Since the dawn of man, his indomitable will has done marvels that continue to echo to this day. Man has built walls that rival the scale of mountains, has brought forth monoliths that soared through the heavens above, and has conquered the very elements of nature that once seemed so powerful. Man has been pushing boundaries since then and he will continue to break barriers for ages to come.
Eric Masangkay (b.1972), is one of the most promising contemporary artists that has graced the halls of Kape Kesada Art Gallery. He has shown that his style, which he has been honing for the past decade, can stand toe to toe with the likes of seasoned sculptors before him. Kape Kesada Art Gallery’s exhibit entitled, “Pushing Boundaries”, celebrates the human form. It channels the grace, beauty, and intelligent design in the style and material that combines robustness and fluidity of motion.
See you all on Sunday, 2:00 PM at Kape Kesada Art Gallery to meet the man of the hour, Eric Masangkay and his show entitled “Pushing Boundaries”.
Last month’s History Month concluded with a conference on colonial period cemeteries which was held at the Nagcarlán Underground Cemetery. It is unfortunate that it was the only history conference that I was able to attend, but I think that it was still worth it since I was with two like-minded individuals who were highly knowledgeable with Catholic art.
Since I had been to the place numerous times, I was thinking of wowing both Maurice Joseph Almadrones and Rafael Vicho with whatever interesting stuff that I know of the place. But it was the other way around: they astounded me with their vast knowledge of sacred art, architecture, and music that I didn’t even know existed in the said heritage site. Sometimes, history is not just about dates, events, and personalities. It can also be about art and song.
Please welcome this blog’s first guest blogger, my friend Maurice, as he explains to us his survey of the place. Mao’s observations are perhaps the most detailed descriptions one would encounter on the Internet regarding this unique cemetery. Frequent visitors —including the NHCP itself— might be in for a delightful surprise.
All photos on this blogpost also belong to Mao, except for the last one at the bottom which was taken by Rafael.
Without further ado…
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Nagcarlán Underground Cemetery: A Burial Ground Filled With Sacred Art and Song
Maurice Joseph Almadrones
Last August 31, a rainy Saturday, was my first time to explore Nagcarlán. Despite my bouts of sickness, I really needed to give myself some time to relax. While touring the mountain town, my knee was hurting like there’s no tomorrow. But I had no choice but to walk, right?
When I was a boy, we always passed by the underground cemetery whenever we were to go to Liliw, but I never really gave much thought to see it. So I took the chance to explore it when I attended a lecture there by Asst. Prof. Michelle S. Eusebio on “Colonial Period Cemeteries as Filipino Heritage”. Since the conference was part of History Month, it was hosted by the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP).
Here are my observations on the Nagcarlán Underground Cemetery:
1. Besides it being a picturesque place (I’m looking at you, plain tourists), and of course a historical witness to the schemes of the rebellion against Spain, there is much artistic, religious, and socio-cultural value to the place.
a. The cemetery is made from bricks that were most likely produced outside the southern Tagálog region. This testifies to the wealth of the parochial community of the area. Notice that places to the northwest of Banajao have more brick structures compared to the southeast starting from Majayjay to Lucbán and down to Lucena which has more adobe.
b. The cemetery is octagonal (ochavado) in shape. Now, before anyone starts commenting that the octagon “is a testament to our multiculturalism citing Chinese influence” which is also a factor, it is also a Christian symbol of perfection, alluding to the creation and resurrection or “Octava Dies” or “octave” which is actually the full circle of a feast or of creation and life itself. The ancients constructed their baptismal fonts and baptistries in this shape.
c. The mortuary chapel, being preserved compared to many other examples in the region, has an ample seating capacity. Its walls are adorned with azulejos (blue-colored tiles) and baldosas (floor tiles) which were usually imported. Same tiles are seen finishing off the mensa (table) of the stone altar attached to the retablo designed for when Mass was still offered facing God with the people (sorry, Pampanga liturgists). The very same tiles are seen in the nearby parish church.
d. The walls have wooden trims, moldings, and cornices, sometimes mixed in with the masonry trimmings. The ceiling is of a hardwood arched frame with painted panels.
