Father Diego de Herrera O.S.A. was one of the first five Augustinians to work in the Philippines. He arrived there in 1564, and was killed there twelve years later by angry natives in 1576. Diego de Herrera was the son of Miguel de Almeda Herrera and Juana Marinez, a noble family from the province of Toledo, Spain. He entered the Order of Saint Augustine in Spain on 10 March 1545.
As a priest, he was dedicated to preaching, and to teaching in the Augustinian Monastery of Naro and Duenas. Among his students there was Geronimo Roman O.S.A., who became a famous historian. Herrera then volunteered to join the mission of the Order of Saint Augustine in Mexico, where the Order had first sent missionaries in 1533. He learned the Mexican dialect very quickly. His work was so outstanding that in 1564 he was chosen to be one of five priests of the Order of Saint Augustine to accompany the expedition to the Philippines for the king of Spain that was led by the conquistador, Miguel Lopez de Legazpi.
The leader of the five Augustinians was Andrés de Urdaneta, O.S.A., who already was famous as a navigator. The other three Augustinians with them on the expedition were Martin de Rada, Andrés Aguirre and Pedro Gamboa. The expedition left Mexico in November 1564 and arrived at Cebu in the Philippines on 27th April 27 1565. There they built the first church in the Philippines, which today has been replaced by the Minor Basilica of the Santo Niño at Cebu. The church was first used by Urdaneta on 1st June 1565, when the image of the Santo Niño was placed in it. This was only six weeks after their arrival in the Philippines. A few days later, Andrés de Urdaneta began his historic voyage back to Mexico. When back in Mexico Andrés de Urdaneta O.S.A. was convinced not to return to the Philippines because of his age (he was aged over seventy years), Diego de Herrera took over as the leader of the Order in the Philippines. On 21 March 1568, Diego de Herrera O.S.A. baptised the chieftain, Tupas of Cebu, and his son. On 20th January 1569, Herrera became the first Provincial Superior of the Order of Saint Augustine in the Philippines. The Province of the Philippines still exists and operates in many nations, while a more recent Province of Cebu is now more numerous than it within the Philippines.
Herrera continued to work in Cebu until April 1571, when Miguel Lopez de Legazpi appointed him as the chaplain of the expedition to Manila. He was the first priest sent to Manila. He celebrated the first Mass in the Monastery (convento) of San Augustin, which he founded at Intramuros in Manila. The first Church of San Agustin, made of wood and nipa, was built at Intramuros in Manila, on the land where a majestic church of that name stands today. The present Church of San Agustin at Intramuros is now the oldest continuously-operating Christian sanctuary in the Far East, and the oldest stone building in the Philippines. The second Augustinian Chapter in the Philippines took place on 3rd May 1572. It elected Martin de Rada O.S.A. as the Provincial Superior, and appointed Diego de Herrera as one of his official councillors. Herrera was sent to Spain to inform the king about the progress of the Christian religion in the Philippines. Here was another long sea voyage, but this time across the Atlantic Ocean and back.
Herrera returned from Europe to the Philippines by sailing to the west. He went across the Atlantic to Mexico, and then across the Pacific from Mexico to the Philippines. When in 1575 he sailed from Mexico in the galleon, Espiritu Santo, Diego de Herrera had with him nine new volunteers of the Order who were going to work in the Philippines. As described hereunder, the Espiritu Santo was shipwrecked near Bato on the island of Catanduanes in the Philippines. When in 1575 he sailed from Mexico, he had with him nine of the new volunteers of the Order who were going to work in the Philippines. Four of them were named by Gaspar de San Agustin O.S.A. in his book entitled: "Conquistas de las Islas Filipinas", Volume 1, page 334, as being Lesmas de Santiago O.S.A., Francisco de Arevalo O.S.A., Francisco Martinez de Vieda O.SA., and Juan de Espanola O.S.A. The ship set out with passengers and merchandise for Manila; it departed on 18th November 1575 from Acapulco, Mexico.
Little did anyone anticipate that disaster lay ahead. At midnight on 24th April 1576, in weather that was unusual for that time of the year, the galleon struck the reef of Nagngangang Buaya, at Batalay, which is a barangay near Bato on the island of Catanduanes. It is the 12th largest among the more than 7,000 islands in the Philippines. Called "the Land of the Howling Wind", Catanduanes is a province thrust into the Pacific Ocean and because of its position it was an outpost for pirates.
Bato is located at the southeastern portion of Catanduanes, and has the vast Pacific Ocean on its eastern shores. Virac, the capital town of Catanduanes, is eight kilometres from Bato. Lives were lost, but among the survivors with Diego de Herrera O.S.A. were Lesmas de Santiago O.S.A., Francisco Villa O.S.A., Francisco Martinez de Vieda O.S.A., Gregorio Galvez and several other members of the crew, including some military personnel. The survivors of the galleon, Espiritu Santo, were stranded in Batalay, a native "balangay" located at the southern tip of the town of Bato, Catanduanes. They were given shelter and provisions by the ruling Datu. The native people previously had some contact a group of Spanish conqustadores led by Juan de Salcedo two years earlier in 1573.
But the unexpected arrival of the survivors of the wrecked galleon, Espiritu Santo, was the first time that the Christian faith was offered to them. Led by Herrera, the members of the Order of Saint Augustine began preaching the Christian Faith to the "indios," and to introduce new methods of agriculture and better ways of living. The "indios" accepted everything except the religion, which they considered was hostile to the faith of their ancestors. The Christian religion became the major source of conflict between the Spanish and the native people. The indios moved away, and lived in the nearby forest. As a result, the Spaniards found themselves close to starvation. This prompted them to set out in search of the natives, in order to bring them back to Batalay. Sporadic encounters then ensued between the Spaniards and the natives. The indios had the great advantage of knowing the terrain. One night when it was raining, the indios attacked Batalay, and this led to the violent deaths of the new arrivals. All who had survived the destruction of the galleon, Espiritu Santo, were killed.
The only exception was a man from Spain named Geronimo Alvis (or Galvez), who knew the local tongue of Visayans. Diego de Herrera O.S.A. also spoke to the natives in the Visayan dialect, but they paid no attention and killed him. Galvez buried the dead and placed a wooden cross on the grave of Diego de Herrera O.S.A. In recent years there has been some sentiment in Catanduanes for undertaking the process of having Diego de Herrera official declared a saint of the church, but nothing formal in this regard has been commenced. It was to be another twenty years before the Christian religion was again offered to the people of Catanduanes, and this time successfully. The biography of Diego de Herrera O.S.A. which was written by Isacio Rodriguez O.S.A. and Jesus Fernandez O.S.A. in Spanish over fifty years ago has not been translated into English. Is there somebody who will do this? Salamat!