Ermita Ruins (Dimiao, Bohol)

The Ermita Ruins

Part of the Panglao Bluewater Resort-sponsored CountrysideTour

The 1,000 sq. m. ruins of the Spanish-era Ermita (Spanish for “church” or “hermitage”), situated parallel to the nave of the Church of St. Nicholas Tolentine, are the ruins of a coralline limestone structure built between 1800 and 1815 by Fr. Enrique de Santo de Villanueva. During the Spanish period, people were not allowed to hold wakes in their houses so they took their dead to Ermita instead.

It was allegedly used as a military fortress, a chapel and a burial site for members of the Spanish clergy. In 1844, due to its proximity to the church (which was deemed unhealthy), the cemetery was closed by Fr. Manuel Carasusan

In 1995 and 1998, archaeological excavations were done by the National Museum in a quest to uncover its mysterious past. At this burial site, the researchers discovered skeletons buried facing east, not properly arranged but just laid on top of each other (suggesting there was a mass burial), and human teeth remains (showing a tooth-filing tradition), suggesting a functioning cemetery.

However, they were surprised at not finding any remains in the small ossuaries or bone niches because these were considered “secondary” burial sites, which could be a carryover from the ancient Boholano practice of secondary burial. The bones found during excavation were transferred to the municipal cemetery. Every November 1 (All Saints Day), a mass is held inside Ermita Ruins for the souls of those buried there.

Ruins of the small church

On July 30, 2011, the St. Nicolas of Tolentine Church Complex, including Ermita Ruins, was declared as a National Cultural Treasure by the National Museum.

A honeycomb of burial niches

Closely resembling Paco Cemetery, its surrounding semicircular wall has at least 700 empty tombs arranged like a honeycomb, making it the only structure unique to the Philippines. The ruin of a chapel stands at the center of the Ermita. In front of the chapel is a mound where the krus dako (big wooden cross) was displayed.

The mound where the krus dako was displayed

Ermita Ruins: St. Nicolas of Tolentine Church Complex, Dimiao, Bohol.

Bohol Tourism Office: Governor’s Mansion Compound, C.P.G. Ave. North, Tagbilaran City, 6300 Bohol.  Tel: +63 38 501-9186.  E-mail:

Panglao Bluewater Resort: Bluewater Rd., Sitio Daurong, Brgy. Danao, Panglao, 6340 Bohol.  Tel: (038) 416-0702 and (038) 416-0695 to 96. Fax: (038) 416-0697.  Email: Website:  Manila sales office: Rm. 704, Cityland Herrera Tower, Rufino cor. Valera Sts., Salcedo Village, 1227 Makati City, Metro Manila.  Tel: (632) 817-5751 and (632) 887-1348.  Fax: (632) 893-5391.

Copp’s Hill Burying Ground (Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.A.)

Copp’s Hill Burying Ground

The historic, 12,000 sq. m. (3 acre) Copp’s Hill Burying Ground, the second (and largest) cemetery in Boston (second only to the King’s Chapel Burying Ground founded in 1630), was founded on February 20, 1659. Originally named “North Burying Ground,” it is situated on land (where a wind-powered grinding mill once stood) on Copp’s Hill (named after early settler and local cobbler William Copp whose children were buried here in the 1660s) bought by the town from John Baker and Daniel Turell.

Now named “Copp’s Hill Burying Ground” (although often referred to as “Copp’s Hill Burial Ground”), it is the final resting place of over 10,000 people (buried between 1660 and 1968) and contains more than 2,200 marked graves (60% of which date to before the American Revolution), including the remains of various notable Bostonians (29 Boston Tea Party participants and 43 Revolutionary War veterans) from the Colonial Era into the 1850s.

On January 7, 1708, the cemetery was extended when the town bought additional land from Judge Samuel Sewall and his wife Hannah (part of a  pasture which she inherited from her father, John Hull, master of the mint).  On June 17, 1775, because of its height and panoramic vista, the British used this vantage point on the southwest side to establish earthworks and train their North Battery cannons on Charlestown during the Battle of Bunker Hill. Legend has it that British troops used gravestones for target practice (many have interpreted the round scars of the Capt. Daniel Malcolm grave marker to be the result of musket balls being shot at close range).

On December 18, 1809, it was further extended when the town bought, for US$10,000, additional land from Benjamin Weld and his wife Nabby after they had bought it from Jonathan Merry, who had used it as pasture.  Ten years later, Charles Wells (later mayor of Boston) bought a small parcel of land from John Bishop of Medford which he used as a cemetery. Later, this was merged with the adjacent North Burying Ground. It is no longer possible to discern the original boundaries of the cemetery because of this complicated history.

Along the Snow Hill Street side, in a potter’s field, are many unmarked graves of more than 1,000 free  African Americans who lived in the questionably named “New Guinea” community at the foot of the hill. In addition, there are 227 tombs, most of which bear inscriptions that are still legible. In addition, the grave markers and their epitaphs of thousands of artisans and tradesmen buried here reflect the nature of the 17th and 18th century economy of the North End.

