The most famous site in the town of Nagcarlan is the Franciscan underground cemetery. Having been the second missionaries to set foot in the islands, the reverend fathers “have in charge the ministries and convents of Morong, Barás, Tanay, Pililla, Mabitac, Cabosan, Siniloan, Pangil, Páquil, Paete, Longos, Lucban, Cavinti, Pagsanghán, Santa Cruz, Pila, and Mainit (Los Banos)”. They extended their area of ministry in “Nagcarlang, Lilio, and Mahayhay”, including “Bay, and Binangonan, with the ranch of Angono” after the Augustinians ceded their control in favor of the Franciscans, who by this time has covered the La Laguna with their missionary work. Their concentration in the province made them decide to build a cemetery for their orden.
“People buried here are only the elite Catholic families and the Franciscans.” say a tour officer to his group. The fact is, then only the rich people can afford to “lease” a spot for their dead in limited cemeteries (like Paco), while common families send their departed to town cemeteries (still known today as Catholic cemeteries), where there is little cost to worry about. There is no prohibitions limiting burial spots to those who belongs to the “buena familia”, the only prohibiting factor is its cost – funny how negative everything comes out when people talk about these things, I’m sure those poor children were probably imagining the Franciscan friars having tails under their capuchin clothe. These days, you have the exclusive and the public cemeteries, depends how much money your family’s ready to spare, you can be resting under a well manicured lawn or in a flooded cemetery where your casket is probably floating inside your nicho – not a lot of difference if you’ll ask me, then and now.
There is a faded Spanish text just before you enter the underground cemetery, (translated in English):
“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.”
I love the chapel with its Sto. Sepulcro placed in the middle, its very simple and solemn, like the vows of its creators. There were several renovation that took place here already but its amazing how the original details were kept. When I arrived there was actually a crew cleaning the place. They only use water hose – they don’t use scrubs and other cleaning agents. Their general cleaning is confined outside.
The final internment was in 1982, the year it was declared a national historical landmark. “It is considered a historical landmark because the underground portion used to be a secret meeting place of the revolutionary leaders in Laguna in 1896” .The declaration was solely based on these events, but regardless of these “secret’ proceedings, the artful details of the chapel and the exceptionality of the catacomb’s construction is sufficient to affirm its status as a national treasure.
The second stair flight leading to the burial chambers is lit by a small grilled window. There are “36” niches all in all, but no one knows how many people are eternally resting inside. The underground cemetery is open Tuesdays through Saturdays, from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. The administrators told me that they’re open 24 hours during undas, but said people usually start coming at dawn.
I was allowed to take pictures inside by Ms. Cecil. According to the NHI admin is that in the past they’ve allowed people to take pictures as long as they don’t use the flash, the problem is once these groups bring out their cams they stubbornly use their flashes because its dark. So they decided to disallow taking pictures inside. Just last night, the reporters of GMA 7 was not allowed to bring their cameras inside. Props to NHI! You have the right administrator there in the person of Ms. Cecil, not only she knows the history but she’s very passionate about this wonderful national treasure being a local who grew up admiring it.
Undas and Mahal na Araw are the busiest days in the calendar. A popular tradition is the Senaculo during lent where people are said fill the whole cemetery to watch the event. The site is maintained by NHI but is still owned by the Catholic church, not because it want to control its operations but because of its chapel. There are no entrance fee. As always, I encourage support by donating or buying merchandize from them.
Special thanks to Ms. Cecil Sumague, of NHI (the first NHI employee I’ve ever met outside NHI’s bookstore in Kalaw!) who toured me around, she was very accommodating and knowledgeable, she later received another party, this time bunch of school children with their teachers. Mabuhay ka po!