Why should men have all the fun? Women join Easter crucifixion rituals

55-year-old Elsie Cunanan falls unconscious as she is removed from the cross in Bacalor. Picture by Ruston Banal.

The tradition of volunteering for crucifixion to mark Easter has always been a purely male domain — but not any longer.

The grizzly re-enactment of Jesus Christ’s suffering, or Lenten Rites, has now caught the attention of female devotees.


In San Fernando, the scene of the most famous version of the ritual, Mary Jane Sazon, a 39-year-old beauty salon worker, was among nine ‘penitents’ nailed to a cross.

Prior to the crucifixions, the male penitents walked several miles through the village, flaying the skin off their backs with sharp bamboo sticks and pieces of wood. Mary Jane was apparently spared this part of the experience.

Speaking to reporters after her time on the cross, she said her crucifixion was dedicated to a sick sister. “Fulfilling my vow is important to me because ever since I started this the Lord answers my prayers.”


When asked how she felt about being the only woman to be crucified, she answered: “I don’t care what other people might say.”

Lisa Zorn, a 35-year-old tourist from Germany, spoke to PLN after witnessing the spectacle. She said: “Before I got there I was wondering if a woman could do this, but assumed they couldn’t, and there she was.

“It was sort of funny because she had to stand on a stone as she was too short.”

Mary Jane Sazon, a 39-year-old beauty salon worker, takes her place on the cross. Picture by Lisa Zorn.

Elsewhere, in Bacolor, spectators attended the crucifixion of three devotees, one of them a 55-year-old woman named Elsie Cunanan.

She told GMA News that she decided to be crucified for the sake of her mother, who had problems with her legs.

Asked how she felt on the cross, she said she was praying and hoping that as she experienced the pain Jesus Christ went through, God would hear her prayer.

After 15 minutes, she was brought down from the cross and immediately collapsed into unconsciousness. She was treated at the scene and has recovered.

The crucifixion rites are not condoned by the Catholic Church. Archbishop Socrates Villegas, for example, said Catholics should mark Lent in prayers and acts of love and charity.

“Instead of spilling your blood on the streets, why not walk into a Red Cross office and donate blood? Choose to share life. Share your blood,” he added.

Foreigners have been banned from taking part since an Australian comedian used a fake name to get himself nailed up for a joke. A Japanese man who wanted to be crucified in 1996 was believed to planning to used the footage as part of a pornographic film.

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