Prince Hall Memorial

Reputedly, the oldest grave stone is that of Grace Berry, wife of Thomas Berry, who according to the inscription, died May 17, 1625 (5 years before Boston was settled). The well preserved stone is of old Welsh slate with quite distinct carving; the edges are ornamented with curves and at the top are carved two cherubs and the angel of death.

Grace Berry Tomb

The tomb erected by Isaac Dupee, perhaps the most ornate monument in the ground, bears a beautifully carved coat-of-arms, together with a tribute in verse.

Isaac Dupee Tomb

The town continued to maintain the site intermittently but, by 1840, the cemetery had fallen into near disuse and, by 1878, it was badly neglected. When the Freedom Trail  created in 1951, the cemetery was not an official stop but it has since been added and is now much-frequented by tourists and photographers. In 1974, the site was added to the National Register of Historic Places. Now owned by the City of Boston Parks and Recreation Department, it is part of the Historic Burying Grounds Initiative.

Michael Malcom Grave stone

Notable persons buried here include:

Copp’s Hill Burying Ground: 21 Hull St. cor. Snowhill St., Boston, 02113 Massachusetts, U.S.A. Tel: 617-635-4505.  Open daily. 10 AM  – 5 PM.

Granary Burying Ground (Boston, Massachussetts, U.S.A.)

Granary Burying Ground

The Granary Burying Ground, the city’s third-oldest cemetery, dates to 1660. A major stop in our Freedom Trail Tour, it is steps away from Boston Common and is shadowed by the towering skyscrapers of the city’s Financial District (however, just a few moments here made me forget that I was in the center of a large city). It was Independence Day when Jandy and I visited and the graves of famous personalities buried there where marked with US flags and floral wreaths. Guides, in American Colonial attire, were busy touring visitors around the cemetery.

The Egyptian Revival-style gate

This cemetery is the final resting place of many notable Revolutionary War-era patriots such as Paul Revere (pedestal-shaped gravestone behind the Franklin Memorial) , the five victims (including African-American Crispus Attucks) of the March 5, 1770 Boston Massacre (in a common grave near the Tremont Street entrance) and three signers of the Declaration of Independence – Samuel AdamsJohn Hancock and Robert Treat Paine (at the side of a brick wall).

Lady guide, in American Colonial attire, touring visitors around the cemetery

As such, because of its historical connections, this quiet but fascinating, tree-filled, shade-dappled ground has been sometimes called the “Westminster Abbey” of Boston. After 1856, most burials were prohibited here.

Tomb of John Hancock

The cemetery, adjacent to Park Street Church and immediately across from Suffolk University Law School, has 2,345 grave-markers and 204 tombs but historians estimate that as many as 5,000 people are buried in it.  The reason for this is that, to save money and space, many of the graves have multiple bodies buried, four deep, under one headstone, something that was common in most old burial grounds.

The pedestal-shaped tomb of Paul Revere

Formerly known as the New Burying Ground and South Burying Ground, in 1737 it took on the name of the Old Town Granary, the granary building which stood on the site of the present-day Park Street Church. An attempt was also made to change the name to “Franklin Cemetery,” to honor the family of Benjamin Franklin, but the effort failed.

The Franklin Memorial

The cemetery’s striking and imposing but decidedly uncolonial Egyptian Revival iron gate and fence along Tremont Street, designed in 1840 by Boston sculptor and architect Isaiah Rogers (the supervising architect of the Ohio State House, he also designed an identical gate for Newport’s Touro Cemetery and the Bunker Hill Monument), was built at a cost of US$5,000 (half paid by the city and half by public subscription).

Samuel Adams Tomb

A 21-ft. high obelisk, constructed with granite from the Bunker Hill Monument quarry and dedicated on June 15, 1827, was erected to replace the original gravestones (which had been in poor condition) of the parents and relatives of Benjamin Franklin (he was born in Boston but is buried in PhiladelphiaPennsylvania). Josiah Franklin, Franklin’s father, was originally from Ecton, Northamptonshire, England while his mother, Abiah (Josiah’s second wife), was born in Nantucket.

Robert Treat Paine Tomb

The second oldest memorial, for John Wakefield (who died on June 18, 1667, aged 52), lies near the Franklin monument. Many of the 17th century grave stones are carved with elaborate letters, death’s heads, and fruits of paradise.  The oldest grave stone, that of the children of Andrew Neal, was carved by the ‘Charlestown Carver’ and dates to 1666.

Children of Andrew Neal Tomb

Other prominent people buried here include:

Common grave of the 5 victims of the Boston Massacre

Granary Burying Ground: Tremont Street an Bloomfield Street, Boston MA 02108, Massachusetts. Open daily, 9 AM – 5PM. Tel: 617-635-4505.  Admission is free. To keep the burial ground protected, please make sure you stay on the designated paths.

How to Get There: If you are arriving by public transportation, take the Red and Green Lines/Park Street, the closest T station, to Boston Common and walk northeast on Tremont Street towards the Park St Church. Past the church you’ll find the Granary Burial Ground.

