10 unique cemeteries in the Philippines

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Some cemeteries can be the most fascinating displays of sentimentality, art, architecture, tradition, and religion. In photo: Sunken Cemetery of Camiguin Island, which has a large cross in the middle of the water that marks the site of a sunken cemetery. Photo by SHUBERT CIENCIA/CC-BY-2.0

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — The very end of October and the very beginning of November usually come with their own sets of traditions and superstitions for Filipinos.

While it’s not very common to indulge in quintessential Halloween activities like carving pumpkins and apple bobbing, there are costume parties, trick-or-treating, horror movie marathons, and highly anticipated re-runs of “Magandang Gabi, Bayan” Halloween specials. On All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day, we drive out to cemeteries to honor our departed loved ones, leave flowers and burning candles at their graves, and remember.

What’s not typical, however, is visiting cemeteries for the sake of the cemeteries themselves. Which is quite a shame, because they can be some of the most fascinating displays of sentimentality, art, architecture, tradition, and religion; a coming together of cultures that has stood the test of time.

Forget haunted houses and escape rooms. Here are some one-of-a-kind, historically rich cemeteries that are equally beautiful and creepy.

Sunken Cemetery of Camiguin Island

The town of Catarman in Camiguin harbors a story as tragic as that of Pompeii, and all that remains of it are the ruins of a church, a convent, a bell tower, and a large cross in the middle of the water, which marks the site of a sunken cemetery. Driven underwater when the now-inactive Mt. Vulcan Daan erupted in 1871, gravestones were still visible during low tide in the middle of the 20th century, but further volcanic activity sank them for good. In 1982, the cross was built as a tribute to the deceased, and the sunken cemetery now serves as a popular diving site, home to beautiful corals.

 

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Manila Chinese Cemetery

The second oldest cemetery in the country, the Manila Chinese Cemetery looks eerily lost in time. It was conceptualized by Don Carlos Palanca during the Spanish colonial period as a resting place for Chinese citizens whose burials were denied in Catholic cemeteries. It eventually became the site of numerous executions in World War II. It is also home to the Chong Hock Tong Temple, which was built in the 1850s and is the oldest Chinese temple in Manila. Not only is the cemetery notable for its role in history, the mausoleums are also built in the style of Fujian, Singaporean, and Malaysian architecture.

 

The hanging coffins of Sagada Photo by ALDRIN J. GARCES CC-BY-SA-3.0.JPG Photo by ALDRIN J. GARCES/CC-BY-SA-3.0

The hanging coffins of Sagada

A tradition of the Igorots for over 2,000 years, hanging coffins are carved out of tree trunks, and the deceased are eased into them in fetal positions, which are believed to bring them peace. The coffins are then suspended from limestone cliffs using rope and wire — the height symbolizes both the ascent to heaven and the affection of the living for the dead. The higher the placement of the coffin, therefore, the greater the love for its inhabitant. It is also believed that the burial will bring good fortune upon the remaining family members.

 

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Familia Luzuriaga Cemetery

A world-record holder for the distinction of being the only cemetery in the world located at the intersection of two highways in Bacolod City, the privately owned Familia Luzuriaga Cemetery has become known to locals as “Bangga Patyo,” or Cemetery Corner. It is located where Lopez Jaena Street meets Burgos Street, and is locked year-round and closed to the public. The site on which the Bacolod City Hall now exists used to belong to the Ruiz de Luzuriaga family, and when they relinquished it to the city government, their only condition was for the cemetery to remain where it stands — a request that is honored to this day.

 

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Malabon Cemetery

The Malabon Cemetery is quite average and unremarkable except for a truly macabre gravestone, a life-size sculpture depicting the battle between the devil and Archangel Michael —  only this time, the devil has won, standing over the angel with a fork pointed in the latter’s face. The statue was created to honor the dying wishes of Simeon Bernardo, who died of a heart attack in 1934. Imprisoned in Fort Santiago and brutally tortured by Spanish colonizers, he came to believe that the world has succumbed to darkness and that God no longer exists, or never did in the first place. Now caged to prevent theft and vandalism, the sculpture continues to stand as a symbol of this dark belief.

 

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Paco Park Cemetery

Opened in 1822 and built by the Dominicans, the Paco Park and Cemetery was once the resting place of members of high Spanish society. The niches were built into a circular wall, surrounding a domed chapel at the very center. The park and cemetery played quite a part in Philippine history when it became the site of unmarked graves for not one but four heroes — with one of them being the national hero. The martyred priests Mariano Gómez, José Burgos, and Jacinto Zamora (also known as Gomburza) and Dr. Jose Rizal were buried on its grounds after their respective executions; Rizal’s body was found, returned to his family, and eventually enshrined in Luneta. The park is now a popular choice for weddings and wedding receptions, with most of the bodies in the niches exhumed.

 

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Badjao cemetery

On the pink-tinted sandy shores of Sta. Cruz Island in Zamboanga City, a small cemetery is tucked away with wooden grave markers that take on the appearance of boats, occupied by human effigies with delightful smiles carved onto their faces. The graves are long-held traditions of the seafaring Badjao tribe and are meant to continue the connections of the dead to the sea. Effigies with cloths wound around their heads represent high-ranking individuals, and when their families visit and honor them every August, they leave food and their favorite possessions as offerings.

 

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Nagcarlan Underground Cemetery

Located 15 feet below a church that was built in 1845 for funeral mass by Franciscan Fr. Vicente Velloc, the Nagcarlan Underground Cemetery will give you the shivers — not because of the bodies entombed within, but because it was a secret meeting place where legendary Filipino heroes, from the revolutionaries of the KKK to patriots of the Filipino-American war, would formulate battle plans. It’s also the only underground cemetery in the country, and was declared a National Historical Landmark in 1981. 

 

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PAWS Pet Memorial

Anyone who’s ever had a pet knows that they’re as much a part of a family as anyone, and for our dearly departed four-legged pals, the Philippine Animal Welfare Society has set up a Memorial Wall at their Animal Rehabilitation Center (PARC) in Loyola Heights, Quezon City. Made up of wall tiles, the memorial is a fundraiser project for the shelter and allows pet owners to grieve and remember their beloved pets through pictures and four-line dedications, good for five years with the option for renewal. The shelter also offers burial services in a mass grave.

 

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The Cemetery of Negativism

Technicolor cartoon animals and hilarious pun-filled epitaphs definitely make the Cemetery of Negativism at Camp John Hay in Baguio stand out — not to mention the lack of actual bodies buried six feet under. It’s a place for negative thoughts and feelings to “die” and go away, its message being “Be More Positive.” There’s "Why Dident I?," for example, who was born “?????” and reportedly died for no reason after a long life lived wondering why, or “Itz Not Possible,” who was conceived on Nov. 11, 1905 and is apparently still unborn. A walk in this so-called lost cemetery breathing in the fresh air and good vibes might be exactly what we need in these particularly stressful times.