Old cemeteries in the Philippines as repositories of heritage and rituals related to the afterlife.
The idea of burying one’s dead and the attendant rites and rituals are not new to pre-hispanic Filipinos. There were already burial practices in place before the coming of the Spaniards with the remains usually located in caves or cliffs. While some are buried on the ground. When Catholicism was introduced, the natives accepted the system which was now done in one place, the cemetery.
The camposanto or cemetery was, of course, a given in the simbahan or church complex. In the early part of the Spanish colonial era, these were located in the churchyard. It was only in the year 1787, that King Charles VI of Spain, for reasons of hygiene, decreed that these should now be located a good distance from the church.
Old cemeteries in the Philippines
The colonial camposanto usually have a perimeter fence to protect the graves from defilement by animals. An arch or in some cases, a gate that marks the entrance. There would be a cross to mark at the center too. Nichos or niches for the affluent and the dug, cold and damp earth for the rest. For those towns that can afford it, a funerary chapel in place of a cross at the center or at the back. These old cemeteries in the Philippines are also where one can go to the best cemetery architecture.
Old cemeteries in the Philippines are one of the most endangered and often neglected heritage structures in the country today. This is unlike the simbahan where there are restoration and preservation programs are in place. Except maybe for that in San Joaquin, Iloilo, the rest are in a bad and disorganized state.
Many are crumbling, with usually the funerary chapel missing or was demolished. If the walls are still existing, these are usually in ruins or what remains are the thick foundations of the archway. In many areas that I’ve visited, not a single trace of the camposanto is left.
These are also significant structures that needs to be preserved as these are important part of our heritage and culture.