Tuesday, June 12, 2018

316. Reconstructing a Shadow Box Santo: SAN ANTONIO DE PADUA

One vanishing art that is taught in mostly Catholic schools is the construction of 3-dimensional religious images from flat pictures, encased in a shadow box. This art form has its origins in the monastic arts of yore that were created by nuns to while away their leisure time, that often includes embroidery, painting, shellcraft, paper tole and paper curling. When religious-run schools were established, nuns passed on this shadow box art to their students, as part of the art education classes.

This small vintage, 1950s 3-D picture of San Antonio de Padua with the Child Jesus, was found assembled in a cardboard box, its frame gone. To achieve the 3-D look, the colored figure of the baby-holding saint is first cut out,  then is “clothed” with brown fabric that is folded, creased and glue to the figure, to simulate the natural drapes of the robes when worn by a real person. 

The cincture was fashioned  from a piece of string, and the vestments decorated with sequins. The Child Jesus is dressed using the same process. The saint’s paper hands, and the Baby’s arm and feet, which have been cut separately, are then set appropriately to complete the 3-D illusion.

The whole ensemble was pasted on a cardboard backing, decorated with cotton,  fabric flowers and foil leaves. The backing, as it turned out, was from a bakery carton packaging (Plaza Bakery) that may once have kept a pie or a cake for Christmas.

The well-preserved San Antonio cut-out was carefully removed from this backing, and the most of the fabric flower decorations were saved.   The cutout, together with the rewired flowers and foil leaves, were then assembled on a new, thicker cardboard backing.

Meanwhile, a new cardboard box was constructed from foam board and the lined with brown, ruffled fabric to form the matting. The cardboard containing the 3-D San Antonio was then glued onto the inside of box. 

The whole assembly was then encased permanently under a vintage glass frame, the last step in the shadow box art reconstruction.

Monday, May 14, 2018

313. HONORING SAN ISIDRO, by Bibsy M. Carballo, Sunday Times Magazine

By Bibsy M. Carballo    /    Photos: Romeo Vitug 
Photos of  San Isidro, courtesy of Jayson Maceo
The Sunday Times Magazine, 21 May 1972, pp. 26-27

Sincerity Flamboyance, Festivity.
Nowhere else in the world, perhaps, is as much tribte and homage given to the food god than in the coconut-producing towns of Quezon province,

Perhaps it had to do with the utter dependence of the crop on the whims of nature; perhaps it can be explained through the people’s love for ritual and spectacle. Whatever the reasons, the fifteenth of May each year is a special day dedicated to San Isidro, patron saint of the farmers.

In Sariaya, boys clamber up abamboo
pole to try to topple it.

For weeks before this day, all regular work stops and the entire towns busy themselves in preparing the buntings and delicacies that will hamg from wondows and bamboo poles around the town.

Although each town celebrates the feast in its own way with even urbanized Lucena paying lip service with a few street decorations, the towns of Lukban and Sariaya, are the perennial competitors in the art of celebrating San Isidro.

The street is a mad sceneof happy grabbing and elbowing.

Lukban, with its candy-colored kipings in fancy shapes, its fruits and baskets, its entire window facades in a riot of colors. Sariaya, with its bamboo poles festooned with goodies which are torn down as the venerable San isidro passes by in the procession in the early evening; less colorful, less party-pretty, bit more exuberant and spontaneous.

A satisfied grin on his face, Sariaya well-wisher
walks away with his prized possessions.

And, as always, in keeping with the tradition of prayers for food and a good harvest, no visitor is allowed to go home empty. Food is literally pushed down one’s throat; it is an insult to decline. Houses are opened up to entire strangers; and as the Alcalas of Sariaya have found out, no one has really been proven to be the loser by such a reckless gesture.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

312. LA PIETA IN WOOD AND BONE: Grief and Gladness at the Philtrade Antique Pavilion

In the late 1980s, Philtrade in Pasay became one of the major antique centers in Manila due to its cluster of pavilions that were earlier envisioned to be venues of international expositions and trade shows. I was fortunate to catch the tail-end of the glorious antique collecting era, when shops were still relatively full of real, antique stuff.

Prices were already steep by then, and I would go to these exhibits simply to feast my eyes on the beautiful santos, and hope to find one that would fit my modest  Makati worker’s budget. Not only were the popular antique shops of Mabini represented at the Philtrade pavilion, but there were also smaller, independent antique sellers who rented out spaces to sell their wares.

It was in one such show that I found one of my favorite santo ensemble. I had actually put a down payment on an  ivory Virgin from Sieva Antiques, but when I returned for it the next day, it had been sold to another customer. The dealer thought I would not come back for the it-- a conclusion he arrived at, maybe because I was dressed in tattered shorts and T-shirt.

I was so livid at this deal gone awry, that when I came back to Philtrade to collect my refund, I decided to linger and check out the smaller, less populated stalls of the pavilion to forget my disappointment. It was in one of these holes-in-wall (I could not even remember the name of the shop) that I chanced upon a remarkable antique ensemble—an unusual La Pieta which depicts Mar and Jesus after the crucifixion. The tableau consists of the seated Sorrowful Virgin with a head and hands of bone, cradling on her lap a small, naively-carved wooden 5 in. Christ.

