The Underground Cemetery in Nagcarlan, Laguna

This national historical landmark, constructed in 1845, is hard to miss when passing through the national highway in the town of Nagcarlan, province of Laguna. The airy and spacious plaza is impressive. The brick wall and fence are picture-perfect. But I wouldn’t want to be stuck here at night. This is a cemetery. An old cemetery, yes, but a cemetery nonetheless.

There’s a reason why tons of horror movies have scenes in cemeteries, in chapels or churches. That, however, never entered our minds on the trip to the Underground Cemetery. It was just another tourist destination, a scheduled stop along the “Laguna Loop“.

The “scary” thought never occurred as we walked the long paved pathway from the entrance arch to the chapel, with perfectly-cut green grass on both sides. That thought didn’t occur to us even when we stepped into the chapel, knowing that the chapel “served as the last station of the funeral rites before entombment. The priest gave his last blessing here.” There would probably be some form of blessings at the nearby Nagcarlan Church (St. Bartholomew the Apostle Church).

Nagcarlan is a town relatively deep in Laguna. It’s not really down deep, like the town of Lucban (visit Lucban for the Pahiyas in May 15) or the Caliraya Lake (a man-made lake with resorts), but it’s not exactly near along the major highway, the South Luzon Express (SLE).

You wouldn’t mind that Nagcarlan is near Mt. Banahaw, where not-of-this-world presence dwells, they say. No, you wouldn’t think about any of those scary stuff. The place is clean and maintained. Amazing. It was used as a secret meeting place of the revolutionary leaders during the fight against Spain. The chapel had been restored, including wood remnants of the ceiling.

Really, there’s nothing to be scared of, even as your group descends to the crypt below the chapel. No flash photography; a few warm yellow lights illuminate the crypt. Slivers of sunlight force their way through cracks.

You’d think the place is awash with light by looking at the photos, but that’s only because the camera automatically grabs whatever light there is to compensate. It’s not pitch-dark. It’s not well-lit either. Perhaps you can read the name of the people entombed here if you squint your eyes enough.

Ahem, I never had the opportunity to squint my eyes. It’s not that I don’t want to, but, ahem, just didn’t get the chance.

I was ahead of the group when we descended to the crypt. They followed down all the way to the crypt. Everything was normal. I was happily taking photos. When I looked up, I was already alone. They climbed back to the chapel without a word. If they said they’d go up I didn’t hear it.

At that point the placed ceased to be a mere historical site. It wasn’t simply a good photo subject. The dark confined crypt and the chapel above became real. For the first time, whether on the way to or while at the venue, the hairs at the back of my head started to rise.

We went to the Underground Cemetery thinking that it’s just a historical site. It’s probably the same feeling you get when you think of Corregidor during the Araw ng Kagitingan. Reading about the Underground Cemetery, or Corregidor for that matter, gives you facts. It may convey emotion to a certain degree, but not the same experience, for instance, when you touch the destroyed mortars or the ruins in Corregidor. It’s not the same emotion you feel in the Underground Cemetery — alone in the crypt. You feel, amongst others, that history is not a boring subject.

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