Saturday, February 17, 2018

304. SAN PEREGRINO, The Cancer Patron Saint

The saint who would be invoke for the dreaded disease, cancer, was born to  wealthy family in Forli, Italy. In his youth, Peregrine (San Peregrino)  was anti-pope; in one encounter with a fit of anger St. Philip Benizi, an envoy of the pope who was sent over to mediate in an uprising, Peregrine struck him in the face. Philip, thereafter, offered his other check. Overcome with shame and guilt, Peregrine became a Catholic convert and joined the Servites.

Legend has it that he observed silence all his life, and never sat down as part of his discipline.  He was afflicted with cancer of the foot, and an amputation was ordered. But after praying the whole night, Peregrine woke up with a healed foot, and the operation was called off. He died at age 85 in 1345, and was elevated to sainthood by Pope Benedict XIII in 1726.

He is represented as an oldish man wearing his habit, clutching a cross, and lifting the hem of his habit to show his cancerous left foot.

In the Philippines, St. Peregrine was known primarily due to TV evangelist Frank M. Jimenez, who was regularly seen in thanksgiving masses aired on  RPN 9 and on his radio morning program over DWAD.

Saturday, February 10, 2018


Santo Tomas de Villanueva, bas-relief 18” x 24”.

Miguel Lopez de Legazpi officially established the colonial city of manila on June 24, 1571. He organized the local government and laid down the plans of what later would be known as Intramuros, the Walled City.

He was following the orders of the Real Audiencia in Spain during the reign of Philip II. “Highest among the design of His Majesty is the spreading of the Catholic faith”. Going into details, the royal ordinance instructed: “Alongsie the fortress, you should have a church built where Mss shall be held and nearby should be a house for the religious..”

Cherubs serving as column support for the lectern, carving 8” x 19”
Fires burned down the church and the two others that took its place. In 1599, the cornerstone of the actual church hich stands today was laid by the Mexican bishop, Pedro Gurto. The original plan was laid by Juan Macias, but he died before the church and the monastery were finally finished in 1607. Antonio Herera, an Augustinian lay brother who was supposedly a relative of the architect lf Escorial, took over and finished the work.

The present church is fully 371 years old an d has withstood earthquakes and invasions during the colonial era, profanation and bombings during World War II. In the final dys of the battle for the liberationof Manila in 1946, the church and the monastery became a refugee camp for nearly seven thousand people. When the entire Intramuros was razed by nearly 300 bombs that were dropped each day by American fighter planes, only San Agustin remained intact—a true miracle. A visible prayer, it stood alone amid a devastated city that once held as many as twenty equally old and beautiful churches.

Cherubs and dragons serving as column support for the base of the lectern, carving 12” x 9”
The façade of San Agustin Church is classic. Four twin columns support the gable with its rose window. A cross tops the central pediment. The beautifully carved main door depicts St. Augustine, patron of the church and of the order. Four granite lions, carved in the Chinese manner, guard the bases of the columns. They match the two granite lions at the entrance to the patio.

An odd note about the facade: one tower is notbly missing. It was taken down after it cracked during the earthquake of 1880. Which is a pity. From the tower hanged a most historic bell which rang only to announce good news—and very bad news, such as big fires which often engulfed the Walled City.

Purgatory, bas relief, 2 x 5”
The central nave is long and high, punctuated with circular windows through which the light streams in. Two side aisles led to ten chapels which were donated by the leading clans and families of Manila. One of these chapels is dedicated to Miguel Lopez de Legazpi,who died in 1572, only a year after he founded the city. He was buried in the church he provided first for and his remains have been kept in San Agustin ever since.

Beside the church is the monastery whose lower cloisters are now a museum housing a collection of colonial Philippine art. Among the pintings are huge oils that commemorate the life of St. Augustine, his mother St. Monico and other scholars and holy men who belonged to the Augustinian order.

Close up view of the pulpit’s panel.
The large refectory, with seventeenth-century frescoes on the ceiling, contains religious statuary and paintings as well as mission furniture from three centuries of the Spanish colonial era. The library contains books and documents of the once extensive San Agustin archives. Among those on display is a handpainted 17th century Missal, opened to the page of the Christmas Mass. From the windows of the library may be seen the botanical garden of father Manuel Blanco whose book (published in the 19th century) on tropical plants and flowers is a much cherished volume.

