The gruesome real-life re-enactments of the crucifixion, which are held every Good Friday in the Philippines, are frowned upon by the Catholic church but have become freak tourist attractions.
Faith healer Arturo Bating, 44, spread his arms and maintained stoic calm as he was hoisted onto a wooden cross atop a sandy mound. He then had four-inch nails driven through his palms.
It was the first time he had done it, he said.
“This is a vow I had made to God so that He will spare my family from sickness,” the penitent, swathed in a white robe, said after his ordeal, which lasted several minutes.
“It was a bit painful, but bearable,” he added, pledging to take part in the ritual every year.
In some cases the devotees — who do not take painkillers — also had their feet nailed to the cross and one person had to be rushed off in a waiting ambulance after his feet suffered from heavy bleeding.
More than 20 fanatics, including one woman, were nailed to crosses in the farming regions on the outskirts of the northern city of San Fernando and nearby Paombong town.
Crucifixions are the grisliest, but by no means the only, extreme acts of penitence on show in the Philippines, Asia’s largest Catholic outpost with about 75 million followers.
Dozens of barefoot male devotees wearing black hoods whipped their bare backs bloody with strips of bamboo tied to a string as they travelled around the San Fernando neighbourhoods.
They were followed by groups of children who covered their faces as blood from the whips sprayed their clothes.
Alex Laranang, 57, said he had had himself crucified every year for the past 12 years. “I had made a vow to do this every year until I die,” said Laranang, who sells food aboard buses for a living.
“I do not expect anything in return. I do this for my God.”
Like Bating, he said the physical pain was a minor inconvenience.
“I hardly feel any pain. The nerves have been deadened.”
Archbishop Jose Palma, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, said earlier this week that while the Church did not encourage the extreme demonstrations of worship, it does not fault those who go through the ritual.
“We do not judge and condemn, but we discourage it,” the church leader said on Catholic radio Veritas.
The ceremonies are supervised by local governments, which put medical treatment on standby, said Reynaldo Sulit, a district official in Paombong.
“People here follow their own beliefs. We should not take that against them,” he said.
Camilla Kozinska, a freelance photographer from Poland who is on the last leg of a four-month Asian tour, said she was at the same time repelled and fascinated while watching the crucifixions.
“There’s just too much blood,” the 29-year-old Catholic said as she joined about 3,000 Filipino and foreign spectators in one village.
“It’s a new experience for me.”
Many Filipinos went through more practical acts of piety, such as visiting churches on foot to pray during the Maundy Thursday and Good Friday holidays.