It was curiosity that drove us visit the town of Nagcarlan in Laguna. The town is famous for having above its ground an antique church (one of the oldest in the country) and narrow but tall ancestral homes (there’s practical reason for that), below its ground a centuries-old cemetery (a one of a kind structure in the country) and moreover, an interesting story on how the town got its name.
The historic town of Nagcarlan sits on a plateau surrounded by eight dormant volcanoes. It is sheltered by forests on the slopes of equally mystical and legendary mountains of San Cristobal and Banahaw.
Pre-Hispanic Nagcarlan was headed by a datu named Gat Lakilaw. Franciscan Juan de Plasencia and Diego Oropesa initiated the town’s conversion to Christianity in 1578. Padre Tomas de Miranda, the man known to have planted the first grains of wheat in the country, officially founded the town as a Franciscan mission in 1583.
Historical highlights of Nagcarlan include de Plasencia’s first Diccionario Hispano-Tagalog, which he wrote in 1579 and first known guidebook for effective and righteous governance for alcalde mayors called Costumbrez de los Tagalog. In 1595, Nagcarlan became an independent municipality with Gaspar Cahupa as its first gobernadorcillo. It was also in this town where the secret meeting related to the Philippine Revolution was held.
Fr. Cristobal Torres named the town Nagcarlan in 1752 to honor the great female leader of the town –Ana Kalang. Who is Ana Kalang?
The Legend of Ana Kalang
There is a popular legend about how the town got its name. It was said that the name Nagcarlan was a corruption of the name Ana Panalangin or Ana Kalang. Ana Kalang was a native woman who was known for her “golden salakot” (a native hat) and her cane made of solid gold which she always carried. She was well-respected by the town’s people not just for her wealth but also for the help she extends to them all.
When the first Catholic Church was built, Ana Kalang contributed much money for it construction. People listened to her when she asked them to live within the range of the church and help for its construction. Her influence made it easier for the Spanish authorities to pacify the fomerly reluctant natives.
According to Grace Odal-Devora of U.P Manila, “The name Ana Panalaning or Ana Kalang reveals her “babaylanic” (woman priestess) roots and leadership orientation. Her rule over the people and the respect given to her even by the Spanish authorities indicate pre-hispanic orientation towards rulership of women existing in the area and followed without question by the people.”
During October, the town celebrates the five-day Ana Kalang Festival which features cultural shows, trade exhibit, a beauty contest, known as the Binibining Nagcarlan and colorful street dancing called the kalang-kalang.
Church of San Bartolome
The Church of San Bartolome in Nagcarlan is one of the churches we listed to be exceptional in terms of architecture and history when we had our Visita Yglesia via Legendary Towns Below the Mystical Mount Banahaw.
It was said that the legendary Ana Kalang built a stone road between the church and her stone house to make it easy for her to go to and from the church.
The church was first built with light materials in 1583 by father Tomas de Miranda. The second church, of brick and stone, was built in 1752 by Father Cristobal Torres but was badly damage by fire in 1781. It was repaired by Father Atanacio de Argobajo soon after and continued by Father Fernando de la Puebla who also built the four-storey bell tower. Father Vicente Velloc restored it in 1845 in “Laguna Baroque” style and added a choir loft.
The Underground Cemetery
The town’s underground cemetery is a one of a kind structure in the Philippines. Built in 1845 by Padre Vicente Velloc as an exclusive burial ground for Spanish friars, the cemetery is enclosed by 240 above-ground crypts embedded on the circular wall which is comparable to Paco Cemetery.
At the end of red-brick walk is the chapel crowned by a bell. The image of the Santo Entierro (Dead Christ in the bier) was the first we’ve notice upon entering the chapel. Turing right from the entrance, we went down from a flight of stairs leading to the underground cemetery.
Some say that Padre Velloc also built the underground passage leading to five underground chapels where solitary masses are held. The underground passages were said to have continued all the way to Mount Banahaw. These passages were sealed off and the location remains unknown.
In another account, the underground cemetery was said to have been the former the subterranean passageway used by Ana Kalang on her way to the church from her house.
The cemetery was made into a National Shrine on August 1, 1973. It was in this cemetery where secret meetings of the Katipunan were held. In 1897, Pedro Paterno and General Severino Taino first planned the Pack of Biak-na-Bato in the crypts. Emilio Jacinto was captured here in 1898 after being severely wounded from the battle of Mahabang-Tanaw in Majayjay.
Along the narrow and sloping streets of Nagcarlan are old houses. These notable old houses are mostly of three-storey stone structures and are erected on small lot sizes.
It was said that during those days, the extravagant display of wealth was frowned upon that the rich residents of the town decided to extend their houses vertically rather than horizontally.