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Thursday, October 30, 2014

Heritage Cemeteries to Visit in the Philippines.

Sagada's hanging coffins (c) Arnie Iambuchock
The value to our departed love ones have been rooted long before the Philippines was colonized by Spain. It goes back during the pre-hispanic period where the departed members of the family were given great honor because of our ancestor's belief of afterlife.
Thus, the tradition of burying dead varies on different regions. One best example is the hanging coffins of Sagada, for the reason of bringing the bodies higher up closer to their ancestral spirits of gods. This practice continues up to this day but now in smaller scales. Then spanish changed our old tradition steadily that paved ways in creating grave sites.

In early times, the dead Catholic were buried within the church vicinity but not until the dramatic increase of population that requires larger space of internment. That system were the one we were following currently.

As we call it Campo Santo in my hometown, the old term for cemetery which means holy ground can be found in every town and cities all over the country. Some have gone important roles in our long history and houses the remains of important persons, and have survived over the years. Nowadays, these land of the dead were deserted site but not until the days before All Saints Day and All Souls Day. We visit our love ones for at least that day in the whole year. 

 Here are some of the colonial cemeteries I've visited to date.

Paco Cemetery [now Paco Park]

Historical significance of the shrine started when the City of Manila suffered cholera outbreak during Spanish colonial era. Completed in 1820, it served as the municipal cemetery for those who died from the illness. Originally, the cemetery was intended for the well-off families of the city to bury their deads.

There is a mortuary chapel (St. Pancratius) inside the park, which now serve as focal point of the site and where weddings were held. Inside the mortuary is the mausoleum of Governor-General Ramon Solano y Lladeral . The Mortuary chapel was in circular layout with domical red roof. The rustic wall was retained with some grown up plants and mosses on it and which I found better. Presence of Greek columns can also be seen in the exteriors of the edifice. It is supporting the broken pediment at the top of the door and big mouldings at the uppermost portion of the wall.

The cemetery has a footprint area of 4,114.80 sq.m. and was designed by Nicolas Ruiz. The park was surrounded by two separate wall fortress. Right on the thick walls were the three layers of niches. Vincentian brothers was the current administrator of both park and the mortuary chapel.

Dr. Jose P. Rizal was once secretly interred in the place before it was laid beneath on his current burial shrine in Luneta. It was from December 30, 1896, his execution day up until December 29, 1912. That was for 16 years. Aside from the country's national hero, the remains of three martyr priests Mariano Gomez, Jose Burgos and Jacinto Zamora was buried there after punished to death by the Spaniards with the use of garote in February 1872. 

How to get there:

From Taft avenue, you can drop off at Padre Faura Street in corner of Manila Science High School. Go straight at the end of the street and you'll reach General Luna Street. Walk through the street in right direction coming from Padre Faura Street. You'll see the outer wall of the old cemetery. And there you go!

Nagcarlan Underground Cemetery

The Nagcarlan Underground Cemetery in Laguna is the only one of its kind in the Philippines - it is a burial site located inside, or more accurately, beneath a church. This church is rich in history - it was built and designed for funeral mass in 1845 by the Franciscan priest Fr. Vicente Velloc. He also directed the construction of an underground graveyard 15 feet below the church.

The cemetery was declared as National Historical Treasure by National Historical Commission of the Philippines because its underground crypt was used as a secret meeting place in 1896 by Filipino revolutionaries or Katipuneros, members of the KKK. During the Filipino-American War, Filipino patriots also used the underground cemetery to formulate their battle plans and to seek shelter. It also became a safehouse for Filipino guerillas during World War II. There is no famous hero buried here but perhaps, it is enough that we pay our respects to this place where our nameless heroes and patriots sought sanctuary.

How to get there:

There are buses going to San Pablo City, Laguna from bus terminals in Metro Manila-along Buendia and Taft Avenue in Manila and Makati. From San Pablo City, ride on jeepney going to Liliw-Nagcarlan Route. The cemetery is found along the National Road just tell the driver to drop you off on the site.

Sanctuario de las Almas

The Sanctuario de las Almas is one of two cemetery chapels in Tayabas. The other one is located in the current public cemetery. Like other cemetery chapel in the country, the church was intended for town's both Filipino and Spanish dignitaries as place for interment. Nowadays, it is use as full functional church. Though still have few niches in the surrounding, the cemetery complex is not a accepting dead to be interred. Regular mass is also held during sundays. 

How to get there:

There are buses going to Lucena City or Sta. Cruz, Laguna from bus terminals in Metro Manila-along Buendia and Taft Avenue in Manila and Makati while there are also in Araneta Center in Cubao and in EDSA-Kamuning-Kamias. From Sta. Cruz, ride on jeepney going to Lucban in terminal located in Pagsawitan. 