e. The ceiling and the walls were painted in bright colors of orange, gray, cobalt/Prussian blue, yellow, green, and purple, perhaps to contrast the trend of parish churches sporting trompe-l’œil in monochromatic tones. Or maybe to add some color to contrast with the somberness of the rites of the Requiem Masses and Absolutions done in the chapel. The same trompe-l’œil palette is employed to create a faux vaulting in the crypt, also brandished in azulejos.
f. The painted trompe-l’œil false windows inside the chapel have fragments of verses from the Office of the Dead (technically Divine Office / Liturgy of the Hours) for the commemoration of the faithful departed. The fragments are of “Domine, quando veneris judicare terram, ubi me abscondam a vultu irae tuae? Quia peccavi nimis in vita mea” (O Lord, when thou comest to judge the world, where shall I hide myself from the face of thy wrath? For I have sinned exceedingly in my life).
The opposite wall must have contained the next part which reads: “Commissa mea pavesco Et ante te erubesco, Dum veneris judicare, noli me condemnare, Quia peccavi nimis in vita mea” (I dread my sins, I blush before thee: When thou comest to judge, do not condemn me, For I have sinned exceedingly in my life). These were taken by Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina himself for a composition.
g. The retablo quaintly frames a niche made from masonry and painted simply which contains space for the Santo Entierro (Holy Burial) which is still there. The crucifix on top looks as if it is not the original one intended for the retablo. It seems like the retablo also has a missing top to it; perhaps it may have been overestimated so the top was never realized since it was too tall for the ceiling.
The wooden gradas (gradines) or steps on the altar are devoid of any flourish compared to the retablo sporting Corinthian columns. The retablo itself is reminiscent of the neoclassical style in vogue during the 19th century. The floral detail is crowned by a palm (symbol of victory) and roses / passion flowers (symbol of love / the Passion of Our Lord) intertwined. The gradas have lost the original metal candeleros (candlestick holders).
h. The altar of the chapel, as mentioned earlier, is finished off by azulejos on the mensa. It is still perfect for traditional Latin Mass to be offered. However, as inquired from the curators, the chapel has nearly zero chance of being granted such Mass, thus weaning it from its original function as a place of prayer, which is sad for most heritage places outside churches. They just become display pieces.
2. Going down the portal to the right of the chapel is the stairwell to the crypt. The wall above the stairway’s second landing has fragments of a poem. Sadly, it has deteriorated like much of the artwork found throughout the chapel due to natural humidity, rainwater seepage, vandalism, and of course, human body heat and flash photography, exactly the same problems that the Catacombs in Rome is experiencing. Historian Pepe Alas has tediously researched the poem which reads:
Ve espíritu mortal,
lleno de vida
hoy visitaste felizmente este refugio.
Pero después que tu te vayas,
Recuerda que aquí tienes un lugar
de descanso preparado para tí.
Go forth, Mortal man, full of life
Today you visit happily this shelter,
But after you have gone out,
Remember, you have a resting place here,
Prepared for you.)
No trace of the author exists, but we can only theorize that perhaps a local poet or the parish curate himself may have composed it. It is a very consoling thing to read as one accompanies the dead to be buried in a place of eternal peace.
3. The crypt chapel features:
a. A stone retablo and altar which has a mensa finished off in brown baldosa and has a niche for an image, or perhaps a tall crucifix. Gradines are absent, hinting perhaps that the candeleros, a pair usually rested on the mensa itself. Evidently someone bore a hole on the body of the altar, perhaps in search of some “treasure” inside, out of curiosity, or because of the testimonies of locals that a tunnel underneath exists which connects the chapel to the parish church of San Bartolomé which is about a kilometer away.
b. Some prominent Nagcarleños are still buried inside including two priests nearest the altar who died in the early part of the 20th century. The others have markers or lápidas that feature art nouveau and neoclassical designs of the early 20th century. The best lápidas in the embossed style of carving seem to come from the talleres (studios) of Manila.