The finest examples of woodcarvings may be found in San Agustin; within the church and throughout the cloisters. Stunning is the choir—fro the carvings on its woodwork and on its furniture. The choir seats, done in the Renaissance style, are often enthusiastically called “jewels of art”. They are in hardwood with bone inlay. Consisting of 68 seats supported by colossal arches, it dates back to the 17th century, the work of artisans from Canton.

 Full-length view of the pulpit with canopy, bas relief
San Agustin is a witness to Philippine colonial history. The very first school in the country ws opened in its premises; it housed the first printing press; later it opened the first sanitarium. During the calamities, it was always a  refuge. But it was not spared from damage, sacking and looting. During the British Occupation of Manila in 1762, sacred vessels, religious art treasures and the library of more than 3,000 volumes with manuscripts and incunabula were stolen.

In San Agustin was held the first national synod in 1581 which is of utmost significance for it compelled the colonial government to abolish slavery. In San Agustin, too, was signed the capitulation of Manila from the Spaniards to the Americans in 1898. There is a particular irony here—from it was in San Agustin in 1581 that the legal bsis for the colony was calrified. It may truly be said that the most outstanding carving on San Agustin is the inscription of history itself on its very walls.

Monday, February 5, 2018


In the course of my over three decades of antique santo collecting, I wish I could say I have seen everything, been there, done that. But as they say, collecting takes a lifetime, and you never really stop looking around. That's collector's instinct!

But I certainly have seen a lot, and this article is all about that—the things my eyes have seen through all these years—beautiful santos, ugly santos, folk santos, elaborate tableaus. Then there are the  antique shop pieces that I could not afford, pictures of ivories e-mailed to me for my consideration, heirlooms for sale by families, tabletop images peddled by middlemen. And what about those santos that got away? I have since retired from santo collecting, but whenever I see these pictures, I still get a tinge of regret, leading me to ask myself—now, why didn’t I get that? I don’t even know what happened to these santos—most of them, I presumed must have been sold, re-sold or in still on somebody’s shelves, as these were taken many years ago.

SANTO NINO DE TONDO PRINT. This is just a vintage print, but I thought this Sto. Nino of Tondo. Manila vintage illustration on paper is a nice piece. Maybe this was a souvenir print sold during the fiesta of Sto.Nino. The original frame is so 1950s. But then, my walls are already crowded with paintings and framed artworks.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE SAINT. A friend sent this photo of a chapel-sized santo of a male saint for identification. I thought it looked like either St. John Berchman or St. Gerard Majella. But the habit is all wrong for either of the two. For once, I was stumped.

SAGRADA FAMILIA, ANTIQUE BONE. I got all excited when a dealer showed me this picture of the Holy Family, which looked like they have ivory parts. but I am convinced they're of bone. Just look at where they are...are they being kept in the pantry? Well, the owner of thes eimages supposedly changed his mine, so goodbye Jesus, Maria y Jose!

CALVARIO. I was snooping around Cubao, when I chanced upon this very large figure of a crucfied Christ. Looks very 50s to me, and well made. I made an even startling discovery when I found two companion pieces--a San Juan and a Dolorosa--lying close by. So, this was a Calvario tableau after all!  But too expensive--I think the dealer read my reaction.  besides, the tableau is humongous, I can't put it on my dining table!

SAN ISIDRO LABRADOR. I was invited by  dealer to see some pieces in her Angeles warehouse, but I ended up eyeing this 40 inch San Isidro de Labrador--with a chopped nose. There it stood on her dresser, along with new Santo Ninos for contrast. The 3 foot image is exquisitely carved and has a nice patina--surely, this is century old! I wanted it--despite the fact that it had no cows, angel and the kneeling landlord. I made an offer that was soundly rejected, and I came home empty-handed.

