Almost 20 Filipinos and a Danish filmmaker were nailed to crosses to re-enact the crucifixion of Christ on Good Friday, a practice the Roman Catholic Church frowns upon as a distortion of the Easter message.

The annual Philippine ritual draws thousands of spectators to San Fernando, 50 miles north of Manila, to see penitents flagellate themselves and a series of crucifixions in a recreation of Christ's death.

"It was a great experience between me and God," 48-year-old Danish film director and stunt coordinator Lasse Spang Olsen, who stayed on the cross for more than 10 minutes said.

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For some in the Philippines, where about 80 per cent of the population are Catholics, the re-enactments of the crucifixion are an extreme display of devotion.

"I will do it as long as my body will allow me," said Danilo Ramos, 43, who has been "crucified" 23 times. "I hope God will see my sacrifice and take good care of my family."

The Roman Catholic Church denounces the ritual, which first took hold in northern Pampanga province about six decades ago.

"Penance does not mean you hurt yourself, because your body is a temple that houses the spirit," said Archbishop Aniceto Paciano of San Fernando.

The carnival-like atmosphere in Cutud village draws thousands of foreign and local tourists each year. British casino worker Emily Ebswoth, 24, said she had never seen anything like it.

"I don't like it," she said. "It's bloody and gory."

Elsewhere, Christians in the Holy Land commemorated the crucifixion in Good Friday prayers and processions through Jerusalem's Old City. Thousands of Christian pilgrims filled Old City yesterday along the Via Dolorosa, Latin for the "Way of Suffering". They were carrying wooden crosses and following the 14 stations ending at the ancient Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

Tradition says the church was built on the site where Jesus was crucified, buried and resurrected.