Found in Quezon, Ilocos Norte and Bulacan, these carved symbols may date back to the 18th century, but may also have precolonial connections
By Edgar Allan M. Sembrano
Often regarded as the universal symbol of Christianity, the cross has been in existence since time immemorial.
In the Philippines, it was first introduced by the Europeans when the Magellan expedition arrived in 1521. Since then, it became ingrained in Philippine culture and society.
There are those that are considered unique archaeological and cultural artifacts, rare pieces only found in select areas of the country.
In Tayabas, Quezon, exists more than a hundred stone crosses of different sizes scattered across many parts of the city.
Largely unstudied, these crosses, built as early as the 18th century, are theorized to have been erected as protection against bad spirits.
“That’s why other crosses have prayers, like those seen on the Benedictine cross, etched on them,” said John Valdeavilla of the local group Tuklas Tayabas Historical Society.
Over time, these crosses became stations of the Santacruzan every May, where people would offer flowers and prayers, an activity only done in Tayabas.
In 2021, Valdeavilla’s group discovered a rare one, as it is the only one so far that is dated. Measuring about two feet in height, the cross found in Katigan village has the date 1793 etched on the bottom portion, along with some words.
Sadly, the cross was damaged when it was discovered as someone attempted to steal it, a lingering issue with the stone crosses of Tayabas. Many crosses are now in the hands of private collectors, with some believing these contain treasures.
Local historian Raymundo Palad has long been campaigning for the protection of these crosses and for their declaration as national cultural treasures. In a previous interview, he said these cultural artifacts need to be fully studied to understand their historical and cultural context.
Apart from Tayabas, another place where a stone cross was found is Pasuquin in Ilocos Norte.
Called Krus na Bato, the large, life-size cross was believed to have been discovered sometime in 1940 in neighboring Vintar, and erected in a private chapel in Poblacion 3, Pasuquin. This cross is a popular pilgrim destination, particularly during Holy Week.
In Lucban, also in Quezon, exists another stone cross, albeit unquarried for centuries.
According to local historian Cornelio Rañeses, the stone cross, carved on a section of a creek in Kabatete village, is believed to have been made in the 18th century to be erected atop the town’s church.
The project was abandoned when a crack was noticed in the central portion of the cross.
He said the cross is a heritage site that warrants protection. These crosses are at least 50 years old or presumed important cultural properties under the heritage law, making it unlawful to either damage or destroy them.
Interestingly, another set of crosses was found at the Biak na Bato National Park straddling the towns of San Miguel and Doña Remedios Trinidad in Bulacan.
These crosses, hollowed out of rock faces, are called Krus sa Bato at the Pangulayang Bato River and Krus sa Tangke, located in the upper portion of the national park from the Pave Cave.
Edilberto Larin of the Bulacan Studies Center mentioned in his article in the book “Bulacan Landscape Reconstruction” that these crosses are “believed to be historical markers and part of the legends of the community that serve as reminders that this forest has become very important and significant in the history” of the country.
In an interview with [Philippine Daily Inquirer] Lifestyle, Sitio Baling Cupang, Biak na Bato village resident Joel Nolasco, 65, said the crosses were carved by the indigenous Dumagat community living in the area long time ago.
The Krus sa Tangke, also called Cross Tank, he said, was used as an aerial marker of the American paratroopers during World War II.
The same cross was also the source of water for some Dumagat members before and by the mag-uuling (charcoal makers) of today since, he said, it naturally stores water.
Theories abound on the history and purposes of these crosses, including their possible links to precolonial and Western beliefs or a combination of both.
Collectively, it can be an indigenous adaptation to the foreign faith introduced by the Spaniards in the 16th century, when the indigenous population’s idols made from stone were replaced with stone crosses.
It is the same concept with the santos, which were evolutions of the indigenous anitos.
In Europe, a possible connection is the cruceiro tradition of Galicia in Spain where around 12,000 stone crosses, many elaborately carved, have been erected since the 4th century—but mostly after the Council of Trent in the 19th century—at crossroads and near holy places such as churches, chapels and cemeteries to protect travelers, for obtaining forgiveness, and as reminders of the Catholic faith.
Far north from Galicia is Devon in England, where more than a hundred stone crosses called the Dartmoor Crosses have been found.
Built as early as a thousand years ago and as late as a hundred years ago, these crosses serve many purposes, such as navigational markers on tracks, for memorials and prayers or to mark boundaries and routes between Medieval abbeys, among others.
Could it be possible that the crosses of Dartmoor and Galicia are related to, and are possibly influences of, the Roman Empire, which in antiquity ruled parts of Europe, North Africa and Asia?
And if the Galician cruceiro has links to at least the Tayabas stone crosses, then these crosses are the country’s links to a tradition that dates back hundreds of years.
However, these are just theories, and thorough studies are still needed on these stone crosses, the country’s peculiar tangible heritages worth keeping.