SAN ANTONIO, ANTIQUE IVORY.  A dealer apparently got my e-mail address from a friend, and introduced herself to me. ong with her mail came a pai of santo pictures---they are for sale, she said. The first piece is an all-ivory San Antonio with beautiful estofado painting on his vestments still intact, thanks to its virina. The santo wears a silevr halo, and stands 8 inches tall.
CRISTO CRUCIFICADO. The second ivory image looks to be much older--as the all-ivory corpus of the crucified  Christ has mellowed to an earthly orange-brown color. All the silver accessories are intact, which makes the oiece more appealing to me. The dealer promised to get bck to me for the prices, but she never did. Well, just form the looks of these pieces, I don't think I can afford them anyway!

ANTIQUE CALVARIO, IVORY AND WOOD. How can I forget this piece?? A Guiguinto dealer sent this picture by phone which I got while I was in transit--riding a car. It is surprising that the figure of the crucified Christ is the only one in wood, not ivory. But the manikin figures that surround Him--Mary. Magdalene and John--are incredible pieces. The problem was--I dilly-dallied and deferred my visit to the shop--and so it went to to a collector with more conviction, and with more money, for sure.

SAN PEDRO FOLK SANTO. My opinion is always solicited by  few friends before they buy a santo, so that's how I got my reputation as the go-to person when it comes to santo evaluation and pricing. I am flattered, but I don't consider myself an expert, I guess I am more exposed becuase I go out a lot, even with 20 pesos in my pocket. This charming folksy, younger-looking San Pedro, around 2 foot tall, was being considered by my friend. It even has  his "bulik" rooster by his side. The colors are strong and vibrant. And that santo face!!! Doesn't the saint look like Bruno Punzalan? So, what better advice to give my friend than to tell him--"get it, get it!"

SAN JUAN BAUTISTA. I ws alerted by a Bulacan dealer about this museum quality San Juan Bautista that looks so ancient, by all standards, Just look at the facial carving, the details of the hair and the belted camel-hair garment. As expected, the colonial santo carried hefty  6-digit price tag. I just looked and sadly turned away. I heard that the piece went dealer-hopping before it found a buyer in Manila.

SANTO NINO, POLYCHROMED SANTO. I got all excited when my suki from Bangkal, Makati sent two Bohol santo images that she said were on their way to her thrifts shop. I coul not believe my eyes--one was a Sto. Nino with a tin crown, brilliantly painted and stnding on a four-cornered rococo base. The other hitch was that---they have no prices yet. Hmmm..Red flag alert! And then I saw the next piece...

INMACULADA CONCEPCION, POLYCHROMED SANTO. A small Bohol Virgen with a trademark cherub at her foot!! She wears a tin crown, and  robe full of wavy folds and drapes. Her coloring was superb!!! But then, when they finally arrived, the santos had sustained some damage. The crown of the Sto. Nino and the facial aureole of the Inmaculada were crushed and ruined. Worse, the owner threw them away!! The price for the two could have been reasonable, but I asked for a discount considering the loss of the metal accessories. But the owner was firm, and I lost interest. Next!

SAN ANTONIO VINTAGE SANTO. While still in Bangkal, Evangelista, Makati, I saw this vintage San Antonio painted in house paint. Not exactly my cup of tea, but I was struck by the square-jawed saint who sort of reminded me of Dick Tracy.

LA PIEDAD. This Holy Week processional santo showing the Mary cradling her Son, the dead Christ, though carved in the classical tradition, lack the flowing lines of other La Piedad images I have seen. The poses are a bit rigidd, almost stiff. But that does not retract from the value of this old image. The owner was vacillating whether to sell it or not--so I thought it was better to give him more time to think about it. I never saw the images again.

STA. VERONICA. This small processional image of La Veronica was offered to me sometime in the mid 1990s by a San Fernando dealer. Though old, I really din't like it because it was so expressionless (missing glass eyes), and was carved without flair. See how ramrod straight she stands?  Sometime in early 2000s, it resurfaced in the house of another dealer in Sta. Rita. Is she following me after her rejection? Well, I rejected the image again.