St. Peter’s Cemetery (Salzburg, Austria)

St. Peter's Cemetery

St. Peter’s Cemetery

After our tour of Hohensalzburg Castle and leaving the Funicular Railway entrance, we walked down the hill to nearby St. Peter’s Cemetery (Petersfriedhof) which, together with the burial site at Nonnberg Abbey , is the oldest cemetery in Salzburg and one of its most popular tourist attractions.   My original intention for visiting was to see for myself where the Von Trapps hid from the Nazis in “The Sound of Music” as some overenthusiastic tour guides would tell tourists visiting the place. I didn’t find it. Only later did I find out that the actual scene was just a studio set filmed in Hollywood, though its design is clearly based on St. Peter’s Cemetery.

The Hollywood set of the Sound of Music

The Hollywood set of the Sound of Music based on St. Peter’s Cemetery

Still, the beautiful flower-filled cemetery of adjacent St. Peter’s Abbey (Stift St. Peter), sheltered by the Monchsberg, was still worth a visit for its rich history and carefully and lovingly tended  graves, many with flowering plants land small trees (it looks more like a garden than a cemetery).


It was probably laid out during the foundation of the abbey in 696 AD by St. Rupert of Salzburg. This burial ground was first mentioned in an 1139 deed  issued by Alcuin of York, an English scholar attendant, during the rule of Archbishop Conrad I.

More of a garden than a cemetery .......

More of a garden than a cemetery …….

Several tombs are located in arcades, with elegant wrought iron fences and lovely and ornate iron scrollwork crosses and grave markers, built at the foot of the Festungsberg Hill.


Tombs located in arcades

Arcades (2)

The oldest preserved headstone is from 1288 AD. The cemetery is centered around the Late Gothic-style, stone block St Margaret’s Chapel (Margarethenkapelle), built in 1491, and the Romanesque-style Chapel of the Cross, dedicated about 1170 and refurbished as a mausoleum in 1614/15, according to plans by Santino Solari. The former contains some precious artwork inside and marble panels emblazoned on the wall.

St. Margaret's Chapel (Margarethenkapelle)

St. Margaret’s Chapel (Margarethenkapelle)

The chapel's interior

The chapel’s interior

The serene and unique cemetery grounds, probably the most peaceful stop in all of Salzburg, are also known for its underground ‘catacombs,’ a combination of natural and hand-excavated caves embedded in the limestone cliffs of Monchsberg.  Carved out of the conglomerate rocks of Festungsberg Hill, above the cemetery, they probably date back even further to 215 AD, from the Early Christian days of Severinus of Noricum during the Migration Period, serving as an Early Christian place of assembly and hermitage.  Up until 1454, only priests and monks were buried here.

Altar within the catacombs

Altar within the catacombs

Catacombs (3)

The catacombs include two chapels dedicated to St. Gertrude (Gertraudenkapelle) and Maximus (Maximuskapelle), a Christian martyr, consecrated in 1178 under the Salzburg Archbishop Conrad of Wittelsbach and dedicated to the assassinated Archbishop Thomas Becket of Canterbury.

Catacombs (2)

The cemetery was closed in 1878, slowly decaying until 1930 when the monks of St. Peter’s successfully lobbied for the admission of new burials.  Unlike most cemeteries around the world, you do not buy the plots here.  Instead, every 10 years, relatives of the dead must pay rent for the plot and must also be the caretakers.  If your family doesn’t pay your rent, they toss your body out.

Kyle, Cheska and Grace

Kyle, Cheska and Grace strolling around the cemetery grounds

Many members of Salzburg’s old blue-blooded patrician families are buried here, along with many other notable figures.  Architect Santino Solari, (1646), who designed Salzburg Cathedral, Hellbrunn Palace and the trick fountains, is buried in Crypt XXXI while Salzburg mayor Sigmund Haffner (1772), a patron of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart who composed a symphony and named a serenade after him, is buried in Crypt XXXIX. Maria Anna Mozart (Nannerl, 1829), elder sister of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and an exceptionally gifted musician herself, is buried in Crypt LIV, by the catacombs, together with the torso (his head is stored in an urn in St. Peter’s Church) of composer Michael Haydn (1806), the younger brother of Joseph Haydn.

Michael Haydn Grave

Michael Haydn Grave

Other prominent people buried here include architects Clemens Holzmeister (1983), Johann Georg von Hagenauer (1835, younger brother of Wolfgang Hagenauer) and Wolfgang Hagenauer (1801); composers Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber (1704);  Salzburg mayors Johann Christian Paurnfeind (1768), Richard Hildmann (1952) and Heinrich Ritter von Mertens (1872); Mozart librettist Ignatz Anton von Weiser, (1785); conductor Bernhard Paumgartner (1971); opera singer Richard Mayr (1935); painter Georg Pezolt (1878); historian Franz Martin (1950); artist Carl Mayr (1942, elder brother of Richard Mayr);  poet Otto Pflanzl (1943); actor Georg Schuchter (2001); politician Hans Lechner (1994); noblemen Hans Stefan, Count von Heistler (2010), Viktor Schmidt, Count von Heistler (2011), Alfred Schmidt, Count von Heistler (2011) and Wulfric Brian von Heistler (2011); and US Army Major General Harry J. Collins (1963).

