LOON SPANISH COLONIAL PERIOD CEMENTERIO: PROVINCE OF BOHOL, THE PHILIPPINES
The island Province of Bohol is located in the Central Visayas Region in the geographical centre of the Nation of the Philippines. The Province of Bohol is rich in both tangible cultural heritage such as Spanish Colonial Churches and Watchtowers and intangible cultural heritage including traditional song and dance and a distinct local crafts and cuisine. Representative of the tangible cultural heritage is Loon Spanish Colonial Cementerio.
The town of Loon is located on the north coast of Bohol, twenty-seven kilometres north of the Tagbilaran City the provincial capital of Bohol. In area, Loon of the larger municipalities in Bohol and has 67 barangays. The population of the municipality of Loon is estimated at 45,215 (est. 2000). The población or town proper consists of three barangays; Napô by the sea is known as downtown, the uptown on a hill overlooking the sea includes both Motô Sur, and Motô Norte. Connecting Napô and Motô is a grand stone stairway. These central barangays contain a wealth of Spanish colonial buildings and sites including the grand church of Nuestra Señora de la Luz, ‘Our Lady of Light’, the large Convento and an octagonal mortuary chapel. Opposite the parish church is Captain Bedok Street that leads down to the old Spanish-Colonial Cementerio. The cementerio has a circular stone wall and inside at the east-end is the ruins of a stone chapel.
Background History: Jesuit Missionaries Arrive in Loon
The first Jesuit missionaries arrived in Bohol in Baclayon in November 1596. The Jesuit missionaries established the parish of Loon in 1753. The Jesuits administered here for a brief fifteen years until they were made to leave in 1768. The first Recollect Priest in Loon described the Jesuit-built church as a shed of wooden posts, the roof being nipa, overall in bad condition. This was typical for the churches in Bohol at the time as the Jesuits used local materials such as wood and thatch in their churches and other buildings (Jose 2001:8-9).
Recollect Period to Modern Times
The Jesuits were replaced by the Augustinian Recollects who remained until 1898 (Jose 2001:75). The original town of Loon and first church was probably located near the sea known as Napô (or downtown). Later, much of the town moved to a more defensible site on the hill known as Motô (or uptown). Motô is the Visayan word for hill. There were at least five churches constructed at Loon in the Spanish colonial period, with two destroyed by fire in the early 1850s. Fr Jose Garcia, parish priest in Loon from 1854 to 1890 oversaw the construction of the current Loon church. Construction started in 1855 and was completed in 1864. The church is known as one of the finest stone churches in the Visayas (Jose 2001:75-6). The Convento was built a few years earlier than the current church between 1844-1846 (Jose 2003:68).
Putóng (1965) notes the townspeople of Loon constructed the church and other public buildings. Putóng (1965) suggests that the collection and transportation of raw materials (stone, timber and lime) to Loon for the construction of the buildings by the locals may have come about through forced Spanish labor.
“On Sunday, men were required to bring stones while women brought at least a ganta of sand. The wood needed for construction was sourced from Maitum, a former barrio of Tubigon. Teams of laborers cut timber from the mountains, hauled these to the sea, and tied them into rafts that were floated to Loon in good weather”.
The date when the Loon Cementerio came into use is unknown. Inside the cementerio is a small stone chapel, the construction date is unknown. Felipe Redondo y Sendino’s 1884 survey of the Diocese of Cebu (published in 1886) included descriptions on Bohol parishes. In the section on Loon (1886:179) the survey says “Cementerio: de mamposteria”. This indicates the cementerio at the time was of rubble construction consisting of stone, lime and mortar. This survey indicates the cementerio was in existence prior to 1886. It is likely that the cementerio walls and chapel were built by the townspeople of Loon in the same fashion the church and other buildings were (see Putóng above).
The old cementerio is currently no longer used; it remains however church property.
Description of the Cementerio
The cemetery consists of a circular perimeter wall with the ruins of chapel in the east-end of the grounds. At the front gate a raised pathway (50cm above surrounding cemetery) leads to the chapel ruins inside the complex. The chapel is partially overgrown with plants and shrubs. There are no gravestones present in the graveyard. It is likely that that the graves were marked with simple wooden crosses which have decayed and disappeared over time.
There are six burial chambers within the structure of the chapel. Four of the burial chambers are located at the front of the chapel; two are located one above the other on either side of the arched doorway leading into the chapel. The four burial chambers at the front of the chapel were built as part of the original construction of the church. The burial chambers inside the chapel are either side of the altar and face one another. These burial chambers were possibly built after the original chapel was constructed as a later addition. One of the burial chambers contains fragments of a human skull while another burial chamber contains fragments of plank of wood most probably from a coffin.
Interpretation of the Cementerio
The chapel would have been a place of final vigils and services for the dead called ermita de difuntos (Jose 2003:69). A person could go into the chapel and light a candle and pray for their deceased relatives. The chapel may have also been used as a place of prayer on All Saints Day (November 1) and All Souls Day (November 2); both days are important on the Roman Catholic Calendar.
The question has to be asked when the cementerio first came into use. Was the cementerio site in use in the Jesuit missionary time of Loon (1753-1768), or did it come into use only in the Recollect Period?
The Jesuits primarily built in local materials of timber, bamboo and thatch. The Jesuits attempted few stone structures in their time in Bohol, the earliest churches of Baclayon (1727), Loboc (1734) and the foundation of the Tagbilaran church (1767) being notable exceptions (Jose 2003:67). Given this is it likely that the Old Loon Cementerio walls and stone chapel were built in the Recollect period between 1768-1898, but before the 1884 Survey of the Diocese of Cebu in which lists the stone structured cementerio (1886:179). Much of Loon’s stone built heritage was built in the early to mid Nineteenth Century (1800-1860s) which may be the key construction period of the Old Loon Cementerio features also.
Significance of the Loon Cementerio
The current investigation has highlighted the architectural, cultural and historical importance of the Loon Cementerio. The cementerio forms part of the complex of Spanish colonial sites in the historically rich township of Loon. The circular layout of the wall is considered to be quite unique in Bohol, as most of the stone cementerio walls are rectangular such as in Baclayon, Panglao and Jagna. The Old Loon Cementerio is considered to be one of only two in Bohol with a circular layout, the other being Talibon.
Jose, R.T. 2001
Visita Iglesia Bohol: A Guide to Historic Churches. National Commission for Culture and the Arts, Manila.
Jose, R. T. 2003
‘Settling Down and Building in Bohol’ In Tubod: The Heart of Bohol. National Commission for Culture and the Arts, Manila.
Laws and Jurisprudence on Built Heritage. NCCA, Manila.
Putóng, C. 1965
Bohol and Its People. Unpublished Thesis, Manila.
Redondo, F., Sendino. 1886.
Breve reseña de lo que fue y de lo que es la Diocesís de Cebú en las Islas Filipinas. Universidad de Santo Tomás, Manila.