(Main entrance to Nagcarlan Underground Cemetery)
While most of the people back home are in an All Souls Day mood now, we cannot feel the same here in UAE. In Abu Dhabi, in particular, people are bracing themselves for the Formula One Grand Prix with the final race set on 1st of November.
I still get homesick occasionally, with All Saints and All Souls Days included. This is one of the opportunities where we informally get together with relatives (and friends whose loved ones are situated in the same memorial) at the cemetery. I intended to check my photo archives hoping to find an old snapshot of that particular cemetery in Laguna, but I soon realized that I do not have one but photos taken in another town at the same province.
I did not put in much interest in visiting the only underground cemetery in the Philippines until I saw the entry accounted by Dong Ho. It is a bit strange yet normal that we sometimes do not see the beautiful and interesting places near us because we tend to look too far.
I have been to Nagcarlan the first time when we needed to finalize some major highschool project that required bulk printing. That time the town is known, aside from gorgeous resorts and other things, for cheaper printing press charges, crossing out the option of going to Manila. I did not know that the lone underground cemetery in the country is housed there. Had I known, I should have visited sooner, i.e. whenever I would go to Liliw for some footwear shopping.
Hence, in my most recent vacation, I took time to make a sidetrip there. We reached at 4:00 PM (it closes at 5:00 PM). I did not expect that there would be a lot of visitors that time. Some obviously look like tourist, photography groups and locals who dropped by. As you will go in, the green fields will definitely give you a feel that you are inside a park.
But as you approach the chapel, goosebumps may build up as you will see several niches.
To date, no one knows the exact number of people buried above the ground and in the crypt (underground). But the cemetery walls would show 120 niches on each side (i.e. total of 240).
Approaching the chapel, you would notice the old bricks and torn portion.
Although the chapel/cemetery went through renovation, the original design was retained. Of about six feet it is topped with a tower liked structure with a niche for statue and iron cross. The chapel is like a grand niche built into the cemetery so that its facade is aligned with the former.
While there is a separate main church which is also of baroque style located near the market, this chapel served as the last station for the funeral rites before entombing the dead. You will notice that the ceiling is made of wood, while the altar is made of carved wood. Red tiles with red and blue porcelain tiles comprise the flooring. Under the floor of the chapel is the underground cemetery.
To the right side of the door of the chapel is the entry point to the crypt. At this point, only non-flash photography is allowed. The first one of nine steps leads to a landing above which has a Spanish inscriptions now illegible, which a prominent member of the Nagcarlan Historical Commitee has previously recorded and translated. It reads:
Go forth, Mortal Man, full of life Today, you visit happily this shelter
But after you have gone out,
Remember, you have a resting place here
Prepared for you.
The next six steps will lead you to the crypt proper. You will find 36 niches which were arranged into rows on the four walls.
I know you would be curious to know how it felt at the underground (which used to be a secret meeting place for the Katipuneros). It was cold, not because of any ghost, but I think that is expected as we were situated 15 feet under. But honestly, it made my heart beat faster the moment my eyes wandered through each corner and realized that there is no “special effect” for the lighting. Para kaseng eksena sa nakakatakot na pelikula ang dating (It looks like a horror scene). That light was only coming through the window. Is there really a ghost in the crypt as claimed by a few? I do not know. Regardless of what you will feel, it is best to pray for the dead ones’ souls.
The oldest niche in the entire cemetery is dated 1886 and the last interment was in 1981, before the cemetery was declared a national historical landmark. Story tells that most of those buried in the cemetery were locals who belonged to elite Catholic families. That those logged in the crypt are the more privileged. I just thought that visiting/revisiting this cemetery during 1st of November is close to a perfect time. As you would see the probable offspring of the elite Catholic families, as the record says. 😉
As we were about to leave, I heard a kababayan exclaimed, “Eto lang makikita dito? (Is this all?)”. Our level of appreciation really varies, which we must respect. But it is a sad reality that sometimes the foreigners are the ones who can see through more our national landmarks as real treasures. I think the fact that this cultural heritage has been preserved is more than admirable. That each artifact means a lot.
Entrance is free. Open from 8:30 AM to 5:00 PM.