A faded inscription at the Nagcarlán Underground Cemetery

While Filipinos troop to the provinces to visit their beloved dead on All Saints’ Day, many still believe that the proper date of visiting them is on the following day, on All Souls Day. As the name connotes, All Saints’ Day is reserved for the Saints; All Souls Day should be consigned to our dearly departed.

In a video interview, however, Fr. Jojo Zerrudo (parish priest at the Most Holy Redeemer Church in Quezon City and current Catechetical Director and Exorcist of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Cubáo) explains that during the Spanish times, Filipinos attended Mass in the morning of All Saints’ Day to honor the Holiest Souls of the Church. Only after lunch do they go to the cemetery to visit their beloved dead to offer candles, flowers, and prayers. There they stay for an overnight vigil , until All Souls Day.

Throughout the decades, the number of those who have been interred in cemeteries have significantly grown. Public cemeteries seemed no longer big enough to accommodate “newcomers”, prompting families to excavate old coffins and combine recently deceased loved ones with the bones or ashes of those who went ahead of them. Some enterprising businessmen see this plight as an opportunity to earn more money by establishing private cemeteries for those who can afford spacious and stylish graves.

PEPE ALAS

My wife walking towards the chapel. Below it is the underground cemetery.

Perhaps one cemetery in Filipinas that will not get overcrowded with corpses is the underground cemetery of Nagcarlán, La Laguna because it has been converted into a national historical landmark and museum on 1 August 1973 by former President Ferdinand Marcos (its official today is the Nagcarlán Underground Cemetery Historical Landmark). It is the first and only one of its kind in the country as it was built in an arabesque style that, according to critics, is something very unique, aside from the fact that its crypt is 15 feet below the ground. The small chapel above it is used for funeral rites and is enclosed in a garden that stands above a hill and attached to the interior walls of the cemetery. The interiors of the chapel and crypt are adorned with elaborately designed white and blue tiles which look very similar to those at the nearby town church (Iglesia de San Bartolomé Apóstol), leading to the belief that there is an underground tunnel connecting both church and cemetery. The crypt contains more or less 36 niches and tombstones (whose inscriptions are Spanish, Tagalog, and some in English).

PEPE ALAS

Me at the crypt below the ground. Notice the white and blue tiles on the floor, said to be very expensive during the time of the cemetery’s construction. If memory serves right, they’re called Mazurka tiles.

While many stories have been written about this underground cemetery through the years, there’s one peculiar part of it that many people have failed to notice. Two flights down from the chapel is the small crypt —the actual underground cemetery— where it is perpetually dank and dark. On a wall right above the stairs is a faded Spanish inscription dedicated to the faithful departed…

PEPE ALAS

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.

(Translation:
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.)

The inscription is in danger of disappearing forever if not restored by experts. Although flash photography is prohibited to protect the old markings and paint on the walls and tombstones, it is not enough to conserve what needed to be conserved as the place is not safe from humidity.

The crypt of this underground cemetery is historic because it was a secret meeting place for the Katipuneros in the 1890s. It was here where the historic Pact of Biac-na-Bató was planned by Pedro Paterno and General Severino Taiño in 1897.

Since its construction in 1845 by Fr. Vicente Velloc, the same Franciscan friar who supervised the town church’s reconstruction and restoration on that same year (that should explain the similar tiles),  Nagcarlán’s underground cemetery has been used as a public cemetery until 1981. It has since become a tourist spot.

The forested municipality of Nagcarlán is approximately two hours away from Metro Manila, from Alabang, Muntinlupà City by car (or 99 kilometers south of Manila via the City of San Pablo, La Laguna). The historic site of the municipality is open to the public from Tuesday to Sunday, 8:00 AM to 4:00 PM. Admission is free.

PEPE ALAS

And no, it is not haunted.

All photos in this blogpost were taken on 17 April 2012.
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The origin of the word “undás

Each time All Saints’ Day draws near, we usually hear the word “undás” to pertain to it. Many people are puzzled as to the meaning of the term. Some who are well-versed in etymology say that it was derived from the Spanish word “honrar” meaning “to honor”, and it is associated to All Saints’ Day because we honor our dearly departed dead during this event.

But how did honrar become undás?

All-Saints.jpg

I Precursori Di Cristo Con Tutti I Santi Ed I Martiri Del Paradiso (The Forerunners of Christ with Saints and Martyrs), tempera on poplar wood by Fra Angelico.

When you conjugate the word honrar to the first person in present tense, it becomes “honras” (you honor). Filipinos back then tend to mispronounce many Spanish words, and through time, such words have evolved: “pared” became “pader“, “jabón” became “sabón“, “cebollas” became “sibuyas“, etc. In linguistics, this phenomenon is called sound change.

In some parts of Southern Luzón such as Batangas, Tayabas (now Quezon), and Mindoro Island, undás is pronounced as “undrás” (with an “r”). As you can now see, honras and undrás sound the same (by the way, the letter “h” has no sound in Spanish).

Now let’s go back to the Spanish word honrar. It is said that the use of the term undrás to pertain to the triduum of All Hallows’ Eve (October 31), All Saints’ Day (November 1), and All Souls Day (November 2) came first before it further got corrupted to undás through time. But we could even go back further and trace its roots to the Spanish term “honras fúnebres” which means “funeral honors”. This should close any doubt that undás or undrás originated from honras.

Yes, Halloween is a Catholic event!

Did you know? Before Halloween became a creepy holiday for fans of Michael Myers, Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhees, and other assorted ghosts, ghouls, and goblins, it was actually a Catholic event. According to Fr. Jojo Zerrudo, parish priest at the Most Holy Redeemer Church in Quezon City and current Catechetical Director and Exorcist of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Cubáo, Halloween is one of the most important feast days of the Catholic Church (see video below).

Make no mistake, Halloween is simply a modern contraction of the archaic term “All Hallows’ Eve” which simply means All Saints’ Eve since the following day is All Saints Day (in the same manner that December 24 is the eve before Christmas Day). In fact, Halloween is part of a triduum, a religious observance which lasts for three days. Halloween actually is the first day of this triduum; the second day is All Saints’ Day on November 1, followed by All Souls Day on November 2.

I will not venture on tracing how Halloween, a holy Christian feast day, ended up as a ghoulish freak show lest this blogpost turns into an encyclopedic article. You may read all about that topic here. Rather, I’ll just share to you this short video interview of Fr. Jojo that was produced by the Diocese of Cubáo’s Media and Communications Ministry and uploaded on YouTube on 4 October 2016. Here, Fr. Jojo explains how Catholic Halloween really is, its connection to All Saints’ Day and All Souls Day, and how we can reclaim it.

“Let us conquer again —for Christianity— Halloween”, says Fr. Jojo, “because it was really meant to honor all the Saints”.

In another inteview prior to the production above, Fr. Jojo said that “dressing up children as zombies, devils, and the like for Halloween gives them the impression that evil spirits are fun and friendly.” So instead of decorating your homes and offices with jack-o’-lanterns, skulls, spiderwebs, and other freakish decors, and instead of dressing up like someone who had gone super crazy after losing millions in a horrid casino game, just contemplate on the lives of Saints. Venerate them, study their biographies, emulate their holiness, and offer prayers and Masses to our dearly departed loved ones. Because this triduum belongs to them, this triduum belongs to us, not to the minions of satan. It’s high time we reclaim Halloween for our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Happy Halloween!