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A Cross in the Road Part 1

May 27, 2008

Drive around the streets of Northern Mindanao* and you may find wooden crosses supported by rocks.
These are not shrines to obscure Catholic saints nor are they remnants of the Stations of the Cross displayed during the Holy Week. These are in fact analogous to gravestones, except that there are no bodies under them. They only mark the places where someone was killed directly or indirectly**.
These crosses, however, do not just have a memorial function. They also have a spiritual function. They are said to prevent the appearance of a San Telmo, a ghostly fire that is said to form from blood. Filipino folklore and even some** eyewitnesses, if they could be believed, say the San Telmo looks like a floating fireball. Although San Telmo can be literally translated to English as St. Elmo’s Fire, its use in Filipino vocabulary bears no resemblance to that weather phenomenon. Instead, it bears more resemblance or it could be the same thing as the Will O’ the Wisp.
These crosses are rarely removed from the road. Some of them may stand on the site of violence for days, of which the responsibility of removing them was left to nature. Others, which are placed in sites of heavy traffic are routinely removed. The general rule for removing these crosses seem to be, “The longer it is there, the better everything will be.”
After all who would want to do a legitimate but almost sacrilegious act of dismantling a cross? Who would want to remove its memorial function for onlookers and spiritual function against the San Telmo?

*I am not sure if this kind of cross can be seen in other parts of the Philippines. I never saw one when I was in Luzon or even Cebu.
**One credible witness said he saw a San Telmo while their bus got stranded near a mountain. He and the other passengers saw a flame descend from the mountain in record time. The flame went to the road, and they saw that it was in the shape of three men, two of whom were carrying the apparently injured third man.

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