deathinstone3

Death in Stone: Relieves of old cemeteries in Cebu

A crowned Death carrying a staff and a lamp is carved on the pediment of the Calamba cemetery chapel

A crowned Death carrying a staff and an hourglass is carved on the pediment of the Calamba (Cebu City) cemetery chapel

All Soul’s Day is just around the corner and what better way to anticipate it but a three-part series about cemeteries and the age old practice of Filipinos to honor their dead, specifically here in Cebu. Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4. This post first came out in simbahan.net.

Cebu doesn’t have the impressive colonial era cemeteries of Iloilo. There’s no ornate polygonal cemetery chapels like that of San Joaquin, Cabatuan and Janiuay. However, it does have its own camposanto capillas that would also delight lovers of these heritage structures.

Skull and crossbones medallion at facade of Calamba cemetery

Skull and crossbones medallion at facade of Calamba cemetery entrance arch

A skeleton with staff and what looks like a chalice found at the top of the Boljoon cemetery arch

A skeleton with staff and what looks like an hourglass found at the top of the Boljoon cemetery arch

Another skeleton with staff and chalice at the mortuary chapel of Oslob

Another skeleton with staff and hourglass at the mortuary chapel of Oslob

Skull with wings and other symbols at the top of the mortuary chapel entrance in Argao

Skull with wings and other symbols at the top of the mortuary chapel entrance in Argao

Having gone around these areas for a few years now, I can’t help but notice the carved relieves of skull and cross bones lining the walls or skeletons, perhaps representing Death, carrying a staff and an hourglass decorating the pediment of the cemetery chapel. These two are quite common.

Finial of Oslob cemetery arch with the inscribed date 1870

Finial of Oslob cemetery arch with the inscribed date 1870

Check the slideshow at Pinoycentric.com

These cemeteries were built in the 19th century and those that are featured here are found in Cebu City (Calamba) and in the southern towns of Oslob and Boljoon which were under the Augustinian Order. In the north, I haven’t found these yet except remnants of walls. There are also relieves found in a few other towns but usually these are just skull and cross bones.

Unfortunately, like the fortifications that still exists in this island province, these are in bad condition and are in danger of crumbling to oblivion.

Estan Cabigas is freelance photographer, blogger and writer based in Makati City, the Philippines. A true blue Cebuano, he makes stunning images and meaningful photo stories. His work has been published in local and international publications including National Geographic Magazine, Geo (Germany), Sunday Times Magazine (London) and other publications.

He is also a peripatetic traveler and has traveled to all 81 Philippines provinces.

I’m open for work, collaborations and inquiries, including hotel, restaurant and site features and reviews.

12 Comments

  1. dong ho
    October 27, 2008 @ 0:59

    ang tiyaga mo dito. hindi ko kasi masyadong napapansin yung mga ganyan sa mga napuntahan kong sementeryo. simula nitong undas malamang maghahanap ako ng ganyan.

  2. estan
    October 27, 2008 @ 2:29

    dong, that’s what you get when love of travel gets entwined with religious architectural heritage. hehehe, these are details that are easily missed but once you get to look for it, you’ll just get surprised :p

  3. kouji
    October 27, 2008 @ 5:13

    these are fascinating. :O i wonder why they were carved.

  4. gonli
    October 27, 2008 @ 6:42

    Although they look spooky at first glance, you tend to see a different way of honoring the dead. Even in our country, kanya-kanyang kultura at tradisyon sa pagpaparangal sa patay. Nice work. More pix to come.

  5. estan
    October 27, 2008 @ 10:19

    kouji, the way christianity was preached by the friars was more on the visual side. it was much easier for them to deliver the message and probably, my theory, it works as Filipinos are visual people. Also, the style of the era was very artistic. just imagine the many details that have been carved inside and outside of church structures.

    gonli, thanx. two (or three) more posts coming.

  6. Sidney
    October 27, 2008 @ 12:15

    Very interesting topic… something that is completely new to me.

  7. kouji
    October 27, 2008 @ 20:22

    interesting. 🙂 not quite the imagery i associate with the catholic faith, but quite cool. 🙂

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