I write this weeks before All Souls Day, which is November 2 in the Catholic Calendar. In fact, All Saints Day is November 1, but it is always the day Filipinos remember their departed loved ones. This can be attributed to the Filipino psyche of honoring the dead who are now considered to be with the saints and angels in God’s heavenly kingdom, or as Christian belief would have it. Now, why do I write about this? Maybe it is the rainy and gloomy weather outside, with me cooped up in my room and thinking of what to do in the coming months before December.. Then, of course I thought of November’s highlight , which is All Saints Day.
Manila’s old cemeteries were sacred ground — resting places of the dead. In precolonial Manila, burial sites were hallowed places. The old site of Lamayan in Manila’s district of Santa Ana, was a precolonial grave site. The exact site is where the Church of Santa Ana now stands, a hill that overlooks the Pasig River. In 1964, archaeologist Robert Fox and his team unearthed a grave site within the premises of the church. These included human and dog skeletons and jars, the artifacts of which are now with the National Museum of the Philippines. But all burial sites were before little hills or tumuli (singular tumulus), until Christian practice dictated that the dead be laid in a designated plot, usually near the church, which was the most sacred place in any town. In Spanish colonial Philippines, privileged citizens were placed near the altar or in crypts and niches inside the church structure. This was during the Spanish colonial period when Christianity dictated that all Christians bury the dead in designated Catholic grounds. Raja Matanda, who was king of Tondo and who converted to the Catholic faith, was given a special niche at the altar of the Church of Manila, now the Manila Cathedral. In fact, one of those who carried his coffin to the church was the conquistdor Miguel Lopez de Legaspi.
But, what about non-Christians? The local Chinese in Spanish colonial Manila lived in a ghetto or enclave known as the Parian. Before it was located inside Intramuros, within the confines of the walled city, but because the Chinese were considered a threat to the Spaniards in Intramuros, they were moved outside the city walls, across the moat, just far enough to be within the sight of Manila’s cannons, but near enough so that Manilans could easily avail of the services and goods in the Parian. The Parian was located on the site across where Letran College is now, on the site where the Metropolitan Theater now stands. Inside this Parian were shops which sold a host of sundry goods, from fruits, textiles, furnishings, and beds, to singing birds and plants. Inside the Parian was the Iglesia de los Santos Reyes, or Church of the Holy Kings, which was a center of evangelization and conversion of the Chinese. Interestingly, it was here where Mother Ignacia del Espiritu Santo was baptized. Beside the church was a cemetery. It would not be strange if future excavations in this site and nearby Arroceros Street would yield remains and relics of dead people. Later on, the Parian was closed down and the Chinese were scattered all over Manila. This was in the eighteenth century after the British Occupation of Manila when the Chinese were accused of siding with the British, and thus, were expelled from the colony. During the middle of the nineteenth century, the French writer Jean Mallat wrote that the dead Chinese had their own special burial site in Barrio Bangkusay in Tondo. The late nineteenth century saw the powerful Gremio de Chinos of Binondo opening a cemetery especially for the Chinese. This was located in the sitio of Paang Bundok in La Loma, literally meaning “The Hill.” Archival documents indicate that the Chinese also practised cremation during this period, when the Catholics frowned upon this practise of burning the dead. The cemetery had a pretty chapel known as the Chong Hock Tong Temple. In the 19th century it had the lineaments of a Catholic Christian chapel, but its recent restoration gave the chapel a more distinct Chinese character. This is more popularly known now as the Chinese Cemetery.
The Chinese Cemetery Chapel in La Loma
Protestants also had a cemetery plot for themselves. This was at the Protestant Cemetery in a portion of South Cemetery in Makati. Jews on the other hand, had a similar plot for their dead located in a portion of North Cemetery in Manila.
Catholic cemeteries originally were located beside the parochial churches. Binondo’s cemetery was located at the church yard or atrium. In the early 19th century when a cholera epidemic decimated a large population of Binondo, there was no other recourse but to bury the dead all around the church, with many of them in the church atrium. Until now, granite tombstones or lapidas can be seen in front of Binondo Church and Santa Cruz Church in Manila. In the early 19th century, the city authorities in Manila thought of decongesting the church cemeteries, to keep the healthy population in the poblacion or town center safe from diseases. Thus, the City of Manila thought of coming up with a circular cemetery in the village of Dilao or Paco, located outside the city of Manila and away from the healthy populace. However, a cholera epidemic broke out in 1820, causing a large mortality rate. The city authorities had to use the Cementerio General de Dilao before it could be fully completed. The cemetery was circular in plan with a cemetery chapel. Another circular cemetery was the one in Malate, at the back of the Malate church. The cemetery was closed down and eventually demolished and cleared. It is now the Remedios Circle.
The Cementerio General de Dilao or Paco Cemetery
Tondo’s cemetery was before near the church but was later located in different areas of the town — in barrio Tutuban, and in barrio Lecheros. Santa Cruz’s old cemetery was located before in the barrio of Pasaderos, approximately where the welcome arch to Ongpin is located. Later, with the Spanish colonial order to remove all internments fo the dead away from the church, Santa Cruz established a new cemetery in the area near Tayuman, which is now occupied by the Espiritu Santo Church. In Pandacan, colonial maps show that there were two cemetery sites, one was located near the shore of the Pasig River, and the other one was located near Beata Street. Sampaloc’s cemetery was located just beside the church, but later on at a place far from the living populace of the town, on the hill at the end of Balic-Balic road, where the Church of the Most Holy Trinity now stands. One tradition regarding the etymology of the name Balic-Balic has it that the funeral march performed for the dead had mourners dancing and keeping up with a forward march followed by a few backward (balik balik) steps before proceeding again to a forward marching cadence, then having a few backward steps again, until the dead was brought by the funeral entourage to the cemetery on the hill,
Photograph of 19th century Sampaloc
in the 1880s, when all the Catholic cemeteries were saturated with corpses because of the cholera epidemic during the period, the Superior Government of the colony issued a decree that all should stop from using the church cemeteries. The circular cemetery of Dilao was also filled with the dead, with its cemetery chapel lined up with bodies waiting to be buried or interred. The chaplain of Paco Cemetery had no recourse but to complain tot he authorities that the sepultureros or grave diggers were already working day and night just to bury the dead, and the supply of lime to cover up the dead was already dwindling. The government noting the complaints of cemeteries, opened a new cemetery plot at the sitio of Paang Bundok. It was the Cementerio General de La Loma. Paang Bundok was then far away from the populace in what was then hinterland, until urbanization crept up and made it a part of the urban jungle today. Even Jose Rizal, when he wrote about dying, said that he would rather have an anonymous grave in Paang Bundok.
Gate to the Cemetery Chapel of the Cementerio General de La Loma
Cementerio General de La Loma (Source: Wikipedia)
The Superior Government of Spanish colonial Philippines issued circulars for the maintenance and upkeep of cemeteries. One of the prescriptions was the cultivation of sweet-smelling or pungent plants in the cemetery to diffuse or cover up the stench of death. It was the calachuchi tree which became the favorite to be cultivated in cemetery sites. We once visited a church in the province, and we were talking to the parish priest who commented that there were these old calachuchi trees at the back of the convent, which during our visit was being maintained as a big garden. We told the parish priest that this garden must have been the old church cemetery. He was surprised to hear that, acknowledging that this was something new to him. He dd his research, and found out from old locals that, indeed, the convent garden was the old cemetery of the town!
Kalachuchi Flower and Leaf (Source:stuartxchange.org)