Above and Below Ground in Nagcarlan

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.


Historic Nagcarlan

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.



Going Vertical

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.





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15 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Great posting and great pictures. My father was born and buried in Nagcarlan, so I was really happy to have found this. Very informative, especially the legend of Ana Kalang. Its been a few years, but I look forward to going back “home” with my own kids at some point so that can see where their grandfather grew up and to learn about their heritage. Thanks!

    • I am fascinated with the folktale about your home town Mike. And Nagacarlan is such a beautiful place to share to children.

  2. gusto po namin pumunta ng nagcarlan..from calamba crossing po,ano ho ba ang mga sasakyan namin?…tnxs!..

  3. The Virinas are from Nagcarlan and we go visit whenever we can. The old houses are owned by the Plantillas. Relatives of our family. Am rushing an article on San Bartolome church when I stumbled into your wonderful site. We lived in Tanong, Malabon a long time and there is a San Bartolome church there, too. So both places share August 24 as the town’s fiesta. The San Bartolome statue in Malabon was brought from Spain 400 years ago so there’s a big celebration this year. These are two churches that are close to my heart.

  4. This site is informative. I’ve been to Silangang Napapatid Nagcarlan. I love the cool running water of the river here. Nilupak, Puto Pao, etc. =)

    • we’ve not been to silangang napaptid in nagcarlan and havent tried nilupak and puto pao Jackson. thank you for sharing.

  5. moments from now, we’ll be setting our feet on Nagcarlan’s ground. and we’ll most probably wish to explore the underground cemetery. 🙂

  6. I’ve been meaning to drive up to Nagcarlan to check out the underground cemetery (it fascinates me deeply – I’m not quite sure why, hehe) but (a) I am too afraid to go there alone and no one else would go with me; and (b) I want to make the best of a road trip there by getting to know all the places I could visit in Nagcarlan and the surrounding areas first. Of course, perhaps spontaneity will win me over and one of these weekends, I might just drive up there on a whim. 🙂

    Great post and great blog! Hope we can exchange links, if you don’t mind. Thanks! 🙂 – Daene

    • Nagcarlan has fascinated us in books filipina on flip flops. It surely wowed us when we went to see it for ourselves. Good luck on your trip!

  7. i am writing for a magazine. i happened to land in your site. i got so many insights fron your travels. thanks.

    • Thank you gerny for dropping by. May I know the name of the magazine you are affiliated with?

  8. I strongly agree that we should know more about our history Timon. Like you, I wanted to share my travels to inspire others to look into them.

    Hope to hear from you again.

  9. Great site! great travels!

    Hope one day we can share this discoveries, we as people should learn more from our past!

  10. It makes me proud to see that there are a lot of very interesting places in this country Sidney. I would like to see them all.

    Glad to hear from you again.

  11. You are traveling a lot.
    Indeed, a very interesting place!

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