When found, they were without clothes, wigs and accessories, and the image of the Virgin seated on a plain, crumbling, wooden stump. They were obviously of lesser quality than the previously mentioned ivory Virgin, but how many in their collecting lifetime, has seen a La Pieta in wood and bone?

It was a no-brainer: I had to have this La Pieta. The dealer wanted PhP 7,500 for it, but I turned on my full negotiating power until I whittled the price tag down to Php 6,000. I  gave him the amount—which was basically the 5K refund plus the remaining 1K from my wallet—and La Pieta was mine.

It was only many years after—after having been acquainted with Dr. Raffy Lopez---that I had this bone and wood La Pieta restored at his atelier. The Sorrowful Virgin  had her features repainted, and one eye restored. Wigs and metal accessories were ordered, while new embroidered vestments were worked on. Finally, the woodworm-damaged base was replaced. The tableau was then encased in a glass dome—which actually was a glass globe of a hanging gas lamp.

In our old ancestral home, on a small circular table in the ante-sala, my antique La Pieta sits. I never thought that my disappointment  over a santo that got away would be quickly assuaged by this extraordinary find at a humble antique stall in Philtrade, turning my feelings of dismay to instant delight! Somebody must have pities me so much, he gave me, instead—La Pieta!

Tuesday, April 24, 2018


The early images of Angeles (early name: Kuliat), came mostly from the family and descendants of the founders, Don Angel Pantaleon de Miranda and Rosalia de Jesus. The two earliest santos—San Angelo Custodio (now enshrined at the Holy Angel Chapel) and Virgen del Rosario (in the central niche of the Holy Rosary Parish and used in La Naval celebration) date from the 1830.

By 1835, Kuliat had a Pio Quinto (Pius V) , San Juan (St. John), Sto. Domingo (St. Dominic), Magdalena Mary Magdalene), Nazareno (Nazarene), Apung Mamacalulu (Lord of the Holy Sepulchre), Manalangiñ (Agony in the Garden), Bayung Dacap (Arrest of Christ), Macagapus (Scourging at the Pillar), Desmayadu (Fainted Christ), Macalucluc Batu (Crowning of Thorns), Tercera Caida (Third Fall) and Sta. Veronica.

In 1836, the Sanchez Family, headed by the matriarch Fernanda Sanchez, had a processional San Pedro image made. A relative,  Casimiro Sanchez,  had earlier commissioned the image of Christ being crowned with thorns.

When Fernanda passed away, the image was bequeathed to heir Don Lorenzo Sanchez, who used to have a stately residence in front of the more famous Pamintuan Mansion. It was in his house that future president Manuel L. Quezon stayed when he attended the first anniversary of the Philippine Republic in 1899 as member of Aguinaldo’s staff. Designated caretakers were Jose Galán and Quiteria Espiritu.

Fernanda’s San Pedro, wrought by an anonymous craftsman, was accompanied by a silver rooster atop a 4-cornered column. The centuries-old image itself is masterfully carved with head gazing heavenward, with two keys dangling from his clasped hands. This San Pedro has a wide forehead, with more luxurious locks and a full beard.  The city’s San Pedro is rarely seen, but participates in the La Naval celebration of Angeles every October.


Sunday, April 15, 2018

310. Santo Stories: KAMBAL NA KRUS OF TONDO

On March 23, 1922, Crispino Lacandaso, a young carpenter, was chopping wood from a felled, hundred year-old sampalok (Tamarindus indica) tree on a vacant  lot at 1885 Juan Luna Street, Gagalangin, Manila. 

After much difficulty, the laborer managed to cleave the trunk in two. To his amazement, he saw a dark cross on a base, imprinted on both halves of the wood. The discovery of the twin crosses—Kambal na Krus—was considered a miracle, and instantly created a sensation among devout Catholics in the area.

The pieces of wood were subsequently encased in glass, and later, installed in a small chapel that was built as a shrine where devotees  could come to venerate the sacred twin crosses. One piece is a bit larger than the other, but both are adorned with burst of metal rays or rostrillos, and draped with embroidered cloth serving as capes of sorts. 

The trunks, which have darkened with age making the crosses less visible, flank a carved figure of crucified Christ. The chapel continues to be a center of pilgrimage and has been renovated many times, the last one as recent as 2013.

The Chapel's Discovery Day is on 23 March, but the actual celebration is held on the 3rd Sunday of March. During the fiesta, many people flock to the Chapel to venerate the crosses, showing gratitude for the past year's blessings. The Kambal na Krus Chapel is also a favorite visita iglesia pilgrimate site during Maundy Thursday.

"KambalnaKrusChapelTondojf9663 06" by Ramon FVelasquez - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:KambalnaKrusChapelTondojf9663_06.JPG#mediaviewer/File:KambalnaKrusChapelTondojf9663_06.JPG

Tuesday, April 3, 2018


In one of the exclusive villages in Makati is the residence of a private collector--an academician,  translator, author and professor, who has cultivated a taste for fine Philippine antiques. A fellow Kapampangan, I met this getntleman at our cultural study center, which attracts many scholars of history and cultural heritage workers like him. I had the privilege of being invited to his home, where I had a peek at his modest collection of local sacred art. These are mostly santos that run the range from folk to classical, simple to ornate, wood to ivory. Just look at the treasures that his house holds: 

 A small, ivory Nino with a dressed manikin body, and housed in its own urna.This must have been a part of a Holy Family tableau.

