As we observe All Saints Day, cemeteries are closed for almost a week in compliance with Covid-19 regulations. Beyond from being our proverbial final destination, these vast swathes of greeneries is where we can find quantum of solace not only with our dear departed, but with history as well.
Memorial parks are pieces of culture and heritage hiding from plain sight, and may even qualify as a different kind of tourist spot. Below are some intriguing final resting places we can drive to marvel at how people have departed in style and transition into the Great Beyond.
Manila. The 54-hectare Manila North Cemetery is a queer necropolis or city of the dead which is also inhabited by the undead, much like a typical barangay. It is a microcosm of the society where the great divide between the rich and the poor is evident in the grandiosity or obscurity of their final resting places.
“Cementerio Del Norte” is like a vast open museum with a rich 116-year old history and art as decades reflected in the architectural and sculptural themes. You can walk back in time as you visit former Philippine presidents, Manila mayors, statesmen, prominent families, military and police personnel, martyrs, Boy Scouts, and veterans of the 1896 Revolution and Filipino-American War, among others.
The nearby Manila Chinese Cemetery showcases the vital role of the Chinese and so-called Chinoys in the society. Much like a Chinatown for the departed, its architecture and culture is very much alive, with its Buddhist temples, calligraphy, and ancient burial practices.
It also memorializes World War 2 heroes Dr. Clarence Kuangson Young and the Wa Chi Brigade, as well as Filipino patriots such as Apolinario Mabini, Josefa Llanes Escoda, Vicente Lim and Carlos Palanca.
The postcard-pretty Paco Cemetery (now Park) was completed by the Dominicans shortly before a cholera epidemic in 1820. Martyred priests Gomez, Burgos and Zamora, and national hero Jose Rizal were buried here after they were executed by Spain.
Interment ceased in 1912 when Rizal’s remains were transferred to his monument in Luneta. It is a now government park which hosts musical concerts, and a favorite for garden weddings and special events.
Nagcarlan, Laguna. This town is synonymous to the Underground Cemetery, the only one of its kind in the country built in 1845 by Franciscan priests, alongside with the renovation of the nearby San Bartolome parish church.
This octagonal tomb is enclosed by stone and brick walls (as shown in the picture above), with wrought iron grills, arched gate and brick walkway. Tombstones are embedded on its brick walls, while the underground crypt is dedicated for the town’s parish priests and the local elite. The chapel interior has a wooden plank ceiling decorated with polychrome colors and curvilinear designs, while the walls are embellished with frescoes.
The Underground Cemetery became a secret meeting place of Filipino revolutionaries, and a hideout of anti-Japanese guerrillas during World War II. It ceased to be a burial ground in the 1970s, and is now run by the National Historical Commission.
Sagada. The National Geographic recently called this iconic hanging coffins as among the spooky haunted places around world. But for road warriors who love long drives, this haunt in the Cordillera mountains is certainly worth the trip.
This tribal cemetery, a must-see tourist spot, is nestled at the panoramic Echo Valley and the Lumiang Cave where coffins are piled on top of one another.
It might be spooky by Western standards, but the hanging coffins reflect the Igorot tribe’s belief in the after-life where the dead are brought closer to heaven if they are suspended on the cliffsides.
An age-old All Soul’s Day ritual at the main municipal cemetery is the Panag-Apoy Festival where residents light bunches of pinewood, instead of candles, to make small bonfires at the gravestones of their departed loved ones. The fires transform the place into a spectacular sight to behold, particularly for photography enthusiasts.
Iloilo. This eclectic province takes pride in two of the most artistic cemeteries in central Philippines–Janiuay and San Joaquin.
The 1884 Janiuay cemetery has three grand staircases lead and supported by a retaining wall. Its centerpiece is the Gothic-styled octagonal mortuary chapel or capilla, whose lancet-shaped doors and windows exemplify the craftsmanship of the Ilonggo artisans.
Meanwhile, the circa-1890s San Joaquin was declared by the National Museum as a National Cultural Treasure, along with the nearby parish church in 2015. Its main feature is its coral rocks and baked bricks capilla, whose red dome caps its classic elegance. The Neo-Gothic chapel is punctuated by statues of angels and the Risen Christ, and ornate funerary sculptures.
And while situated 86 kms away, Iloilo’s splendid four-lane highways will make travel a breeze with the delightful roadside attractions.
A true-blue day tripper since age 19, he has travelled across the archipelago by land, air, and sea. As a communications trainer, travel photojournalist, tourist mapmaker, scuba diver, environment advocate, or simply a family road tripper, he has imbibed the diversity of the Philippines by learning the basic way of life of the places he visits.