MATER DOLOROSA, ANTIQUE IVORY. There was this dealer I met who kept cajoling me to check out his stock. I actually did and found nothing of interest. When he sked me what I was looking for, I said I was looking for an ivory Dolorosa. He got my number and promised to get back to me. Months later, I had a call from him--he wanted to check a Dolorosa that was with him. nd it was for sale. I rushed to his shop and found this lovely piece! I wanted it! Problem was, he said he has to confer with the seller for the price. Disappointed, I left his place.When I called him again, he said that the price has been sold, better luck, next time. Nope...there will be no next time.

SAN ROQUE. This is a tall image of San Roque--and it is complete. As you can see, the best carved figure is the saint himself; the angel and the dog are mediocre works, maybe done by a separate carver.Though complete and not too expensive, I was not sold on this image. That's maybe how other collectors may have felt, too, as the piece went from one shop to another and went unsold for many month

SAGRADA FAMILIA FOLK SANTOS IN A VIRINA. When i was still working in Makati, I would take the train from Ayala station so I could have lunch at Shangrila Mall. There was also an an antique shop there, and this folk grouping of the Holy Family caught my eye--only because the oval virina and its original base was more appealing to me than the images. Alas, the seller said I have to buy the whole assemblage, which does not make sense as the wooden folk santos are better off displayed in a folk urna. I had heavy dessert instead.
STA. RITA DE CASCIA. When I chanced upon this spectacular church-size santa carved in the round, I stood stupefied. It was beautiful!!! It had this imploring look on her face that semm ot say--"buy me! buy me!". I wasn' sure as to her identity, but my instinct tells me she is Sta. Rita, despite the absence of her trdemark stigmata (or perhaps, I didn't check her forehead due to extreme excitement. I wasn't too sure of her age either. But most of all, I wasn't sure if this was stolen and carted off by unscrupulous thieves for sale to Bulacan dealers. So I held off--I remember it was priced at 70 thousand. I just took a picture and never came back.

INMACULADA CONCEPCION ANTIQUE IVORY. Well, I came back for this ivory Maria many times--at the shop of the late Ramon Villegas at La O center. For some reason, I was fascinated by this piece, which stood almost 16 inches tall (see how her head is touching the tip of the virina). I guess it's the simplicity of the carving, thiugh not as finely carved, the face exudes an expression of serenity, with a calming gaze. Mon even told me about the image's provenance; he said it came from cfrom an old Quiapo family. I think I visited the shop 4 times, but never got around to making a decision to take her home. When I last visited his shop, his ivory angels were all snapped up, but this Inmaculada remained. When Mon died, I regretted not getting this, even more. Sigh,

Sunday, January 21, 2018


Who would think that this magnificent representation of the Guardian Angel--El Angel de la Guarda or Angel Custodio---was fashioned from old santo parts and new pieces by the noted restorer, Dr. Raffy Lopez?

A decade ago, a close friend of mine, Robby Tantingco, discovered the wonderful world of santos. As he was connected with Holy Angel University for many years, he explored the idea of having a santo of the Holy Guardian Angel, the patron of the school.
1830s heirloom image of the Holy Angel

In fact, the university chapel houses the 1830 wooden image of  San Angel Custodio, which once belonged to the founder of Angeles, Don Angel Pantaleon de Miranda. The image—which shows the Guardian Angel holding the hand of a child, was passed on to a series of descendants, until it was inherited by Juan D. Nepomuceno (1892-1973), Don Juan was inspired to name the school he founded after the Guardian Angel, hence--Holy Angel University, now the largest university in Central Luzon.

by artist Domenichino. Source: wikipedia

The representation of the angel protecting children is common in Catholic imagery. In art, the Guardian Angel is shown with his right arm raised, with a finger pointing heavenward; he holds the hand of a child with the other.  

However, images of the Holy Guardian Angel are seldom seen in the Philippines. Thus, the choice to have a San Angel Custodio as my friend’s first santo, was both appropriate and perfect!
ANTIQUE IVORY HEAD, originally, for a Marian virgin

It was serendipitous that I just bought an antique ivory head of a Virgin. Without a wig, the ivory head with glass eyes looked rather androgynous—just like the way that angels are represented. I convinced the first-time collector to invest on an ivory image for his very first santo, and I volunteered to supervise its reconstruction.