We have not found any marker from the 19th century. Maybe it’s because up until recently the niches were reusable, or maybe the Katipunan rebellion and the American Occupation as well as grave robbers swept away all vestiges of older markers, including the dead.
c. The walls and the vaulted ceiling are painted in the same palette as the chapel above. Although the plaster and paint are deteriorating slowly. We were able to take a couple of photos before an NHCP caretaker approached us informing us that photography was no longer allowed in the crypt — either for the art’s safety OR perhaps our own. 👻
d. The elevated floor of the crypt altar and the stairs were decked in azulejos.
e. To the right facing the altar is a 3×4 meter space, like another side chapel but with no graves and no evidence of a liturgical function. However, the floor contains a 1×1 meter bare area devoid of azulejos. We suspect that it might be a blocked entrance to an ossuary for the disinterred dead (taken out of their plot or niche after dues were not renewed, or to free space for new bodies), or another structure or chapel might be underneath, or perhaps it is an entrance to the rumored tunnel.
f. To the left of the altar is a seemingly blocked up arched doorway hinted by the color difference of the plaster or palitada, and in older photographs, mildew take the shape of the arch. This might be an entrance to another chapel or perhaps the rumored tunnel leading to the parish church. Mr. Alas related that he got the testimony of one of the parish church’s caretakers who allegedly found a way to the tunnel starting from behind the altar but did not pursue finishing the length because it was too dark.
g. The stairwell is lighted and ventilated by one big window, the crypt by two small ones (the putrefying dead needed air too to help speed up decay).
4. The circumferential wall of the cemetery is unique for being a mostly decorative wall with grilled windows compared to other colonial cemeteries where walls double as niches. The windows allow fresh mountain air from Banajao to pass through to the grounds. The wall has detail on top all around akin to stone lacework or the parapets/roof detailing of Buddhist pagodas. There’s your oriental connection.
The outside niches and the chapel were featured in the 1976 film “Ganito Kami Noon, Paano Kayo Ngayon?” where the opening scene shows the burial of Nicolás ‘Kulas’ Ocampo’s (played by Christopher De León) mother complete with funeral procession flowing out of the chapel, and the parish priest in black stole, cope, and a biretta for the internment at a niche to the left of the chapel (Kulas’ mother must have saved much to afford a niche!).
Thank you Professor Nick Deocampo for putting this film to our pedagogic canon.
5. The gate echoes the chapel’s fachada (façade) sans the espadaña (bell wall).
6. The chapel’s façade is in the baroque style with two levels. The second level has scroll designs and, of course, the espadaña designed to support a bell usually tolled when a burial procession enters. It also has two ocular windows; probably for ventilation purposes back in the day. The gate and the chapel have exterior niches however the statuary is missing.
All in all, this mortuary chapel is of adobe and brick much like the nearby parish church.
7. Of course, upon entering, we were greeted by a lush lawn with hedges, but perhaps underneath are the remains of people too since even the grounds were meant for the burial of people. Back in the day, the center of the field might have possessed an atrial cross (a requirement in the building of cemeteries and in the ritual of blessing the grounds for burial).
Hoy el mundo cristiano celebra la Fiesta de la Inmaculada Concepción. Es un artículo de fe del Catolicismo, la religión de innumerables personas del mundo hispano. El dicho dogma dice que María fue eligida por el Señor Dios (como anunciado por el Arcángel Gabriel) ser la madre de su único hijo, Jesucristo, el salvador del mundo y la segunda persona del Dios Trino. María no fue alcanzada por el pecado original sino que, desde el primer instante de su concepción, estuvo libre de todo pecado.
¿Sabían que, aunque la Fiesta de la Inmaculada Concepción fue declarada como un dogma Católico Romano el 8 de diciembre de 1954, la devoción a la Inmaculada Concepción ya estaba extendido en España? ¡Y la misma devoción hasta llegó a las Islas Filipinas en el siglo 16!
La Basílica Menor y Catedral Metropolitana de la Inmaculada Concepción, ampliamente conocido como Manila Cathedral o Catedral de Manila, fue consagrada a la Inmaculada Concepción en 1571 (todavía no era una basílica en aquel entonces). Diez días después, cuando la iglesia fue reconstruido, la diócesis hizo Nuestra Señora de la Inmaculada Concepción como su santa patrona.
La fiesta de la Inmaculada Concepción es un Día Santo de Obligación.
Nuestra Señora de la Inmaculada Concepción, santa patrona de Filipinas, ruega por nosotros.
