Old cemetery and mortuary chapels in Cebu

The mortuary chapel in Calamba, Cebu City is impressive because it has the most stylized skeleton relieve anywhere else in Cebu. Unfortunately, it has been renovated.

The mortuary chapel in Calamba, Cebu City is notable for its stylized skeleton relief that finds no parallel in Cebu.

The cemetery and mortuary chapels in Cebu are not as grand as those in Iloilo and are in different degrees of condition with most having been renovated and one in near collapse. For purposes of identification, I should clarify the two: cemetery chapels are those structures that are within the cemetery perimeter. It was in the 19th century that churches complied with the king’s edict to relocate these away from churches. In more affluent towns, these burial places were fenced and a chapel was built either at the center or at the far end. The mortuary chapel are structures that were built typically within the church compound either beside it or infront. It was where masses were said or a wake was held.

In the island province of Cebu, the presence of these structures are quite rare and are usually concentrated in areas that were under the Augustinian order. In this post, I have included those that can be found only in Cebu City (Calamba), Oslob, Boljoon, Sibonga, Argao and Dalaguete.

The mortuary chapel in Calamba, Cebu City is impressive because it has the most stylized skeleton relieve anywhere else in Cebu.

The mortuary chapel in Calamba, Cebu City is impressive because it has the most stylized skeleton relieve anywhere else in Cebu.

Built in 1863, the cemetery chapel of Calamba is the only extant structure in Cebu City and it originally belonged to the parish of San Nicolas. Of all the structures found in Cebu, it has the most stylized and biggest skeleton relief found at its pediment. It has a crown on its head, a staff in its right hand and at its left, holding a box containing an hourglass.

There used to be a small bell atop it. Below the pediment, you have this array of skull and crossbones and at the top side of the portal is a pair of skull and crossbone medallions. A floral rosette (or is this a stylized wheel?) can be found at the sides. The date of completion is etched atop the door. This structure is built at the center of the cemetery but unfortunately, an ugly canopy that doesn’t harmonize with the architecture was added infront.

Dalaguete cemetery chapel in ruins

Dalaguete cemetery chapel in ruins

Dalaguete mortuary chapel beside the church

Dalaguete mortuary chapel beside the church

Located at the backside of the cemetery, the one in Dalaguete (left) is a ruined structure. Its roofless with debris and human bones scattered at its floor. It has a very simple facade. A finial is located atop a rounded pediment. No relieves are found.

The mortuary chapel on the other hand (right), located just beside the church, is quite impressive and doesn’t look like one. At first, I thought that this was a stylized belen (nativity scenes during Christmas) but at the back of the structure is a skull and cross bones relief. The facade originally have impressive carvings detailed with symbolism of the church, Christ and the Augustinian Order but because of the deterioration, they covered the parts with cement. Now, the rich details located below the fascia can no longer be seen.

Sibonga cemetery chapel

Sibonga cemetery chapel

The cemetery chapel is located at the center but it is in such bad condition that it is in danger of collapsing. Vegetation has grown on almost all the external parts and if this will not be addressed, the roots will further weaken the stones. It is another different style, the only one with a dome. Curiously, it has two entrances at both facing sides.

Like in Dalaguete, open coffins with one still bearing a dried out corpse and bones are scattered at its floor. Niches have been filled and some have been enlarged to accommodate the bigger sizes of modern coffins. It’s a very much neglected structure.

Oslob cemetery chapel

Oslob cemetery chapel

Oslob mortuary chapel infront of the church

Oslob mortuary chapel infront of the church

Oslob is one of three municipalities in Cebu that have both cemetery and mortuary chapels. The cemetery chapel is located at the back end of the cemetery and it’s form resembles that of Argao. However, niches have crept infront of it and a canopy was cemented that now mars and hides the architectural details of this structure.

The mortuary chapel is located infront of the church. It has the skeleton with a staff and hourglass relief at its pediment. Only the facade remains as part of the original structure.

Argao cemetery chapel

Argao cemetery chapel

Argao mortuary chapel infront of the church

Argao mortuary chapel infront of the church

The cemetery chapel of Argao (left) is located at the far end. When I first saw this in 2005, it was in ruins with the roof caved. When I came back this year, I was surprised and happy to see that they have restored it.

The mortuary chapel, on the other hand (right) was recently “rediscovered.” It is a beautiful structure that has wonderful details at its facade and, like the cemetery chapel, has a relief of St. Michael. There used to be a structure infront of it that hid this chapel and with a revitalized tourism effort in the municipality, they have torn it down. I just hope that they will eventually clean the vegetation growing at the pediment. As romantic as it may seem it does weaken the structure and the roots will eventually damage the stones.

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11 Comments

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

  2. Pingback: Some mortuary chapels in Luzon and the Visayas | Simbahan

  3. Pingback: At the Calamba cemetery during the day | langyaw

  4. you should visit the mortuary church of La Loma cemetery the cemetery at the back or adjacent to the North Manila Cemetery. La Loma Cemetery is a mid 19th century cemetery and inside you can still see the stunning musoleum of the spaniards, the illustrados and the religious friars and nuns circa 1800s.

  5. bai, gamay pa lang gani ni 🙂

    alex, i’ve visited the cemetery in La Loma and also Paco but unfortunately, I can’t find the photos 🙂

  6. mga amigo kumusta…..i’m leslie obiso one of the curator of the st. michael liturgical museum (museo de la paroqquia de san miguel arcangel argao, cebu. thanks for featuring the cemetery chapel and the mortuary of the town. the church itself is now on its work of restoring the cemetery chapel. likewise the LGU of argao is revitalizing its tourism industry that include structures and site worthy of conservation for the tourist…. again thanks….

  7. leslie, it’s really commndable for the town of Argao to set an example in making your heritage treasures work for the government. I do believe that these can be of tourism importance for the local government.

    can something still be done to the retablo mayor of the church was was defaced with gold paint?

  8. estan,
    the gold coating is there….we can’t do nothing but we assure that all feature renovations inside and outside the church will be done according to the process set by NHI and NCAA upon the consultation of the people, LGU na dthe church authorities….. its so sad that the retablo was ‘vandalize”….very sorry for it….GOD BLESS

  9. hello,
    I wish they restored the chapel in the san nicolas cemetary…my grandmother took me there as a kid and on the right side of the entrance of the chapel were two tables of stone with alot of my ancestors names on it…when i visited on kalag kalag this year briefly i cudent even see because they put a lil fence and roof and people werent allowed in the chapel and instead i dont know why they had students in there sleeping?????so i approached them and said i need to go on bec my ancestors are on the inner wall of the chapel…i was sad to see they removed one of the tables of stone that had the other half of names of my ancestors on the outer right side wall off the entry…my grandmother would have never allowed it

  10. micah,

    its really sad on what they did to the calamba cemetery chapel. ang pangit ng ginawa nila. they don’t really know how to appreciate these structures, and in your case, don’t have respect for the departed. welcome to the current state (and pinoy’s consciousness) of heritage structures.

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