At this particular time when we remember and “celebrate” all things morbid and frightening, this roamer has been fortunate for the opportunity to get to visit the metropolis’ oldest cemetery in existence: the La Loma Cemetery.
Long before the overcrowding of Metro Manila, the area where the cemetery now stands used to be what is considered the hinterlands as urban life back then was only concentrated in Intramuros. The place also bore a hilly terrain, thus the place’s name “La Loma” or “the hills.” Because of its topography and location, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Manila found it a a perfect spot to put up their cemetery which they opened sometime in the 1800’s.
Given the limited burial choices available that time, not to mention the influence Roman Catholicism had in Philippine society in those days, La Loma Cemetery was THE “in” spot to be buried. If you want a decent burial but you’re not a Catholic and/or oppose Spanish rule and the frailocracy, tough luck. Chances are, your remains might end up in the much smaller, municipal-run (which at the time somehow connotes second-class type) Paco Cemetery. Being the most prominent burial place of the period, it is not surprising to see mausoleums grand and simple that belong to prominent families and personalities, especially those who lived in the late 19th-early 20th centuries: the Ortigases, the Gonzalez-Mondragons, Cayetano Arellano, Josefa Llanes Escoda (who was buried in an unmarked grave unfortunately) to name a few.
Eventually, significant portions of La Loma Cemetery had to be carved out to put up what is now the Manila Chinese Cemetery for the non-Christianized Chinese and the Manila North Cemetery put up by the then-newly established American colonial government. While the cemetery itself has been lucky to have been spared from the destruction brought onto Manila by World War II, a number of graves and mausoleums have been left in deteriorating conditions, which is sad considering the beautiful architecture that was employed in creating these resting places.
But with all the burial spots found all over La Loma Cemetery, it is ironic that what is considered the cemetery’s the most famous and the most eerie landmark is not a burial spot. It is this building, which for one time used to be the chapel dedicated to St. Pancratius. (Pancras as he is known in England) If one personally gets to visit this landmark, you might feel a bit eerie as I felt that time. Maybe it’s because of the fact that a church of this size can be found a cemetery, or maybe I have watched too many shows and films that were actually shot in or near this building.
Built sometime in the 19th century, perhaps a bit younger than La Loma Cemetery itself, the old chapel served its purpose as a place of worship for a long while before it was decommissioned with a newer St. Pancratius church which is located just near the entrance to La Loma Cemetery, which while less ghoulish-looking, is not as architecturally interesting St. Pancratius church 1.0.
While it no longer serves as a place of worship, I was surprised to learn that this building is still being used from time to time as a cursillo house where one can hold retreats here. Nothing like being tested on your faith in the midst of all the creepiness and fear of ghosts roaming somewhere nearby.
As people troop to cemeteries on this occasion, let us also take this as an opportunity for us to look at cemeteries in a different light, not just morbid, scary places but places that serve as landmarks of an evolving heritage that needs proper attention and preservation for future generations to learn and appreciate more than be frightened by the sight.
P.S. You may be wondering of any connection between the cemetery and the area in Quezon City which is known for its lechon. (we will be roaming there soon, FYI) Actually La Loma’s old jurisdiction extended to the area of what is now Manila North and Chinese Cemeteries into the present La Loma, QC area. All of La Loma was part of Caloocan before Quezon City was created and eventually carved out part of La Loma from Caloocan, leaving the latter with its present jurisdiction which included the cemetery.
© The Urban Roamer