View of Salzburg from the catacombs

View of Salzburg from the catacombs

We also climbed a steep set of stone-carved stairs to view several rooms with altars, faded murals and inscriptions of the fascinating catacombs. Here, we had amazing views of the city. On our way out, we passed a water wheel which runs in the cemetery.  At one time, it supplied power for industries run by the friars.

Water wheel

Water wheel

St. Peter’s Cemetery: Sankt-Peter-Bezirk 1, 5020 Salzburg, Austria. Tel: +43 662 844576. Open daily,  6:30 AM -7 PM (April-September) and 6:30 AM – 6 PM. (October-March). Admission to cemetery is free; Catacombs:  1€ (adults) and 0.60€ (children).

Nagcarlan Underground Cemetery (Laguna)

The Nagcarlan Underground Cemetery

The Nagcarlan Underground Cemetery

From the Church of St. Bartholomew, Jandy, Maricar, Violet, Lanny and I left the town proper. Just 2 kms. out of the town is the Baroque-style, 1-hectare Underground Cemetery.  The first and only one of its kind in the country, it was built in 1845 by Franciscan Fr. Vicente Velloc. This would be my second visit, having done so 15 years ago. We parked the Toyota Revo at the Shell service station across it.

Plaque installed by National Historical Institute (NHI)

Plaque installed by National Historical Institute (NHI)

The scrollwork-decorated octagonal red brick walls,  18 ft. high arch and 2 elaborate wrought iron gates were still there and remain quite impressive.  The enclosed circular garden is surrounded by 240 (120 on each side) above-ground, apartment-type niches similar to Manila’s Paco Cemetery.

The scrollwork-decorated octagonal red brick walls and 18 ft. high arch

The scrollwork-decorated octagonal red brick walls and 18 ft. high arch

Maricar, Violet and Lanny

Maricar, Violet and Lanny

The oldest niche is dated 1886 and the last interment was in 1982, nine years (August 1, 1973) after it was declared as a National Historical Landmark by virtue of Presidential Decree No. 260 (with amendments on June 11, 1978 by virtue of Administrative Order 1505). Its historical marker was only unveiled on October 24, 1981.

The above ground crypts

The above ground crypts

Underground Cemetery (9)

Traversing the red tiled walkway, we entered the dome-like cemetery chapel, used for requiem or funeral mass, which was built in a strange arabesque style and has blue and  white tiles. Inside is the Sto. Entierro, the glass bier of the dead Christ. The planked ceiling which was water-damaged during my first visit was now partially repaired.

Father and son in front of the chapel

Father and son in front of the chapel

The interior of chapel

The interior of chapel

We went down one of the two stairways leading 15 ft. down to the underground crypt which contain 36 tombs (housing the remains of Spanish friars and prominent people), arranged in 4 walls with burial plaques.   Unlike my first visit, I was now allowed to take pictures (but no flash).  Back at the chapel, we signed the customary guest book and left.

The underground crypts

The underground crypts

Underground crypt

Nagcarlan Underground Cemetery: Brgy. Bambang, Nagcarlan, Laguna.  Open Tuesdays to Sundays. Admission is free.  Donations are needed and welcomed.

Remembering the Victims of Typhoon Yolanda (Leyte)

Palo town 8 months after Typhoon Yolanda

Palo town 8 months after Typhoon Yolanda

One of the most moving highlights of my return to Leyte, 8 months after super typhoon Yolanda (international name: Haiyan) hit the province, was our visit to the town of Palo, one of the most heavily hit places.

Palo Metropolitan Cathedral

Palo Metropolitan Cathedral

Still vivid in my memory was TV footage of the town’s Cathedral of Our Lord’s Transfiguration (which underwent a US$35 million renovation a year ago) and its convent where GMA 7’s Unang Hirit reporter Ms. Lovella “Love” Anover, a native of Alang-Alang, and 500 other people sought shelter at the height of Yolanda. They all watched in horror as the full force of the winds slowly tore off the roof of the newly-renovated cathedral.  The traumatized Love later broke down in tears while reporting live on camera.

Palo Municipal Hall

Palo Municipal Hall

Of the 76 churches in the Palo Archdiocese, only six remained intact. Palo back then was celebrating its 75th anniversary (diamond jubilee) as an archdiocese. When we arrived there, a new roof had already been installed but much still has to be done as it still needs a ceiling, the main door was still unrepaired and the broken glass at its windows still have to be replaced.  A new sight awaited us – a mass grave, fenced off by white ribbon and marked by flowers, for about 100 typhoon victims.

The partially repaired cathedral interior

The partially repaired cathedral interior

This scene was repeated when we dropped by the church of Brgy. San Joaquin. At the church’s de facto plaza, once a grass yard where youth groups would practice hip-hop dances, a much larger mass grave could be found.  Here, over 400 people were laid to rest. A statue of Jesus Christ of the Sacred Heart, with one arm outstretched and the other broken off, towers over the makeshift graves. Youngsters were playfully running around the graves.