Off to Dr. Lopez the antique ivory head went, the only piece he would work with, at the start of the project. Guided by a picture of the original Holy Angel school image, he decided to make an ivory image copy of it.

First, all the ivory parts missing were ordered for the Angel (a pair of hands)  and the Child (ivory head and hands), all made with pre-ban ivory. These were assembled on wooden manikin bodies, and when done, the Angel stood 12.5” tall and the Child, 6” high.  The Angel only had to be retouched to make it look a bit  masculine, while the Child’s features were painted.

Meanwhile, the satin vestments were created, also inspired by the original. The Angel wore a full-length, belted tunic with floral gold thread embroidery, while the Child’s was blush peach. New wigs, and metal accessories—including the highly detailed silver-plated brass wings (copied from an old San Vicente Ferrer)—were sourced from local metalsmiths.

The mortar-shaped base with an oval top was a more stylized version of the antique silver base of the original school image. The cloud designs were hammered (‘pukpok’) on brass panels, that were then silver-plated and attached to the wood base.

When the costumed images were staged and finally set on the base, the result was a new, beautiful San Angelo tableau, which, though not 100% antique, is definitely worth as much for the new santo owner, what with the amount of effort, care,  and labor of love that went into its making.  Ever this day, his very own Angel Custodio will certainly be by his side—to light and guard, to rule and guide!

Sunday, September 3, 2017


San Roque (St. Roch of Montpellier)-- along with  San Vicente Ferrer, San Isidro Labrador, San Jose--are perhaps the most popular santo devotions in the early days of our Christianization, this, based on the abundance of images carved in their likeness.  San Isidro was a natural choice for an agricultural country, while San Jose, well, he was Jesus’ father. The winged San Vicente was known as an “angel of the Apocalypse”, and angels, too,  appear in the iconographies of  San Vicente and San Isidro Could it be our fascination with heavenly winged messengers  that drew Filipinos  closer to these saints?

A more plausible explanation was that our islands and its people were prone to widespread epidemics. The cholera pandemic that killed a million people in Russia hit the Philippines in 1858. The great cholera epidemic would happened again in 1882 and from 1902-1905 that claimed over 200,000 lives.  In the course of time, we have had severe outbreaks of  smallpox , typhoid fever, malaria and tuberculosis.

Our Spanish colonizers, in order to facilitate their evangelization, introduced us to San Roque, his life and his works---how he ministered to the sick in plague-ridden Italy, until he got ill himself. He retreated to a cave where a dog came to bring him bread for sustenance, and licked his wounds that healed them. After his death, an angel was said to descend from heaven, holding a tablet which he laid on the head of the saint. On it was written a prayer, which declared that anyone who calls on San Roque will be spared from  any pestilence.

Because of this, the friars urged the Filipinos to invoke the saint against epidemics and “peste”, cholera, most specially.  People also dropped down on their knees to appeal to San Roque to cure their skin ailments, relieve the pain of bad knees, and keep their dogs healthy.

I can’t even remember what particular shop I brought my first antique San Roque. I do know that I got it in the early ‘80s from one of the stores in Mabini Art Center, then one of the ‘antique’ enclaves of Ermita. I paid exactly Php 170 for this primitive folk example,  which came complete, although its head seemed to have fallen off and then reattached at some point. I guess this was why I got it for that bargain price, as you can get a perfect set back then for Php 300.

The 12 inch., rather thin San Roque stands on a plain, rectangular base, adding ¾” of an inch more to its height. His head sits askew on its shoulders; I had thought it was due to the bad restoration, but I had the head properly re-attached since, and it seems it was really carved with an awkward tilt. The saint’s eyes are bulgy, the beard full, and the mouth is wide.

Wearing a pilgrim cape and a short tunic, San Roque is shown lifting the hem high to reveal the wound on his left knee. There is quite a distance between his pointing finger and the location of the wound though. Note also how rough the folds of the tunic are carved,

He holds a staff with his right hand—I lost the original staff when one of his fingers broke—the one that secured it in the first place. What he now holds is a replacement fashioned from a bamboo barbecue stick. In place of a carved water flask, I just hanged a tiny metal bell.

