Faith and Spirituality

Antipolo’s Mystical Cave, where you can find faith in stalagmites

Lance Spencer Yu

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Antipolo’s Mystical Cave, where you can find faith in stalagmites

JESUS? Stalactites form what some believe is the image of Jesus Christ in Antipolo City's Mystical Cave.

Lance Spencer Yu/Rappler

The Mystical Cave, with its 'unnatural' rock formations believed to be in the shape of religious images, was first uncovered by Inday Nelly Deles in the 1970s

MANILA, Philippines – Climb a hundred steps up a mountain in Antipolo City, clamber down a musty cave entrance, and you might just see something miraculous.

There, with a dose of imagination, you will find what locals say are holy images – stalagmites and stalactites formed over hundreds of years into shapes resembling the Pietà, the Visitation, and even the very face of Jesus Christ.

For Antipoleños, faith is formed even in the most unexpected places.

PIETA. This rock and stalagmite formation in the Mystical Cave is said to resemble Michaelangelo’s Pietà, with the Virgin Mary holding Jesus in her arms. Photo by Lance Spencer Yu/Rappler

As the legend goes, Inday Nelly Deles uncovered the Mystical Cave more than 50 years ago. Some say she hailed from Iloilo, while others say she came from Binondo, Manila. One thing was clear: Inday Nelly was not from Antipolo.

But there she went in the 1970s, taking to the tall mountains, guided by visions and voices, in search of a cave that came to her in recurring dreams.

Noong natuklasan po ito ni Inday Nelly Deles, para lang po butas na limang-piso. Butas lang po talaga na bilog. Sobrang lakas po ‘yung buga nung hangin. Doon niya po napatunayan na totoo nga po pala ‘yung panaginip niya,” Rizen Quililan, a local tour guide, told Rappler.

(When Inday Nelly Deles found this, the hole was just the size of a five-peso coin. It was just a circular hole. But air was rushing out of that hole strongly. That’s how she proved that her dream really was true.)

According to Rizen, Inday Nelly explored the eight-story cave for years, saying she descended to its depths without so much as a flashlight. In the deepest parts of the caves, where few visitors dare go, the floor is slick with mud, and the passageways are so tight that you must crawl on all fours to fit through.

MOUNT CALVARY. These formations in the cave are said to depict scenes from Mount Calvary, with the figure in the spotlight supposed to be Mary mourning the death of her Son. Photo by Lance Spencer Yu/Rappler
Mystical images

In the 1980s, priests were said to have visited the cave, where they were awed by the “unnatural” formations inside. Deep in the candlelit cave, they held a Mass in front of a multicolumn stalagmite formation called “The Altar.”

Na-found out ng mga pari na hindi natural ‘yung mga nasa paligid. May mga nakikita silang mga imahe,” Rizen told Rappler.

(The priests found out that what was around here was not natural. They saw some images.)

‘THE ALTAR.’ According to local guides, this is where priests held the first Mass in the Mystical Cave decades ago. Photo by Lance Spencer Yu/Rappler

Later on, in the 1990s, the cave was opened to the public. Devotees and tourists alike have since walked alongside its mystical walls, with people flocking to the area particularly on Good Friday.

Rizen, the 22-year-old guide who started out when he was just 17, now takes pride in helping visitors appreciate and see the formations, some of which could be easily missed if you don’t know where to look.

Ito na po pinakapanata ko tuwing Mahal na Araw,” Rizen told Rappler. “Nahiwagaan din ako mismo eh. Sabi ko, hindi naman talaga natural ‘yung mga nakikita. Why not i-try ko na i-share din? Para at least ‘yung mga turista, mas ma-appreciate nila,” he told Rappler.

(This is my devotion every Holy Week. I myself found it enigmatic. I said, what I’m seeing is really not natural. Why don’t I try to share this to others? That way, at least the tourists can appreciate it too.)

Rizen said there are also visitors who believe that the cave’s water, which drips from the ceiling, is blessed. During the rainy season, water fills and overflows from a natural stone basin in the cave, which locals call the “Bath Tub.” Some dip their handkerchiefs in the water. Others drink it.

Besides its religious mysteries, the cave hides other secrets. Rizen pointed out a steep hole along a corner of the cave, dubbed the “Wishing Well,” where visitors can cast coins. Throughout the years, nobody, Rizen said, has ever dared scale down to retrieve the coins.

There is also “The Bell,” a part of the wall that juts out and seems to be made of a different kind of rock. When struck with an open palm, it shudders with the sound of tolling bells that echo in the cave.

Rizen has a curious story about “The Bell.” Some years ago, a tourist was said to have shattered and stolen a part of the rocky wall, taking it as a souvenir. “The Bell” was left with a huge, jagged scar along its side. But just days later, the thief came hurrying back to return the stolen fragment, fearing a curse that seemed to have followed him since.

‘THE BELL.’ Rizen Quililan, a local guide, strikes the rock to produce a bell-like sound. Photo by Lance Spencer Yu/Rappler

Ibinalik niya ‘yung binasag niya. Sabi po kasi niya, simula raw po noong ginawa niya ‘yon, puro kamalasan na po ang nangyari sa kanya,” Rizen told Rappler – just another of the cave’s many mysteries.

(He gave back the part that he broke off. According to him, ever since he did that, he’s been faced with misfortune.)

The Mystical Cave is located in Puting Bato, Barangay San Jose, Antipolo. It is open until midnight on Good Friday, March 29, and from 6 am to 6 pm on Black Saturday, March 30, and Easter Sunday, March 31. –

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Lance Spencer Yu

Lance Spencer Yu is a multimedia reporter who covers the transportation, tourism, infrastructure, finance, agriculture, and corporate sectors, as well as macroeconomic issues.