Mass grave at cathedral grounds

Mass grave at cathedral grounds

At the height of Yolanda, a tsunami-like storm surge reaching 18 ft. hit the barangay.  Many drowned in the school beside the church.  Luckily, no one was able to seek shelter within the church as the strong early morning winds prevented the opening the church doors to residents.  They would have surely drowned. However, at least 25 children lost their lives at another evacuation center. Fr. Kelvin Apurillo, the parish priest, and his 11 sacristans who were trapped in the second floor of his house beside the church, all survived. However, some sacristans lost family members in the flood.

San Joaquin Church

San Joaquin Church

Each marker, with rolls of names (numbering from 2 to 20 with others too long to fit) etched by felt-tip pens on boards fastened to sticks, tells a story. The surnames listed are often the same – spouses, children, in-laws, etc.   Beside their names are their dates of birth, many born only past the year 2000 (the most vulnerable and helpless were the babies and young kids).  Often, the date of death is not indicated anymore as everyone here knows when all these people died – November 8, 2013.

The mass grave at the grounds of San Joaquin Church

The mass grave at the grounds of San Joaquin Church

The mounds of this sudden, eerie cemetery along the highway, some shallow (the holes dug were only thigh-deep) graves containing almost entire clans  (in one, 22 died out of 25 members of the Lacandazo family), are marked with tarpaulins or simple plaques and crosses and littered with candles (some lit), keepsakes of the departed (stuffed animals, toys, watches, bracelets, portraits, etc.) and offerings to the missed (plastic or real flowers, rosaries, etc.).

Children and babies were the most vulnerable and helpless

Children and babies were the most vulnerable and helpless

Fittingly, I said a short silent prayer over this final resting place of lives cut short by the same fate.  Each one was special.  They had names, families, friends and dreams.  May the loved ones they left behind continue on living amidst the ruins of their former lives.

The tarpaulin says it all

The tarpaulin says it all

San Joaquin Cemetery (Iloilo)

From Miag-ao, we were next driven 12.5 kms. to the adjoining town of San Joaquin.  Along the National Highway, we made another short stopover at the town’s Spanish-era cemetery (Campo Santo, translated as “holy field) where we visited its iconic mortuary chapel (capilla), the grandest and best preserved in the whole of Iloilo.

The iconic mortuary chapel of Campo Santo

The iconic mortuary chapel of Campo Santo

Nestled on elevated ground a kilometer from the poblacion, it was built in 1892 with coral rock and baked brick by Augustinian Fr. Mariano Vamba, the last Spanish parish priest of the town.

Detail of rose window and brick and coralstone facade

Detail of rose window and brick and coralstone facade

It has a vaulted hexagonal chapel decorated with Classical motifs; with tufa and plaster walls; a red, pointed dome and lateral rose windows.  To reach this chapel and the cemetery compound, we had to climb a 20-step staircase flanked by twin-tiered stone balustrades.

The statue niche with Pieta replica

The statue niche with Pieta replica

Burial niches inside chapel

Burial niches inside chapel

Inside, facing the chapel entrance, is a statue niche with a small yet beautifully made sculpture replica of Michaelangelo’s renowned Pieta. Below it is the burial niche of Pedro Sarag y Saragena (September 8, 1855-October 15, 1923).  Flanking both are 2 sets of 4 burial niches topped by a cross and flanked a skull and cross bones design.

The Baroque-style gate

The Baroque-style gate

Its Baroque-style gate, with its rich stone bas relief of carved stylized flowers and leaves, has a life-size statue of Jesus Christ, with his outstretched arms, on top of its triangular pediment.  It is flanked, on each side, with two columns with angelic figures on top.  The semicircular arch entrance, adorned by egg-shaped moldings, is topped by the sculpted head of a cherub between two skull and cross bones designs representing death.

Father and son at the stairway

Father and son at the stairway

How To Get There: San Joaquin is located 53.5 kms. from Iloilo City and 12.2 kms. from Miag-ao.

Echo Valley (Sagada, Mountain Province)

After checking in to our rooms at Alapo’s View Inn, we rested for a while then assembled at the ground floor for our guided tour of the lush and picturesque Echo Valley, one of the most popular hikes in Sagada.  Though it wasn’t our first visit (Jandy and I have visited it twice before), it would be the first for most of the group. We conveniently wore shorts and slippers and brought along our jackets, water bottle and my camera.  From our inn, we all entered the compound of St. Joseph’s Resthouse and St. Joe’s Cafe, then crossed the road to the grounds of the Anglican Episcopal Church of St. Mary the Virgin, the oldest church in the Cordilleras outside of Baguio City.  Here, we already noticed the huge number of people also undertaking this introductory tour of Sagada.

Echo Valley and its famed hanging coffins

Further up the St. Mary High School gate, past the basketball court, Centennial Bell and the Sagada Cooperative Store, we climbed paved steps up to the Sagada Cemetery which has 14 Stations of the Cross and is marked with a huge cross.  I asked the guide if he knew where the burial plot of Eduardo Masferre, the famous photographer who died in 1995, was but he was just as unknowing as I was.  Well, maybe next time.  William Henry Scott, the American historian who died in 1993, is also buried here.

