Ten years ago, I did a very challenging research project (my post-grad thesis in art history) that sort of “formalized” this love for Ilonggo art and culture. Upon the suggestion of a dear teacher-friend, Dr. Elnora Loriega (now dean of the College of Educ. at West Visayas State University), I pursued what seemed like a morbid topic to many. Entitled “An Art Historical Study of Eight Spanish Colonial Stone Cemeteries in Iloilo,” the research dispelled the frightening images conjured by antique cemeteries. I set out to prove that cemeteries and art do mix. The image you see above is an artist’s rendition of a cemetery motif found at the capilla or funerary chapel of Cabatuan cemetery. A complex design I should say and interesting too. That’s a pair of martyr’s palm with the skull-and-crossbones motif in the middle.
No, the skull-and-crossbones does not mean Poison nor Pirates. In Christian iconography, the skull represents the mortality of humans and the crossbones allude to Christ’s death. Actually, this motif shouldn’t register fear but hope: the bones of Christ defeating our mortal deaths and securing us eternity.
I discovered that in Iloilo province, not just one but eight colonial stone cemeteries of artistic significance have survived. This implies that there was a conscious desire among the Augustinian friars in Iloilo to construct cemeteries of a distinct character. These eight cemeteries are in the town of Oton, Dingle, Janiuay, Sta. Barbara, Pototan, Cabatuan, Miagao and San Joaquin. The entries are individually posted. Happy reading!