History and Culture
Uncovering Philippine Heritage in Paoay’s Centuries Old Tombstones
Choose Philippines | Oct 16, 2019
Story by Grace Alba
Photography by Marvin Agustin and Ley Ligsay
As one of the towns in Ilocos Norte, Paoay is famous for the Saint Augustine Church, a recognized UNESCO World Heritage Site that is more than 300 years old. It is also one of the favorite tourist destinations for locals and foreigners not only in North Luzon but in the whole country.
[related: Falling in love with Paoay Church]
While the iconic church is undoubtedly an important part of Paoay's culture and history, a graveyard filled with century-old tombs nearby can also be a reminder of the richness of the country's rich heritage. A few kilometers south of Saint Augustine Church is the Old Catholic Cemetery which specifically lies in Barangay Paratong. Some tombs found in this graveyard dates as far back as the 1800s, during the Spanish period.
It can be observed that these old tombs are more detailed and artistically made than those of today. They have served as status symbols, where the remains of powerful, most influential, and wealthy locals of Paoay of the eras are kept. According to Local Historian and Cultural Mapper Ley Ligsay, the materials used primarily show the era a certain tomb was built. “Importante ang mga nitsong ito kasi this proves or reflects that there was a period na under tayo ng Spanish and Americans,” Ley reveals. (These tombs are important because this proves or reflects that there was a period that the Philippines was under the Spanish and the Americans.)
Tombs during the Spanish period were made of coral, lime, and bricks which were abundant materials in Paoay during those times. These are mostly dome-shaped with Archimedean spiral designs on its sides, similar to the spiral buttresses of the Paoay Church.
American period tombs, on the other hand, can be identified through the lines and shapes used, in keeping with the Art Deco sensibilities of the period. “There is an emphasis sa paggamit ng lines and geometric shapes sa pag-design ng mga tomb, (There is an emphasis with the use of lines and geometric shapes in designing the tombs.)” Ley explains, adding that the tombs during this period were more enhanced by the steel or iron bars used in their construction.
Another historian and cultural mapper and a local of Paoay Bernard Joseph Guerrero shares that there were more old tombs in Paoay which were situated around St. Augustine Church. Father Joey Ranjo, the Spokesperson of the Diocese of Laoag, expounds that cemeteries before the 1800s were placed near churches to help the souls go to heaven faster. Tombs not only represent traditions or culture, he added, they also express faith and show love to family members who passed away.
[related: Customized Tombs in Tabuk Kalinga]
However, the tombs were transferred to control the spread of water and airborne diseases. “There was an order coming from the King of Spain that said that cemeteries have to be moved away from the town proper, usually between 1 to 1.5 kilometers away from the population for sanitation and hygienic purposes,” Bernard relates.