In the northernmost district of Sta.Cruz, on the city boundary with Caloocan, sits Manila’s oldest Catholic cemetery, the La Loma Catholic Cemetery or Campo Santo de La Loma. It opened in 1884 and was known as Cementerio de Binondo back then where it was exclusively used as burial ground for Catholics during the Spanish colonial period. It was also an important battleground during the Philippine-American war and served as execution site by the Japanese during World War II.
Today, the cemetery is one of the most beautiful and oldest in the country. It houses some great mausoleums, old tombs and structures.
It is currently owned and managed by the City Government of Manila, and a resting ground to some of the country’s prominent personalities and heroes including Chief Justices Cayetano Arellano and Victorino Mapa, and Girl Scout of the Philippines founder Josefa Llanes Escoda.
The Old Chapel
Amid Manila’s oldest cemetery is is a century old beautiful Chapel dedicated to St. Pancratius, an old structure that survived wars, typhoons, earthquakes and other calamities, and one that stood the test of time.
It served as the funerary chapel of the cemetery since its opening in 1884 up to 1962 when the church services were transferred to the newly built St. Pancratius Church near the cemetery’s entrance; used as a fort by Filipino fighters during the Philippine-American War of 1899 to 1902; became a cursillo retreat house in the 70’s to 90’s; currently padlocked, abandoned and referred as “Lumang Simbahan“.
Its architecture can be considered as a pseudo-baroque with its elaborate facade characterized by detailed carvings of various figures and ornaments. The walls are made of stone blocks, its roof has a big dome and a cross, and the sides are supported by buttresses with windows in between. It is elevated and has plights of stairways on its front and rear sides. Both the front and rear stairways have two stone markers on each side with the texts “Evangelio”, a Spanish term for gospel, and “Epistula”, a Spanish term for letters.
The metal gate has curly grills and is guarded by two white-painted lion statues, while on the sides of the facade are another statues of two saints. Above the gate are ornamental carvings with the year “1884” carved on it and a circular marker with the classic Latin text “Beati mortui qui in domino moriuntur”, which means “Blessed are the dead who die in the grace of Lord”.
Around 100 meters from the facade of the old chapel are two stone columns, which used to be the original stone columns of the iron grill main gate of the cemetery. An old image of how the main gate and the church looked like in 1899 can be seen here.
A peek inside from the open window reveals an empty hall, with well maintained glass window, chandeliers hanging on the ceiling and some debris on the floor. The room on the back seems a warehouse with the pile of old of beds, a clue that it was used as cursillo retreat house. No one in the cemetery really knows who owns the structure, some say that the Archdiocese of Caloocan who administer the St. Pancratius Church, while others say that it is owned by both the La Loma Cemetery and the City of Manila.
Surprisingly, for these old and beautiful heritage, not even a historical marker is there to remind everyone on its role and contribution to our history. But for those who knows them by heart, The Old Chapel of St. Pancratius and the entire La Loma Cemetery are two icons of the city that will forever be inscribed in the unwritten testaments of their importance.
This is my contribution for October 2011 Pinoy Travel Bloggers’ Carnival as compiled by Gael Hilotin of The Pinay Solo Backpacker.
*First published: 03-May-2011