Sagada Cemetery
The cemetery has a fine view of the northern valley. Further up the cemetery is Calvary, the cemetery’s highest point.  From Calvary, we went down a narrow, steep dirt path to Echo Valley.  Along the way, we espied, on the left side, a 40-ft. high cliff where the Sagada rock climbing tour is conducted (PhP250/pax).  Sagada, with lots of cliffs and rock formations, is one of the few Philippine destinations that offer the fairly young sport of natural rock climbing.
Sagada Rock Climbing Tour
At the valley’s vantage point, some of our companions shouted out loud to hear their echo while others just admired the pleasant scenery.  From afar, we could already see 2 clusters of the town’s famed hollow-log “hanging coffins” or kuongs.
Aldrin and Jandy at the vantage point
From the valley, we again made a steep hike down, to the “hanging coffins” located on large limestone cliffs at the opposite side.  The few “death chairs” (sangadil) placed next to the hanging coffins were still there.
It was already starting to rain when we made our way back up the valley and the path was already becoming slippery.  Our jackets, made just for cold protection, was soon soaked inside and out and we were soon drenched when we arrived at the church and sought refuge inside.  Here, we waited for the rains to subside before making our way back to the inn.

A Stroll in Paco Park

After dropping off Cheska at ACTS (where  she was taking review classes for her Med Tech board exam), I decided, on my way home, to drop by historic Paco Park.  Getting there proved to be difficult for me as I had to make my way around a maze of one-way streets.  I decided to park my car just a few blocks away and walk the remaining distance.

Paco Park

Just about everybody, couch potato or not, is familiar, one way or the other, with the TV program “Paco Park Presents.” The concert was begun by Dr. Christoph Jessen (Press and Cultural Attache of the Federal Republic of Germany) with the late National Park Development Committee (NPDC) Vice-Chairman and journalist Teodoro “Doroy” Valencia on February 29, 1980 as a part of the celebration of Philippine-German Month and a gala tribute for then outgoing German ambassador Wolfgang Eger. The “Paco Park Presents” classical concert became a tradition and it now presents  chamber, traditional and pop music performed for free by the finest international and local solo artists, duets and small ensembles at an improvised outdoor stage. Truly a unique way of bringing classical music, via intimate, open-air concerts, to the masses.

Park entrance

I have been to the park a couple of times before as two of my siblings, my elder brother Frank (to the former Rosario “Cherry” Correa on December 17, 1978) and youngest sister Tellie (on December 27, 1982) as well as my good friend and fellow architect, Ed Yambao (to the former Gloria “Glo” Pagsanghan also on the same date as my sister) got married in the park’s St. Pancratius (named after a 14 year old martyr of the 4th century) Chapel. My late parents also renewed their marriage vows there during their silver wedding anniversary on the same day Frank got married.

Historical Research and Markers
Committee plaque
National Historical Shrine plaque

Why do people marry at a place that was once a home for the dead? Haven’t they heard of the often-mentioned warning that marriages made in such a place live but a short life? Couples don’t seem to mind at all even if the receptions are held besides rows of empty, gaping niches.  For me, it must be this recreational garden area’s atmosphere of peace and tranquility.  I featured this cemetery in my first book, “A Philippine Odyssey: A Collection of Featured Travel Articles” (New Day Publishers, 2005) under the heading “Presenting Paco Park.”

The Outer Cemetery

This 4,114.8 sq. m. circular park, one of the oldest landmarks of Manila, is located at Paco District, a nondescript commercial and residential area east of Taft Ave..  Formerly called San Fernando de Dilao, Paco was the Catalan nickname for Francisco and was presumably adapted by the natives to refer to the Franciscan friars who ran the parish.  The park was originally a cemetery built in 1807, through an administrative order, according to the plan of maestro de obras Nicolas Ruiz.  It was completed on April 22, 1822 under the supervision of Don Jose Coll.  The cemetery was, however, already in use two years before its completion to accommodate victims of the cholera epidemic which broke out 3 days after a strong October 1, 1820 typhoon ravaged the city.

Doves by the ticket booth

The epidemic was falsely rumored to have been caused by the poisoning of the Pasig River and the local wells by the foreign merchants, businessmen and scientists then residing in the city.  As a result, persons and property of said foreigners were attacked by violent Filipino mobs affected by this malady.  Casualties were 1 Chinese, 1 Spaniard, 12 French, 1 British captain, 1 American Marine guard, 2 Danes and 12 British and American sailors. Through energetic measures, the epidemic was under control in less than a month. Dominican friars excelled themselves in attending to the sick and, in grateful recognition of their services, 9 of the niches in the cemetery were donated to them by the city of Manila.

The Gomburza Memorial

In 1859, the cemetery was enlarged to 4,540 varas cuadradas (approximately  4,500 square yards) and enclosed with a circular stone wall by Gov.-Gen. Fernando de Norzagaray y Escudero (1856-59). A Chinese builder won the contract to build the circular stone wall of this cemetery for PhP19,700.  The cemetery used to have a chaplain (who lived across the site now occupied by the Paco Fire Station), a sacristan and 8 caretakers.