The unimpressive angel—carved from a narrow piece of wood—stands 7 inches, and no longer has its tablet. It could have been made of tin, on which a native ‘oracion’ would have been handwritten. The native dog has broken one rear and one front foot, but  it has still the ‘pan de sal’ firmly between his teeth.

I have kept this San Roque for some thirty years—unappealing it might be—primarily for sentimental reasons. I bought it at a time when I had the audacity to start a relatively expensive hobby, while struggling to make a living.  The thought of acquiring better quality santos was farfetched from my mind, I had no choice but to buy only what I could afford—often the headless, armless, imperfect ones--the kind Mabini dealers regularly pass up. In all those years that I’ve had San Roque with me, I have neverbeen visited by any pestilence nor  afflicted by a malady of the serious kind---except perhaps, antique addiction!

Sunday, August 27, 2017

299. Guided by the Light: THE MAKING OF A NTRA. SRA. DE GUIA

In my early collecting years,  I must admit I was guided by impulse more than judgment, when buying antiques. That is what happened around 1983, when I made a decision to purchase my first ivory santo, a brown Virgen from the ramshackle shop of Momoy Cabuenos on Arquiza St. which had been there on display for over a month. 

The brown ivory image, with new base.
new wig, original clothes. 1983
It was not exactly what I wanted—it looked folksy, but definitely old—having browned with age. The solid ivory head was set on a crude body with wire armature arms, on which small “tinidor” brown ivory hands were attached. It had no base, and the old tattered, abaca-lined clothes came with the deal—Php 3,500—the exact amount of money in my pocket.

Had I been more patient, I could have saved more and could have purchased a better- looking santa, but at that time, all that mattered was this desire to have my first ivory image, period. 

It took only a week or so, to realize the “folly” of my purchase, for as soon as I took it home, cleaned it, dressed it and affixed it on cheap-looking, gold-tinged base, I was, to say the least, disheartened. Even with a wig, a crown and a virina, the Virgin looked stiff and unappealing.

I usually take pictures of my santos upon their complete restoration, but not this image. I  just put it behind some of my more better-looking, classically-carved santas I acquired in the years that followed, and stayed in that relegated position for years.

The image, as kept in a corner, next to a
ivory Sta. Veronica. ca. 1983.
When I became acquainted with the works of Dr. Raffy Lopez around 10 years later, I decided to show the image to him to see if there’s any way to give her some “character”, as she looked so plain and ordinary. Dr. Lopez was fascinated by the deep brown coloration of the image;  he even praised its naïve features and folksiness.

He then pored over his files and showed me a picture of Ermita’s famed patroness, the oldest Marian image in the Philippines—Nuestra Señora de Guia (Our Lady of Guidance). 

History tells of its discovery by Legazpi’s men in 1571—the hardwood, 20 inch figure was found  resting on a clump of pandan leaves being adored by natives. It was assumed to have been left behind by Spanish missionaries who came to the islands earlier. “This is going to be your image”, he said.

It was a perfect choice, all things considered. What’s more,  the Marian title had a special connection to my hometown, Mabalacat. The Estado General of 1879 reports that the Mabalacat parish was elevated to a vicariate status under the titular patronage of  Nuestra Snra. De Guia most probably around 1836—so that sealed it for me.

In  the next few months, Dr. Lopez undertook the conversion and restoration of the ivory image. The long, unproportional body had to go, and a new one was made. Features like eyebrows and lashes were added on to the brown ivory face.

A cloud base was carved, while a latero meticulously carve the pandan leaves from tin plates that were then painted green.The blue green cape and ecru tunic of satin were sewn, gold-embroidered with pandan leaf and floral motifs. A new set of crown and 12-star halo were ordered. Only the wig with its long, wavy hair was saved.

When the assembled image was presented finally to me after 2 months, I could not helped but be overwhelmed by its incredible transformation. The brown Madonna that I used to conceal behind other, prettier ivory santas now possesses a quiet, dignified beauty unlike any other, thanks to the guidance of Dr. Lopez. 

Today,  in my little home, my Ntra. Sra. De Guia now stands centerstage in one shelf,  reserved for the most special and most precious santas in my collection.