Along the stretch of road between San Pablo and Liliw, Laguna is a curious architectural attraction. Here lies the Nagcarlan Underground Cemetery and Chapel, the only one of its kind in the country.
Built in 1845 by Franciscan priest Vicente Velloc, the underground cemetery was originally designed as the final resting place of Spanish friars and rich Catholic families in Nagcarlan. The octagonal burial site occupies a hectare of land at the foot of Mt. Cristobal (which itself has such a reputation for being the site of paranormal occurences that it's been nicknamed Devil's Mountain).
Before you reach the underground cemetery, however, you will be welcomed by a red-bricked, Baroque-style arch standing 18 feet tall. On its right side hangs the marker of the National Historical Institute. The plaque states that the Nagcarlan Underground Cemetery and Chapel has been declared a national historical landmark first in 1973 and again in 1978.
The walls of the octagonal perimeter are lined with over 200 niches where commoners were buried. Crossing the lawn, you would get to the chapel at the far end where burial masses are held. Nowadays, the chapel is only used for special occasions such as the Feast of Christ the King, Lenten masses, and Senakulos. And it is in this chapel where the entrance to the underground cemetery is located.
Going down a flight of stairs decorated with Machuca tiles, the underground cemetery is said to be around 15 feet deep. The cemetery itself is not that big, accommodating only 36 tombs, the oldest of which dates back to 1886 and the newest, 1982. The church doesn’t accept new tenants for the underground cemetery now, having reached its full capacity.
It is humid inside the chamber and remnants of paintings are visible on the ceiling. Though photography is discouraged inside the cemetery, made known only by unnoticeable warning in a bond paper, tourists can’t help documenting the historic site. Tour guides recommend that at the very least, flash photography should not be used.
Aside from being an interesting feat of architecture in itself, the underground cemetery is made more fascinating with its history. Back in 1896, the place was used as a meeting spot by the Katipuneros. Ironically, it was also where the famous balimbing Pedro Paterno met with Gen. Severino Taino to plan the Pact of Biak-na-Bato in 1897.
The underground cemetery’s usefulness did not stop there. Leaders of the Philippine Revolution during the American period also used it as a secret meeting place to hide from their opponents. During World War II, guerillas also used the cemetery as their hideout.
Like any old structure, the place was in dire need of restoration. It was closed for a while and it was reopened to the public in 1981 when repairs had been finished. The restoration was widely documented and exhibited in the small museum located beside the chapel.
Entrance to the Nagcarlan Underground Cemetery and Chapel is free but donation is highly encouraged to help maintain the site. The place is open to visitors from Tuesdays to Sundays, from around 8 a.m. to 4 or 5 p.m.