By Nelson Groom
Filipino Catholics have marched the streets whipping themselves and lacerating their backs with razorblades in a bloody Easter ritual to atone for their sins.
Gruesome footage from the otherwise peaceful town of Pakil, in Laguna province, show masked religious devotees performing the acts of self-inflicted pain to mark the Holy Week.
The shocking scenes of self-flagellation are traditional in small towns of the primarily Catholic nation before Easter as a form of worship believed to cleanse sins, cure illness and grant wishes.
Despite condemnation from the Catholic Church, the group drew large crowds including children to line the sweltering streets and behold the extreme show of faith.
Filmmaker Nikon Celis, who was sprayed with blood capturing the ritual, said: “It’s always fascinated me why people would go these sorts of religious extremes.
“It’s fascinating to believe you have to hurt yourself to show your devotion. The flagellants believe it grants them and their families good health and good luck.
“While I was filming you could smell the blood in the air, there was even a metallic taste. After I finished my shirt was covered with blood.”
Nikon, 32, said the group, known as Hugas Dugo, lash and slash themselves every day from Holy Monday to Good Friday in search of salvation.
The barefoot penitents begin by gathering under a bridge in Barangay Rizal, before parading to a Church at Town Plaza to continue self-flagellating with chains and wooden whips.
They wear a skirt made of dried banana leaves to soak the blood that pours from their backs, and children follow the procession to pour water onto the wounds.
Nikon said the origins of the group are shrouded in mystery, but they are understood to have formed about 40 years ago.
And while the Catholic Church says such practices can lessen the meaning of Lent, Hugas stand defiant in the belief they are preserving their legacy.
Some of Nikon’s gruesome footage even showed devotees having razor blades drawn over their scarred backs.
The 32-year-old said: “Pakil is almost exclusively Catholic. The people were very welcoming to me, I never felt unsafe but it was an extreme thing to witness.
“They gave themselves 20 slits of the razor, then lay flat on the ground for their slashed backs to be whipped again.
“The flagellants were definitely feeling the pain, they were not in a trance. But they are used to it and they know what they’re doing.
“Although the practice is opposed by the Catholic Church, the Hugas Dugo are still staying true to their legacy.”