The easiest attractions to get to in Sagada are Saint Mary Episcopal Church and the Hanging Coffins at the Echo Valley. After our trek to Bomod-ok Falls, we weren’t up for another exhilarating hike. We only had a few hours before the sun sets so a short stroll to Saint Mary and the Echo Valley was just right.
Saint Mary Episcopal Church
The church is located just before the town proper, beside the basketball court. It is a stunning stone church built by American missionaries in the early 1900s in the hopes of spreading their faith to the community. Aside from the establishment of the church, the missionaries also built a school, hospital, hydro electric plant, printing press, telephone system, lime kiln, and saw mill.
“The wheel used for this centennial marker was brought from the United States to Sagada as part of the sawmill project. It was discarded when the sawmill stopped operating and has been lying on the ground for almost a century. This wheel was salvaged for this marker to symbolize the ever rolling faith and commitment of the early missionaries to make known Christ’s salvation in the remotest parts of the Philippine archipelago. It also symbolizes the spiritual and social transformation that has taken place in Sagada and other parts of the Philippines in the past 100 years as a result of Anglican mission work.”
We went inside the church for a little while. I actually had the urge to kneel and close my eyes but resisted against it. The artistry of the altars and the immensity of the stones overwhelmed me and I was truly grateful to be sitting right there in silence beside a loved one. Saint Mary Episcopal Church is a place of worship and a representation of the efforts of the Americans in further enriching the lives of the Igorots. Saint Mary Episcopal Church only adds up to the charisma of the already captivating town of Sagada.
They say shouting into the open air releases all anger and frustrations. A stone’s throw away from the hospital, you will find the Anglican cemetery which leads you to the Echo Valley. Perhaps this is why they say Sagada is for the brokenhearted. When you’re hurt, head out to the Echo Valley. Find a good spot at the edge of one of the cliffs, and shout your heart out. Shout loud enough to hear an echo so you can laugh at your inconsolable self after. Kidding. My voice was too soft to bounce back when I tried though. But here’s a place where you can let loose and spare to be judged. After all, it is the Echo Valley. Here, the dead (RIP) listen and try to send your pleas to heaven. Kidding again. The cliffs also provide a great view of the town and the limestone formations beside the tall pine trees. Yes, limestone formations at the high grounds. The tour guide said that they believe Sagada was underwater hundreds of years ago hence the limestone. Everyone finds it mysterious that such can be found in high altitudes. Uncanny yet equally sublime.
I say the dead can hear you when you call out your woes into the open because you can find the famous Hanging Coffins of Sagada at the Echo Valley. From the Anglican cemetery, it’s a short trek downhill. Eerie, mystical, and quite bizarre, but amusing nonetheless. How the coffins were suspended high up on the sides of the limestone cliffs are left to our imagination.
The history of the hanging coffins is pretty interesting. The more the person is valued, the higher the coffins were hung as they believe that they will be closer to heaven. Under some circumstances, there are still people from the tribe who can be buried through this practice.
Perhaps with the belief that they watch over the living or because of their utmost respect to the elders, the natives are particular in telling the tourists to give honor to their dead. They ask tourists to refrain from posting selfies with the hanging coffins online. Sadly, I see many of these in social media.
The Calvary Hill, the Anglican cemetery, is a perfect gateway to the Echo Valley. It sets your mood right and prepares you for a more solemn hike.
Fun fact: Instead of candles, the people light charcoal to give respect to their dead. One latest addition to the cemetery was the late PO3 Noel Golocan – a member of the Fallen 44.
St. Mary Episcopal Church, Echo Valley, and the Hanging Coffins are the most accessible tourist attractions in Sagada. You can finish the tour in a couple of hours. They are authentic representations of a rich heritage, an acquired civilization, and a magical history that you simply cannot miss out on.