigners with the arrival of Chinese and perhaps Arabic tradesmen.[4] In 1225, the Chinese merchant Chau Ju Kuo described the population of Mazaua as friendly and congenial to trade-relations. On March 28, 1521, the Mazaua's raia Siaiu (as named by Antonio Pigafetta, diarist of Magellan's expedition, and Kolambu, King of Butuan) was visited by Magellan and his fleet of three ships, passing through en route to the Spice Islands.[5] The two leaders maintained very amicable relations, becoming casicasi or blood-brothers on Good Friday, 29 March 1521, second day of Magellan's stay at Mazaua.[6]

According to wayward and superficial history, Limasawa and not Mazaua is where the first ever Mass in the Philippines was celebrated. Thus, Limasawa is famously referred to as "site of the First mass in the Philippines." Primary and secondary sources point to Mazaua, not Limasawa and not Butuan, as the port where an Easter Sunday mass was held on March 31, 1521. The description of present-day Limasawa does not fit the geologic, geographic, geomorphologic, archaeologic, histriographic categories of Mazaua as described and explained in the eyewitness chronicles of Antonio Pigafetta, Ginés de Mafra, Francisco Albo, The Genoese Pilot, Martín de Ayamonte, as well as the secondhand accounts of Antonio de Brito, Andrés de San Martín, Antonio de Herrera y Tordesillas, and Maximilianus Transylvanus. Up to this time, there is still debate on where Mazaua is.[7] See First mass in the Philippines. Even so, no serious scholar today still thinks Limasawa is the port Mazaua.

The Limasawa story was written by a Jesuit missionary, Fr. Francisco Combés, S.J., who had not read a single primary account. His 3-paragraph story of the Mazaua episode does not refer to any kind of mass having been held anywhere in the Visayas or Mindanao. His Limasawa also is not the port where Magellan and his fleet anchored from March 28 to April 4, 1521.

Combés wrote:

The first time that the royal standards of the Faith were seen to fly in this island [of Mindanao] was when the Archipelago was first discovered by the Admiral Alonso de Magallanes. He followed a new and difficult route [across the Pacific] , entering by the Strait of Siargao, formed by that island and that of Leyte, and landing at the island of Limasaua which is at theentrance of that Strait. Amazed by the novelty and strangeness of the [Spanish] nation and the ships, the barbarians of that island welcomed them and gave them good refreshments.

While at Limasaua, enjoying rest and good treatment, they heard of the River of Butuan, whose chieftain was more powerful. His reputation attracted our men thither to see for themselves or be disillusioned, their curiosity sharpened by the fact that the place was nearby. The barbariqan [chief] lived up to our men’s expectations, providing them with the food they needed....Magellan contented himself with having them do reverence to the cross which is erected upon a hillock as a sign to future generations of their alliance....The solemnity with which the cross was erected and the deep piety shown by the Spaniards, and by the natives following the example of the Spaniards, engendered great respect for the cross.

Not finding in Butuan the facilities required by the ships, they returned to Limasaua to seek further advice in planning their future route. The Prince of Limasaua told them of the three most powerful nations among the Pintados [Visayans], namely those of Caraga, Samar, and Zebu. The nearness of Zebu, the facilities of its port, and the more developed social structure (being more monarchial) aroused everyone’s desire to go thither. Thus, guided by the chief of Limasaua, passing between Bool and Leyte and close to the Camotes Islands, they entered the harbor of Cebu by the Mandawe entrance on the 7th of April 1521, having departed from Limasaua on the first day of that month. (Translation of Spanish text by Fr. Miguel A. Bernad)[8]

The notion that Limasawa is Mazaua was first suggested by ex-Augustinian priest, Carlo Amoretti, who had not read what Combés had written about Limasawa. As shown by what he wrote as quoted above, Combés was ignorant of the Mazaua story. He thought the anchorage of Magellan's fleet was Butuan, rather than Mazaua, the real port.

Present-day Limasawa could well be Gatighan as described by Pigafetta, though this assertion has yet to be proven or disproven. Philippine historian José S. Arcilla, who believes Limasawa is "site of the first mass", as all Jesuit historians in the Philippines do, explicitly asserts that Magellan did not visit Gatighan.[9]

There are compelling reasons why Limasawa could be Gatighan:

  1. Limasawa is definitely not Mazaua, therefore it must be something else;
  2. In Pigafetta's map Gatighan is northwest of Mazaua. If Mazaua is an island at 9° North, then Gatighan is exactly where Limasawa is today;
  3. Gatighan is shown in Pigafetta's map as sandwiched between Bohol and Ceylon (today's Panaon), it is the only land mass between these two places. Limasawa is exactly between these two land masses.

The place referred here as the Mazaua or Limasawa could not be the place where Magellan first landed. From the Ladrones it is very obvious that this is not the first land the expedition sighted. Also, it is not unusual of natives to name new settled places with the name of their previous place of origin.


See also


External links

  • ELGU Website of Limasawa
  • Possible provenance of the name 'Limasawa'
  • Philippine Standard Geographic Code
  • Philippine Census Information
  • Local Governance Performance Management System
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