The dead may never know how interesting they make life after they depart. This will sound morbid to many people but exploring cemeteries can be an exciting undertaking (pun unintentional). Cemeteries are where we learn about the past and appreciate its corresponding artistic styles no matter if the artistry verges on the macabre. Think of the Cemetiere Pere Lachaise in Paris and one will think more “park” than “cemetery”. Amidst the awe and quiet, I enjoy weaving between tombs and would pause now and then to take note of a detail: perhaps epitaphs in Spanish, a familiar name engraved in stone, a sculpture emanating sorrow or hope, and moss that have grown in century-old coral stone.
The distant town of San Joaquin, Iloilo, which is, in fact, Antique’s next door neighbor, has a most interesting cemetery. Not vast, owing its size to the population of the 19th century, it is a pocket jewel that delights the eye with its symmetrical lay-out, use of obsolete building materials for cemeteries (coral stone, limestone and brick), charming touches (statues in niches, rose windows at the capilla), and steep steps from the base leading to the capilla on a hill. The view from the top is stunning. Just before me was the calm blue sea that almost blended with the sky. This beauty is the living’s consolation for their grief and physical effort. The steps up the small hill are almost a foot high and it made me wonder if this was designed to be a sadistic infliction on the living as they carry the mortal remains of their beloved to its final resting place after the blessing in church.
The San Joaquin Church is a distance away and I needed to take a short tricycle ride to view the famous bas relief of Rendicion de Tetuan on the church façade. With the church closed, I made do with climbing up the belfry. A strong stench assaulted my nose, the odor from a combination of bat urine and feces. The stone steps are blanketed with guano and I lamented not taking a sack and a spade with me. Imagine the richness of my vegetable garden soil had I brought back some. I go up the tower despite the funny feeling in my bottom half and I could see that no one was in the mood for cleaning it up. I mean the tower not my bottom. I notice a passageway connecting the choir loft in the church to the belfry and I took a careful but not thorough look at it. It is eerie, yes. I had to cower to avoid the bats flying fast over my head from ceiling to ceiling. Then, of course, I had to leave quickly but Quasimodo would have been pleased.