UNIVERSITY Archivist Regalado Trota Jose led the inauguration of the Nagcarlan Underground Cemetery Museum last Dec. 9 in Nagcarlan, Laguna.
The inauguration was in line with the efforts of the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP) to further develop the cemetery, declared a National Historical Landmark in 1981.
“It is our chance to explore and examine our history in order to not make the mistakes of the past and create a proactive contribution to restore our heritage,” Jose said.
The cemetery was founded in 1845 by Fr. Francisco Velloc, OFM. It is the only church in the Philippines that has an underground burial site located 15 feet below the chapel.
The burial site was also used as a hideout and meeting place for the members of Katipunan and guerrilla fighters during the Japanese Occupation.
“The cemetery served as a resting place of former parish priests and cabezas de barangay in Nagcarlan,” said Philip Astronomo, administrative officer of the Nagcarlan Underground Cemetery and Museum.
“The last recorded burial in the cemetery was in 1974. Since then, no more burials were allowed in the cemetery,” Astronomo said.
Displayed in the museum are interactive walls that feature the restoration and conservation process applied on the 172-year-old chapel with a focus on how fabricated blocks, adobe, lime and riverstones strengthened the original structure’s bricks, sand and rocks.
Conservation materials and tools such as paint, pilaster and wood were stored in glass containers labeled with explanations of how these were used to preserve the cemetery and chapel.
Another important feature of the museum is the chapel’s original headrest of the Santo Entiero icon made from batikuling wood.
“In restoring heritage sites, sensitivity to the availability of materials, direct observations, comparisons and historical research is vital,” Jose told the Varsitarian.
The baroque-style cemetery went under renovation from 1982 to 1986. It went through another year-long restoration process and surface cleaning in 2008.
From 2015 to 2016, it was again renovated in preparation for the museum’s inauguration.
Also present in the inauguration rites were NHCP acting commissioner Rene Escalante, former NHCP commissioner Maria Serena Diokno, NHCP Executive Director Ludovico Badoy, and Nagcarlan Mayor Nelson Osuna.
Jose, former chair of the National Committee on Archives of National Commission on Culture and Arts (NCCA) and a former NCCA commissioner himself, is a well-known scholar and author of books on Philippine bibliography and Philippine sacred art and architecture like Simbahan: Church Art in Colonial Philippines, 1565-1898. He was awarded Patnubay ng Sining at Kalinangan in 2013 given by the Manila City Hall.