Monday, January 26, 2015


Under Spain, if you were being pursued by the law, or indeed by anyone, you had the right to run to the church and be protected from your pursuer, at least for a while.

Since the sanctuary of the church was considered holy and inviolate, the civil authorities could not enter it and arrest you.

But the priest couldn't let you off the hook for murder, for example. The right of church refuge was a way of protecting innocent people from rash judgments or mob justice. If the priest saw that you were probably guilty, he had to surrender you to the law, but by that time (hopefully), there was more evidence and calmer minds so that you could undergo the judicial process fairly.

But, if the priest saw that you were innocent, he could tell the civil authorities that you were exempt. Then you could be released from the sanctuary with the guarantee that you would not be held accountable for something you didn't do.

The Chamorros had a term for this running to the church for refuge : malaiglesia or alaiglesia.

In Spanish "a la iglesia" means "to the church."

"Ma la iglesia" is a Chamorro-Spanish construct meaning "to go to the church" for refuge.

Or, malaiglesia could come from malak (Chamorro for "to go to") and iglesia (church).

There is at least one documented case of malaiglesia on Guam.

It happened in 1860, to a Filipino resident of Guam whose last name was Custodio. He was apparently working for an English carpenter who was rather rough on him. Custodio claimed he was being physically abused by this man, so he stabbed the Englishman in the rear, causing two large gashes.

Realizing what he had done, Custodio ran to the church in Hagåtña and hid behind the high altar.

The Spanish Governor stationed two guards at the church doors, in case Custodio exited. Meanwhile, negotiations began between the parish priest and the Governor. The end result was that the priest exonerated Custodio, since he was being physically abused by the man he stabbed.

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