Death in Stone: Relieves of old cemeteries in Cebu

A skeleton with a staff and a lamp (?) carved at the pediment of Calamba (Cebu City) mortuary chapel.

A skeleton with a staff and an hourglass carved at the pediment of Calamba (Cebu City) mortuary chapel built in 1863

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. Nor their impressive gates and entrances including that of Roxas City and Sta. Barbara. However, it does have its own surprises that would also delight lovers of these heritage structures.

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.

These cemeteries were built in the 19th century and those that are featured here are found in Cebu City 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 like in Catmon and ruins of a chapel in Bantayan. 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 or renovated and refurbished.

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11 Comments

  1. what is the significance of that sculpture in the catholic doctrine? coz, i have observed that it is found mostly in catholic cemeteries, or shall i say what does it symbolizes?

  2. Hi Sherwin, it just reminds the faithful about the afterlife. In some cemeteries in Panay Island, there are even inscriptions that when translated means: “Today it is us, tomorrow it will be you.”

  3. This is so interesting… Allow me to “interpret” some. The staff on the reliefs of Calamba, Boljoon and Oslob could mean the journey of men in this temporary life. The Calamba relief is holding an hour glass which means time is running out for everyone. For those of Boljoon and Oslob, it could indeed be a chalice which would refer to Christian communion. This has reference to the cemetery as a camposanto or “field of saints.” During the Spanish times, no one could be buried within the camposanto without the benefit of a Christian blessing so those who did not receive one would be buried outside the cemetery.

    Nindot kaayo ni Estan.

  4. thank you bai 🙂 I just hope naa pa daghan mga old cemetery in Cebu. I just fear that most have been destroyed already.

  5. my first time here. congrats for having a very informative site. i hope u can feature those magnificient church frescoes. and this is a bit out of the format, but i really wish somebody would write anything about old arch bridges. keep it up!

  6. elias, if it has anything to do about colonial era churches, it will be included here 😀

    as for the old arch bridges, hmmm, it would be interesting. have you seen the del castillo-noche exhibit before at the glorieta? it was all about these heritage bridges. i also have one, from dupax but it won’t fit in this blog.

  7. Pingback: Death in Stone: Relieves of old cemeteries in Cebu | langyaw

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  9. Skulls and bones are consistent elements of the Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) tradition of Mexico. During Spanish times, the Philippines and Mexico were twin colonies. The Manila Galleons didn’t just bring home goods and spices from Spanish Mexico; we “imported” a lot of their ideas and practices as well.

  10. @estan… ive heard about that photo exhibit of bridges before, but too bad i live far from manila. im cebu based, i hope somebody could bring those heritage exhibits here.

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