self flagellation during Holy Week

#ThrowbackThursday Whipping for Jesus: Exploring the Controversial Practice of Self-Flagellation in the Philippines During Holy Week

self flagellation during Holy Week

When we hear the term “Holy Week”, what comes to our minds is usually a time of reflection, sacrifice, and penance for Christians around the world. However, in the Philippines, this period is marked by a unique practice that is not seen in many other parts of the world: self-flagellation. The act of self-flagellation involves whipping oneself with a variety of instruments, including whips and bamboo sticks, in order to repent for one’s sins and emulate the suffering of Jesus Christ. In this blog post, we will explore the historical and modern significance of self-flagellation in the Philippines and its impact on the Filipino culture and tradition.

History of Self-flagellation

Self-flagellation, as a form of penance, has a long and complex history in Christianity. Some accounts suggest that the practice dates back to the early days of the Church, where people would self-inflict wounds and injuries as a sign of devotion to God. This practice became more organized and regulated in the Middle Ages, with religious orders like the Flagellants emerging in Europe. The Flagellants would travel from town to town, whipping themselves publicly as a form of penance for the sins of their community.

Self-flagellation has been practiced in the Philippines since the Spanish colonization in the 16th century. The Spanish introduced the practice as a way of reminding the Filipinos of the suffering of Jesus Christ and encouraging them to repent for their sins. During this period, self-flagellation was performed publicly and was considered a sign of piety and devotion to the Catholic faith. It was also believed that self-flagellation would grant the devotees forgiveness for their sins and bring them closer to God.

In the early 20th century, self-flagellation was banned by the Catholic Church in the Philippines due to concerns over its extreme nature and its potential to cause harm to the participants. However, the ban was not strictly enforced, and self-flagellation continued to be practiced by a small group of devotees who believed in its spiritual significance.

self flagellation during Holy Week

Modern Cultural Significance

Today, self-flagellation is still practiced by a small number of Filipino Catholics, especially during the Holy Week celebrations. While the practice is not condoned by the Catholic Church, it is still seen as a way of expressing one’s faith and devotion to God. The act of self-flagellation is often performed in public, with crowds gathering to watch as the devotees whip themselves with various instruments.

The practice of self-flagellation has become controversial in recent years, with many people questioning its spiritual significance and the harm it may cause to the participants. Critics argue that self-flagellation is a form of self-harm and can lead to physical and psychological trauma, especially if performed by inexperienced individuals or without proper medical supervision.
However, proponents of self-flagellation argue that the practice is a personal choice and a way of expressing one’s faith and devotion to God. They also believe that self-flagellation is a form of penance that can lead to spiritual enlightenment and a deeper understanding of one’s faith.

In the Philippines, self-flagellation has been incorporated into Holy Week celebrations in a unique way. Holy Week, which takes place in the week leading up to Easter Sunday, is a time of solemnity and reflection for Filipino Catholics. Many towns and villages hold processions and reenactments of the passion of Christ, with people dressing up in costumes and carrying statues of Jesus and the Virgin Mary.

In some parts of the Philippines, however, Holy Week is also marked by the practice of self-flagellation. This practice is especially prevalent in the northern province of Pampanga, where it is considered a traditional part of the Holy Week celebrations. Men and women, young and old, participate in self-flagellation, often whipping themselves with sticks, chains, or other sharp objects.

One of the most extreme forms of self-flagellation is called “pagdarame.” This involves the participant being tied to a wooden cross and then whipped by a group of people. The person being whipped is often covered in a white robe, and the whipping takes place in public, with crowds gathering to watch.

Despite its extreme nature, self-flagellation is viewed by many Filipinos as a way of expressing their devotion to God and of atoning for their sins. Some participants believe that the pain and suffering they endure during self-flagellation bring them closer to God and allow them to share in the suffering of Christ. Others see it as a way of showing gratitude for blessings received or as a way of seeking divine intervention for personal or family problems.

However, not all Filipinos are supportive of self-flagellation. Some view it as a primitive and outdated practice that has no place in modern society. Others are concerned about the physical and psychological harm that self-flagellation can cause, especially if performed improperly or without medical supervision. Still, others argue that self-flagellation is a form of self-harm that has no place in Christian theology.

The Catholic Church in the Philippines has officially condemned the practice of self-flagellation, stating that it is not in line with the teachings of the Church and that it can lead to physical and psychological harm. However, the Church has also recognized that self-flagellation is deeply ingrained in Filipino culture and tradition and has taken a nuanced approach to the issue. Some priests have tried to steer devotees away from self-flagellation by emphasizing other forms of penance, such as fasting or acts of charity.

Despite the controversies surrounding self-flagellation, it remains a deeply ingrained part of Filipino culture and tradition. For many Filipinos, Holy Week is not complete without the act of self-flagellation, and it continues to be performed every year, even in the face of opposition and criticism.


In conclusion, self-flagellation during Holy Week celebrations is a controversial and deeply ingrained practice in Filipino culture and tradition. While it has been officially condemned by the Catholic Church, many Filipinos continue to view it as a way of expressing their faith and devotion to God. As we continue to navigate the complexities of religious practices and cultural traditions, it is important to approach the topic of self-flagellation with sensitivity and understanding, and to recognize the potential harm that it can cause. Ultimately, our goal should be to engage in constructive dialogue and to respect the diverse cultural expressions of faith and devotion that exist around the world.

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This page was last modified on April 7, 2023. Suggest an edit

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