Cuando hablamos de pintura filipina, las personas que vienen en la mente son Juan Luna, Félix Resurrección Hidalgo, y Fernando Amorsolo. Pero antes de estos nombres legendarios, la pintura filipina ya tenía un virtuoso en dicha forma de arte. Su nombre era Lorenzo Guerrero.
Lorenzo Guerrero y Leogardo, nacido el 4 de noviembre de 1835 en el arrabal costero de Ermita que entonces lleno de tierras de cultivo, fue uno de los pocos maestros filipinos de pintura que florecieron durante la segunda mitad del siglo XIX. Perteneciente al famoso Clan Guerrero del dicho arrabal, Lorenzo fue el segundo de catorce hijos de León Jorge Guerrero y Clara Leogardo. Su padre era empleado del gobierno español en Filipinas como almacenero de la administración de rentas estancadas en el distrito de Pásig desde 1858 pero abandonó el servicio en lugar de jurar lealtad a la recién constituida República Española a partir del derrocamiento de la Reina Isabela II en 1868 durante La Gloriosa. Estudió latín en el Colegio de San José, y uno de sus primeros preceptores fue el Padre José Mª Guevara, un sacerdote filipino que luego fue deportado a las Marianas por supuesta complicidad en el Motín de Cavite en 1872.
Lorenzo se casó con Clemencia Ramírez en 1868. Tuvieron nueve hijos pero sólo tres alcanzaron la madurez. Eran: Manuel S. Guerrero quien se convirtió en médico; Fernando Mª Guerrero, considerado el «Príncipe de la Poesía Lírica Filipina», y; una hija llamada Araceli. Aunque ninguno de sus hijos ni nietos se convirtieron en pintores de renombre, dos de sus nietas (Evangelina Guerrero de Zacarías y Nilda Guerrero de Barranco, hijas de Fernando) se convirtieron en poetisas conocidas, continuando así el genio artístico de su lado del clan Guerrero.
Guerrero dejó algunas obras de valor perdurable y uno puede ver que su pincel tocó principalmente sobre temas estrictamente religiosos y escenas que representan la vida y las costumbres nativas. Sus bellas ilustraciones en la Flora de Filipinas del padre Manuel Blanco (Manila, 1877) serán recordadas. De las 253 placas firmadas (laminas) de la Flora de Filipinas, 35 fueron suyas. Sus dibujos tienen una individualidad propia y se distinguen por una gran precisión de detalle. Durante la guerra filipino-estadounidense, se le encomendó realizar diseños para los jefes y el uniforme del ejército revolucionario. También tuvo ocasión de dibujar plantas para su hermano, el Dr. León Mª Guerrero (el «Padre de la Botánica Filipina»). De sus pinturas sólo unos pocos han sobrevivido. Muchos fueron hechos a pedido y enviados al exterior; otros alojados en iglesias fueron quemados. Un número que permanece se encuentra en colecciones privadas y en unas iglesias de Manila.
Murió repentinamente de asma aguda el 8 de abril de 1904. El cortejo del día siguiente fue extraordinariamente largo e incluyó a muchos de sus alumnos. Fue enterrado en el cementerio de Pacò, pero más tarde sus restos fueron trasladados a la antigua iglesia de Ermita (ahora conocido como el Santuario Arquidiocesano de Nuestra Señora de Guía), en la esquina noroeste debajo del coro.
Lorenzo tuvo muchos estudiantes que también se hicieron famosos artistas. Escribiendo sobre Luna, José Rizal, el principal héroe filipino, escribió que había aprendido el arte de Lorenzo que era “un maestro que se ha formado casi por sí solo.”
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CULTURA GENERAL: El Dr. León María, hermano de Lorenzo, fue el padre del Dr. Alfredo León Guerrero. Alfredo se casó con Filomena Francisco, la primera farmacéutica filipina. Dos de los tres niños de Alfredo y Filomena se hicieron famosos nacionalistas: León María Guerrero se convirtió en diplomático mientras que Carmen, quien estaba casada con un sobrinonieto de Rizal, se convirtió en escritora nacionalista. Una de las hijas de Carmen, Gemma Cruz de Araneta se convirtió en la primera reina de belleza internacional del país. Gemma es también la madrina de mi hija menor Junífera Clarita. 😊
The Order of the National Artists of the Philippines is the highest national recognition given to Filipino individuals who have made significant contributions to the development of fine arts in the country, namely: Music, Dance, Theater, Visual Arts, Literature, Film, Broadcast Arts, and Architecture and Allied Arts. The order is jointly administered by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (by virtue of President Ferdinand Marcos’s Proclamation № 1001 of 2 April 1972) and the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP). The award is given irregularly and is conferred by the President of Filipinas upon recommendation by both institutions.