Gomburza Memorial plaque

At that time, the niches cost PhP20 for three years subject to renewal.  No one was allowed to own the niches in perpetuity.  Niches in the inner wall were reserved as exclusive burial places for prominent Spaniards.  Norzagaray’s successor, acting Gov.-Gen. Ramon Solano y Llanderal (1859-60), was buried in a now unknown site inside the mortuary chapel.

Jose Rizal Grave Site

The cemetery was the burial site of Frs. Mariano GomezJose Burgos and Jacinto Zamora, the triumvirate of Filipino priests unjustly implicated in the January 20-22, 1872 Cavite Mutiny.  They were executed by garrote (a strangulation machine) at sunrise of February 17 at the Luneta (now Rizal Park) in Bagumbayan.  All three were buried in an unmarked grave near the outer wall but the site has not been located up to now.  Instead, a memorial was installed on February 17, 1898.

Grave Site plaque

After the execution of our National Hero, Dr. Jose Rizal, also in the Luneta at dawn of December 30, 1896, the Spanish authorities, fearful of public unrest (and of his followers removing his remains and establishing a cult), secretly buried him also near the outer wall.  Rizal’s sisters fanned out in search of his remains and found them at the cemetery.  The mismarked tombstone, with the initials R.P.J., was said to have been the result of the sisters’ bribing a guardia civil veterana (who guarded the spot for 15 days) to mark the spot. Rizal’s remains were exhumed on August 17, 1898, placed in an urn made by Teodoro Romualdo de Jesus and deposited at the house of Rizal’s mother at Estraude St. in Binondo.

Elaborate niche of Margarita Miguel
de Cobarrubias (September 1, 1907)

The last burials here were in 1912 (the same year Rizal was finally laid to his rest at its present monument in Rizal Park) and the cemetery fell into disrepair, its empty, semicircular niches hollow reminders for the purpose they once served. During World War II, the park, with its thick adobe walls, was used by Japanese forces as a central supply and ammunition depot.  They dug several trenches and constructed pillboxes with 75 mm. guns. In 1948, proposals were made to convert the cemetery into a park.  Unclaimed remains were transferred to the Manila South Cemetery’s paupers’ lot. Through the guidance of Doroy Valencia, its beautification and restoration was done by renowned landscape architect Ildefonso “IP” Santos.  In 1966, it was made into a national park.

The more common semicircular niche
(Timoteo  de los Angeles, June 3, 1910, 53 years old)

The park has two concentric walls, along which are rows of niches hollowed out of aging adobe for the bones of the dead and separated by a 14.5 m. wide walkway.   The wall niches used to be 5 tiers high but only 3 tiers are visible today as its floor was raised due to flooding in some parts.  Before, Paco district was a reclaimed swampland with non-existent drainage (sewers were only installed during the early 20th century).  The cemetery then was a muddy catch basin for rainwater.  I.P Santos elevated the middle portion of the park so that the water flowed outwards.   He was sharply criticized for this.

Gate leading to the ossuary

Strolling around the outer wall, you will espy the original Rizal grave (with its white cross with the initials R.P.J.) as well as the Gomburza memorial.  At the back of the St. Pancratius Chapel is an arch with a wrought iron gate leading to the Ossorio (ossuary), an enclosed burial site for infants and babies. Flights of steps on either side of the gate lead to an interconnecting upper promenade.  There are 2 other ossorios beside it, all with walls decorated with intricate stone carvings of festoons and angels.  In spite of their otherworldly air, these places seem to be favorite tambayans (hangouts) of students.

Flight of stairs leading to upper promenade

The inner cemetery can be entered via an elaborate main stone-columned archway whose triangular pediment has a sign with the Latin inscription “Beatimortui qui in Domino Moriuntur – John in 14:13 Apoc.” (“Blessed are those who die in the Lord”).  Inside the inner courtyard, one is greeted by a romantic setting of a 3-tiered circular fountain, the small oval, domed St. Pancratius Chapel, 8 century-old, widespreading acacia trees (Samarea saman), wondrously gnarled white kalachuchi trees and pocket gardens with park benches.

Entrance to Inner Cemetery

The inner courtyard’s focal point is the St. Pancratius Chapel, now under the care of the Vincentian Fathers (who manage the nearby Adamson University). Formerly a mausoleum for Spanish elite during the first half of the 19th century, this chapel, done in the Classical style, has a stone dome, stone walls dressed in velvety growths of lichen, moss and creepers, triangular pediment from which hangs a bell and a cross.

Inner Cemetery

On each side of the main entrance, I counted 31 bays with 9 niches per bay.   My estimate is there were once 2,790 niches within the inner courtyard alone of which only 1,674 are exposed.  Fourteen of these still have their burial plaques dating from 1898 to 1913 (?).   On both flanks of chapel are two side entrances leading to the outer wall and two beautiful stairs leading to an interconnected 2-m. wide (the width is dictated by the length of the burial niche underneath) upper open terrace with stone balustrades.

