Text and Photos by Euden Valdez
THE PHILIPPINES is a country of historical treasures—century old churches, ancestral houses, olden town centers and cultural establishments, among many others.
In Nagarcalan, Laguna, a prized historical landmark lies under the ground, silently and solemnly for it is a resting place for the dead.
Ordered built in 1845 by Franciscan Fr. Vicente Velloc, the Nagcarlan Undergound Cemetery is an octagonal enclave of stone and brick walls with wrought iron windows. A total of 276 are buried, of which 36 are located in an underground crypt.
Traveling Journo Ph saw firsthand this unique structure that has once been the chosen burial place of Nagcarlan’s privileged people. Today, it serves as a tourist destination for visitors of the hilly town south of Metro Manila.
Look at the photos of and know more about the underground cemetery below.
The Nagcarlan Underground Cemetery was declared a National Historical Landmark in 1981 by the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP). Last year, NHCP opened a museum where visitors can familiarize themselves with the underground cemetery before touring the grounds and the structure.
Resident curator Cecilla Sumague, who is also a Nagcarlan local, is present to talk about the historical landmark including its material components, characteristics, conservation and heritage to Nagcarlan.
The materials used in the making of the burial place range from different kinds of rocks to wood to tiles.
The massive arched gate and brick walkway lead to the burial ground’s chapel. The gate and the chapel are connected by a concrete wall of bricks and stones that form an octagon. Wrought irons and ornamental tracery work adorn these walls.
The chapel’s curvilinear ceiling is planked by polychrome wood while its walls are embellished with frescoes and its floor is combined with red and patterned tiles.
The chapel served as the last station of the funeral rites before the dead is entombed. It was in 1981 when a Nagcarlan resident was buried here.
To the right of the chapel is the crypt’s entrance. Go down and be amazed by the vaulted ceilings and pillars. Without the installed lights, only two grilled windows serve as the source of natural light from the world above.
Sure is creepy but the crypt, with an altar as the focal point, once served as hiding place for Filipino revolutionaries during the Spanish occupation, and then again for Filipino guerillas during World War II against Japanese forces. So prized was this place that only those considered “elite” could earn a niche in this underground cemetery.
Above ground, there are niches, 120 on both sides, where more famous families from the town has been buried during the 19th century.
Indeed, the Nagcarlan Underground Cemetery is a remarkable landmark born out of faith, enriched by history, and now appreciated for its curiosity and beauty combined.
Traveling Journo Ph recommends a weekend getaway to Nagcarlan for an immersive lesson on the culture of the people and heritage of the place. After all the town is located in the province of Laguna, which lies at the outskirts of Southern Metro Manila.