Through the decades since the first National Artist medal was awarded to critically acclaimed painter Fernando Amorsolo in 1972, many of the biggest names in Filipino arts and literature have graced the ranks of the Order of the National Artists such as writer Nick Joaquín (1976), musician Levi Celerio (1997), and film director Eddie Romero (2003). Selecting a national artist is based on a broad criteria, and the selection process for nominees is strict. Works of art of those who are nominated should not only conform to set standards of aesthetics; they should have also distinguished themselves among their peers by having pioneered a mode of creative expression or style, and they should have made an impact on succeeding generations of artists, among other criteria. In fact, back in 2009, controversy erupted when some of the nominees were blocked by several incumbent National Artists (including the indefatigable F. Sionil José), members of the Concerned Artists of the Philippines, and various academicians who claimed that their nomination was politicized by then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo when she favored them due to friendship over artistic quality. The issue even reached the Supreme Court (in the end, the court of last resort voted to boot out those nominated by Arroyo).
Early today, filmmaker Sari Dalena broke the news on her Facebook account that a new batch of National Artists has been declared. Interestingly, one of those who figured in the 2009 controversy, architect Francisco Mañosa, made it to the list. Here they are in alphabetical order:
1) Larry Alcalá (Visual Arts, posthumous)
2) Amelia Lapeña-Bonifacio (Theater)
3) Ryan Cayabyab (Music)
4) Francisco Mañosa (Architecture)
5) Resil Mojares (Literature)
6) Ramón Muzones (Literature)
7) Kidlat Tahimik (Film)
Official conferment will be held tomorrow at the CCP. Congratulations to the winners!
Ayer por la tarde asistí la apertura de una exposición de arte por una causa organizada por mi amigo, el Dr. Nilo Valdecantos. Él es un dentista de profesión pero un patrón de arte por vocación. Después de todo, es de Paeté, un pueblo (municipalidad) en la provincia de La Laguna que es famoso por sus escultores. Pero a través de los años la tradición escultórica de Paeté se vio aumentada por una nueva generación de artistas: pintores y también músicos. Por lo tanto, Paeté ahora puede ser considerado como un refugio para artistas.
El Dr. Valdecantos es un sobreviviente de cáncer. Fue capaz de sobrevivir a esa dolorosa experiencia porque tenía los medios para hacerlo. Pero durante esa dolorosa experiencia, pudo conocer a otros pacientes de cáncer que no eran tan afortunados como él porque eran pobres. No podían pagar la costosa medicación ni la quimioterapia. Así, su destino quedó sellado.
Después de sobrevivir a su terrible experiencia, el Dr. Valdecantos no olvidó a los otros pacientes de cáncer que había conocido durante su paso inolvidable. Por eso lanzó una exposición de arte para una causa se llama “Kalikasan, Kultura, at Kasaysayan” (Naturaleza, Cultura, e Historia) para el beneficio de los pacientes de cáncer. El evento presenta las obras de arte (pinturas y esculturas) de los mejores artistas de Paete en la actualidad como Fred Baldemor, Glenn Cagandahan, Ysa Gernale, y mucho más. Una gran parte de los ingresos de sus magníficas obras de arte serán para los pacientes con cáncer que están internados en St. Frances Cabrini Medical Center en Santo Tomás, Batangas. Kalikasan, Kultura, at Kasaysayan se encuentra en LRI Design Plaza en la Ciudad de San Pedro Macati (Makati City) y se extenderá hasta el 16 de octubre.
El Dr. Valdecantos, un patrocinador genuino de las bellas artes, espera que muchos otros patrocinadores del arte como él organicen más eventos como este. Que Dios bendiga su hermosa alma.