In my case, I opted to travel going Lucena through DLTB Bus. Then boarded off in Lucena Grand Central Teminal. Fare would be P210.  Then take jeepneys going to Tayabas fare would be P25 . 

San Joaquin Cemetery 

Built in 1892, the Campo Santo of Town of San Joaquin, one of the Iloilo's farthest town, have catered deads of the province for more than a century.Lies along the National Road, the cemetery is very visible when you are passing Iloilo-Antique Road. Only meters higher, from the sea level, one can have a beautiful vistas of the sea.


The locals would call it "Campo Santo" probably have adapted the colonial tounge, meaning a holy field as it refers to cemetery. The word is not new to my ears because I was used to call it the same in our hometown. As usual character of our heritage structure, the cemetery possessed the Baroque Architecture. It can be seen on the huge balustrades-fences adorned with pot-like on its top.

Romanesque characters was also noticed on its gate arch. It has pilasters on both sides seemingly supporting a pediment on the top. There were figures on 3 corners of the pediment.  On top of the gate was quite large size statue of Jesus Christ with arms stretched wide. What was most striking on this cemetery was the mortuary chapel  that would welcome its visitors. Made up of coral blocks that was stacked genuinely and cladded with baked red bricks. The high dome looks like a priest caps has also gave a classic elegance. It stands tall as it sits on the higher part of the campo santo.

How to get there:

In our case, we rode jeepney going to Miag-ao Church first and then boarded another jeepney bound to San Joaquin. But if you'll be coming from the city, one has to go in Super, a market where it serves as terminal for  jeepneys going to South-Eastern Iloilo towns. Just tell the driver to drop you by in San Joaquins Old Campo Santo. The trip would take about an hour more or less.

Other option is to board on bus. It is Ceres Buses specifically bounding to Antique with terminal located in Molo District. Aside from air-conditioned ride and comfortable seats, you will probably enjoy country scenes along the way. Besides, the travel time is shorter.

Janiuay Cemetery

Inaugurated in 1884, Janiuay cemetery, pronounce as "ha-nee-wai" was tagged as the most artistic cemetery in the country. The construction of the cemetery was led by Augustinian friar Fernando Llorente, he who also was the head of town of Dingle, where there is also a stone colonial cemetery constructed. The Janiuay Cemetery lies on a one-hectare tract of land. It was built on the top of the hill that made it more grand with provision of 3 flight of staircases that leads dramatically to 3 arched entrances. . Entrances are made up of three grand Tudor arches. The area is fenced by steel supported by circular stone columns.


Said that both Ilongos and artisans from Manila who have worked in the chapels interior. While the windows and main door has a lancet-shaped arches with intricate stone-carvings on sides, that highlighted its Neo-Gothic style. Of course, the main attraction of the cemetery was its octagonal capilla, which is now grown with some plants and shrubs. Despite the obvious degradation of the chapel, it remains stunning- with its pyramidal roof, tracery openings and spires on every corners that magnify the Gothic features.


How to get there

From Iloilo City, to reach the town of Janiuay, one has to take jeepneys that are available in Centraline Terminal fronting Christ the King Memorial Park in Jaro District of Iloilo City. You have an option of riding air-conditioned vans that are also available in the terminal.

Cabatuan Cemetery

Cabatuan cemetery was built by Fr. Juan Porras and was inaugurated on 4 February 1894. It is the only cemetery in the Philippines that has perfect square and is enclosed on all four sides by a solid limestone base with intricately-designed steel railing.

Among the cemetery chapels that I visited in Iloilo, this is the most maintained. Like Janiuay Cemetery, it lies along the main road and very much visible to the public. It has three entrances which were enormous and in good state yet the simplest among its neighbors. The design is more of Romanesque with some Gothic characters, there is a huge octagonal baroque mortuary chapel or capilla at the center which was beautifully restored.

It once have faced near deterioration of its heritage value when the parish priest headed the construction of covered extension of the central capilla. But because of uproar among Cabatuananons and heritage conservationists the on-going construction was stopped and demolished it as it will deface the old structure constructed in the 19th century. While the municipal government of Cabatuan said the extension chapel is illegal due to lack of building permits.

How to get there

From Iloilo City, to reach the town of Cabatuan, one has to take jeepneys that are available in Centraline Terminal fronting Christ the King Memorial Park in Jaro District of Iloilo City. You have an option of riding air-conditioned vans that are also available in the terminal.


It might look unusual to get fascinated with old cemeteries but I enjoyed visiting some of these. Honestly, this is among areas that peace, literally, could possibly be achieved. In terms of architecture and historical significance, visiting them is an exceptional encounter. 

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