St. Pancratius Chapel

Filipino eskrima (stick martial arts called arnis in the West) practitioners also hone their traditional fighting skills within the park and the Arnis Combat Kiathson System Philippines (they offer eskrima lessons) is based here.

The 3-tiered circular fountain

Paco Park: Gen. Luna St. (at the east end of Padre Faura St.), Paco District, Manila.  Open daily (except Wednesdays), 8 AM-5 PM.  Admission: PhP5. The “Concert at the Park” is held every Friday, at sunset. Schedule of masses at St. Pancratius Chapel (Sundays & holidays): 10 AM, 11 AM, 5 PM & 6 PM, also 9 AM every 12th day of the month).  Wedding arrangements at St. Vincent de Paul Parish Office, 959 San Marcelino St., Ermita, Manila.  Tel: 527-7853 7 524-2022 local 101.

How to Get There:  Take a jeepney along Taft Ave. and alight at Escoda St..  From there, you can walk towards the park.

A Historical Tour of Clark (Pampanga)

After watching the early morning flight of Clark’s famous hot air balloons, Jandy and I returned to our Toyota Revo and made our way out of Clark as we still wanted to explore nearby Angeles City.  Along the way we made brief stopovers at some of Clark’s historical sights.  Our first stopover was at the old parade grounds.

Fort Stotsenberg Gate Posts

The Fort Stotsenberg Gate Posts once stood at the Dau Gate, the first gateway to Fort Stotsenberg , from the early 1900s until the Japanese Occupation in 1942 when they were removed and buried as landfill.  Unearthed intact in 1965,  these posts were moved to the American Legion Post (near the Personnel Office and not far from the Clark Gym) and finally relocated to the south side of the entrance of the parade grounds in 1984.

Clark Museum

Near the old parade grounds, on the original site of the 217-bed base hospital (dating to September 1903) and the Base Commander’s office, is the Clark Museum, also called the Kapampangan Museum.  Inaugurated on July 5, 1997, it  It showcases Clark’s rich history and transformation, from the time it was used as a U.S. military base in 1902 up to its present development as a Special Economic Zone.  

Military uniforms
Paintings by local artists
Topographical model of Clark Field

A large mural depicting the vision of Clark Development Corporation (CDC) and five dioramas portraying the transformation of Clark into its present state are among the exhibits at the museum. Also on display are photos, models of U.S. aircraft, Philippine currency during the Japanese Occupation, weapons, uniforms, a Mt. Pinatubo exhibit and the Jack and Ariella Nasser Art Collection of more than 100 paintings done by well-known Filipino painters.  

Old Spanish-era cannon

In front of the museum is a Spanish-era cannon and a Japanese World War II anti-aircraft gun.   The old cannon, its barrel cast in Peru in 1778, was formerly mounted in the Spanish warship Seville.  The cannon was uncovered in 1954 during excavations in Sapang Bato in Angeles City.

Death March Marker

At the entrance of the Clark Veterans Cemetery, along the main entrance road, just past the main gate, is the Death March Marker.  This memorial marker was erected by the Manila BPO Elks lodge in honor of fellow Elks, American and Filipino POWs, who passed this spot during the infamous Bataan Death March in 1942.

Clark Veterans Cemetery

Just inside the Main Gate, along the Mitchell Highway, is the 20.365-acre, 12,000 plot Calrk Veterans Cemetery, formed between 1947 and 1950 to house 7,559 military and civilian remains.  There are headstones/markers and remains from at least 4 other U.S. military cemeteries (Fort Stotsenberg 1 and 2, Fort McKinley and Sangley Point Naval Cemetery).  These include 2,030 fallen American soldiers, including at least 638 Philippine Scouts (PS) from the pre-World War II era.  Some, but not all, were veterans of the Spanish-American war and the Philippine-American War.

Graves of the unknown dead

Others are graves of U.S. veterans from the U.S. Army, U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps, U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Air Force who died after World War II (all World War II dead were moved to the American Cemetery in Manila) and during the Korean and Vietnam War.  The largest category interred is civilian, mostly U.S. and Filipino, all of whom worked for the U.S. government, and their dependents.  In addition, nationals from France, Spain, Canada, Japan, China, Vietnam and India are also buried there.  A little over 1,600 remains are still unidentified.  The cemetery is also the only place in the former U.S. 13th Air Force base where the U.S. flag flutters alongside the Philippine flag.  

Salakot Arch

Finally, at the main gate entrance to the Clark Freeport Zone, at Bayanihan Park, is the Salakot Arch, a cavernous welcome landmark fashioned after a farmer’s hat built in 1979.  It stands as a sign of Philippine-American friendship over the years and was originally built to symbolize the historical March 14, 1947 signing of the RP-US Military Bases Agreement.  Beyond the arch is Angeles City.

Clark Museum: Bldg. 2096, Clark Special Economic Zone, Pampanga.  Open Mondays-Fridays, 8 AM to 5 PM.  Special arrangement during weekends.  Admission: PhP30 per person.  Admission is free for tour guides, teachers and children below 3 years of age.  Advanced booking is required for groups numbering more than 30 people. Director: Ms. Ceffie Yepez. Tel: (045) 599-3221.