Diego de Herrera
Fray Diego de Herrera, O.S.A. was one of the first five Augustinian missionaries who were destined for the Philippines. Being a commendable worker, he was chosen to join Miguel Lopez de Legazpi's expedition. He was slain by natives following his endeavor to establish Catholicism in the Philippines.
The son of Almeda Herrera and Juana Marinez, Fray Diego de Herrera hailed from an affluent family residing in Toledo, Spain. It was on 10 March 1545 when he joined the Order of Saint Augustine. Aside from being an active preacher, Fray Herrera also devoted most of his time into teaching. One of his students was Fray Geronimo Roman O.S.A., who went on to become a renowned historian.
Fray Herrera eventually joined the Augustinian mission in Mexico, wherein he also learned the Mexican dialect with surprising ease. His industriousness led to him being selected to join the expedition to the Philippines for the Spanish crown.
Mission in the Philippines
The other Augustinians who accompanied Fray Diego de Herrera were Fray Andrés de Urdaneta, O.S.A., Fray Martin de Rada, O.S.A., Fray Andrés Aguirre, O.S.A., and Fray Pedro Gamboa, O.S.A. Fray Urdaneta was already an expert navigator. The expedition departed from Mexico in November of 1564. It was on 27 April 1565 when they finally reached Cebu.
After settling down, the Spaniards constructed the first church in the Philippines wherein Fray Urdaneta also held the first mass on 01 June 1565, introducing an image of the Santo Niño to the attendees. Days passed and then Fray Urdaneta had to return to Mexico to handle affairs. He arrived safely, but was discouraged from once more venturing into the Philippines due to old age (Fray Urdaneta was already more than 70 years old at this time). And so, Fray Herrera assumed the position of leader of the Augustinian Order in the Philippines. Several milestones were achieved by the friar, such as when he baptized chieftain Tupas of Cebu on 21 March 1568, and when he became the first Provincial Superior of his order on 20 January 1569. Fray Herrera served in Cebu until April 1571. He was then designated as the chaplain of the Manila expedition by Legazpi. As the first priest to arrive there, he headed the first mass at the Monastery of San Agustin, which was located in Intramuros, Manila. The Church of San Agustin still stands today, and it is recognized as the oldest Catholic church in the Far East, and also the oldest stone edifice in the Philippines.
On 03 May 1572, the second Augustinian chapter appointed Fray Martin de Rada, O.S.A. as the Provincial Superior. Meanwhile, Fray Herrera, who became one of the official councillors, had to sail back to Spain to personally inform the king regarding the development of Catholicism in the Philippines.
In 1575, Fray Herrera, along with nine new missionaries from his Order, boarded the galleon Espiritu Santo that was bound for the Philippines. Four of the missionaries were mentioned in Fray Gaspar de San Agustin, O.S.A.'s book titled Conquistas de las Islas Filipinas. They were Fray Lesmas de Santiago, O.S.A., Fray Francisco de Arevalo, O.S.A., Fray Francisco Martinez de Vieda, O.S.A., and Fray Juan de Espanola, O.S.A.
The Espiritu Santo departed from Mexico on 18 November 1575. Theirs was a journey that tragically ended, however, for the galleon was shipwrecked at Nagngangang Buaya, Batalay, Catanduanes after hitting a reef. There were numerous casualties; Fray Herrera along with Fray Santiago, Fray Francisco Villa, O.S.A., Fray Vieda, Gregorio Galvez, some crew and military personnel survived. They found themselves received warmly by the reigning datu of Batalay, as this balangay already encountered a previous expedition led by Juan de Salcedo in 1573.
At first, Fray Herrera and his party had a decent relationship with the natives. They taught the natives agricultural techniques and other better ways of living, and these were gladly accepted. However, when they became more insistent in introducing the Catholic faith, the natives began to distance themselves, as they considered the act to be one that disrespected their beliefs. Eventually, the natives moved to a forest, leaving Fray Herrera and the other Spaniards incapable of sustaining themselves. The Spaniards sought to bring back the natives to Batalay, which only further soured their relations. The natives eventually decided to attack Batalay in order to stop the Spaniards from interfering with their way of life.
The lone survivor was a Spaniard named Geronimo Alvis (but may also be "Galvez"), who happened to be fluent in Visayan. Fray Herrera actively communicated in Visayan as well, but he was nevertheless slain. It was Alvis who buried Fray Herrera.
On 02 May 2014, a marker dedicated to Fray Diego de Herrera was unveiled and then blessed, with community leaders, devotees, and pilgrims in attendance. The aforementioned Augustinian missionary's remains are interred at the Shrine of the Holy Cross, which is located in Batalay, Bato, Catanduanes.
Nuns from the Carmelite Order of Naga City assisted in the construction of the marker. It rests on top of a boulder that was excavated from the mountainside behind the shrine, which was erected on a land donated by some devotees. Beneath the marker are two drawings: the map of Catanduanes and a cross. For the priests and the devotees of the shrine, the boulder is interpreted as the rock of St. Peter, a symbol renowned among Catholics. A message can also be found on the marker, and it is one that encourages the Catholics of Catanduanes to fulfill their collective responsibility as faithful stewards of nature.
The unveiling occured 438 years after the shipwreck of Espiritu Santo at Nagngangang Buaya point in Bato; this was the Spanish galleon that transported Fray Herrera and nine more companions all the way from Mexico. Accounts of his stay in the Philippines are conflicting; one claims that he and the others who survived the shipwreck were immediately speared by natives. Another one, however, says Fray Herrera and the other survivors were welcomed and provided shelter by the datu of Batalay. It was when Fray Herrera attempted to introduce the Catholic faith that he was executed by the natives. A popular legend narrates that when one of Fray Herrera's companions planted a wooden cross on where he was buried, a spring of clear water suddenly gushed out, and the natives responsible for Fray Herrera's martyrdom soon met their demise following an attack from a school of swordfish.
Between the years of 1840 and 1860, Bishop Grijalvo of Nueva Caceres mandated the construction of a monument for Fray Herrera's resting place, but no one could locate the exact spot. There were several attempts to plant a cross on some spots that were believed to be where Fray Herrera was buried, but none of the crosses stood upright. Finally, when another cross maintained its proper position, natives decided to dig through the soil and they discovered a human skeleton, which they then assumed to be the remains of the Augustinian martyr. The remains attracted pilgrims from all walks of life; some of them placed the bones on the ailing parts of their bodies, while others resorted to cutting off pieces of the cross as they believed this would earn them the blessing and protection of Fray Herrera. The cross was eventually encased in hardwood to avoid further decimation. It can now be found on the altar of the Shrine of the Holy Cross.
It was on 21 April 1973 when the Holy Cross of Batalay was officially declared a diocesan shrine by Msgr. Teotimo Pacis, who was then the bishop of Legaspi. The National Historical Commission also erected a marker for the chapel's façade.
- Augnet. ‘’4329 diego de herrera.’’ n.d. Accessed 18 February 2021.
- Catanduanes Tribune. ‘’New Batalay shrine marker honors Fray Diego de Herrera.’’ 03 May 2014. Accessed 18 February 2021