 A folksy trio representing the Holy Family. The heads and hands are made from carved bone. The santos have primitive bodies with wire armature arms. In their original embroidered satin dresses.

 A very small polychromed Bohol Virgin with a replaced ivory head and hands, standing on a cloud base carved with cherubs. It is housed in an equally colorful urna.

 This is a large Santo Nino, darkened and reddened with age. Outfitted with glass eyes, it has a clownish expression and the carving style has a distinct folksy feel.

 I helped the collector acquire this beautiful  3-foot image of the Immaculate Conception by introducing him to an office mate whose fiance's family once ran an antique shop in Greenhills that has since closed down. Despite the crack on the body, the carving of this figure, and its original encarna, are superb.

 A wooden, painted icon of the Holy Trinity. It is painted on a thin, wooden board. Bohol provenance.

 This century-old processionl head of a Cristo for an Agony in the Garden tableau is an outstanding piece, finely carved with details like the high cheekbones, exposed teeth, deep nostrils, and the fine strands of hair on his beard,

 Crucified Christ rendered in ivory, hangs on a hardwood cross outfitted with silver accessories: cantoneras (finials), YNRI, rayos, Christ's potencias, and tapiz. Ot is housed in a glass dome (virina).

 A primitive Sacred Heart of Jesus. The moonface-figure has very little details as seen from the simple drapes on his vestment.

 Another wonderful example of a polychromed Virgen from Bohol enshrined in her own nail-less urna or altar, painted with still-vibrant colors.

 A forlorn-looking Christ the King figure seated on his thrown, missing a scepter and a crown.Such figures are enthroned in family homes, often in the living room.

 Sleeping Santo Nino in ivory. prized in many Filipino homes, Heirloom Nino Dormidos are often passed from generation to generation.

 A naif carving of San Isidro Labrador, patron saint of farmers and laborers. This small santo,with its trademark polychrome painting,  comes from Bohol.

A well-carved crucifix, with the corpus of Christ in wood. The dead Christ wears a silver loincloth, and his head sports silver tres potencias and a crown of thorns. The end finials of the cross plus the YNRI, are all made of silver.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

308. A Padre de Familia, Reworked: SAN JOSE

Talking about devotional images for the home, it is surprising that, growing up,  I never saw heirloom santos in our family altar. Not even one. What we had were plaster cast saints from the 1950s,  a handful of which survived—Virgen de los Remedios, Fatima,  Lourdes, and a headless escayola figure of a Sacred Heart of Jesus. But old, wooden tabletop santos? Never. The only thing close was a small Nazareno that  my Apung Tiri bought after the war, perhaps from one of those stalls in Quiapo church, and which is now in the possession of my 95 year old aunt.

Perhaps that’s what excites me when I visit my other distant Castro relatives and discover antique family santos in their home altar. In one such visit to my second cousins, I saw a couple of folk santos on a table, not so finely carved, but antique nevertheless. Of course, my cousins—who knew of my penchant for collecting them—would tell me stories behind the santos—how this particular San Isidro Labrador was often beseeched for good rice harvest by their Apu. Or how this San Jose was prized by the mother, until termites gobbled him up. These santos, however, would be stored for good, when, one by one, my cousins left for the U.S., and I thought I would never see them again.

But  a day before the last of my cousins departed for the U.S., I was in for a big surprise. When I got home from work, I found this San Jose with a Child Jesus on my living room table, brought there by my cousin in the hope that I can adopt it and have it restored for my collection. I was grateful and thrilled at the same time, and I promised to take care of their San Jose, no matter what shape he was in.

I have seen similar santos of this make, possibly one of the earliest,--and cheapest-- types of commercial, mass produced wooden figures, all with uniformed sizes, same manikin body construction, same bases, and even same facial features. 

The same goes true for the globe-holding  generic Niño, made to be held by these generic santos and santas,  then clothed with different vestments and outfitted with accessories, to finally define them  and their titles. 

True, there may be nothing remarkable about this San Jose, but its special-ness comes from the fact that it once was the center of a family devotion, sharing home and hearth with my Castro forebears.

The wooden head of San Jose was in a terribly bad shape. The wood had been eaten by termites, with half of the head gone—just a thin shell---no nose, right cheek gone, the base, ridden with holes.

Surprisingly, the wooden body was in good condition, the hands complete; even San Jose’s original rattan staff was intact. He was wearing well-worn robes on his shapeless body, most likely sewn by another cousin, an expert sastre (tailor), as well as an old abaca wig.

The Niño was in better shape, as it was carved in one piece. Its paint has long faded and it came to me clothed in a white eyelet tunic, several sizes bigger.

My biggest problem was San Jose’s heavily damaged head. My first impulse  was to discard the head, have a new one made, and that would have solved my problem. It also means destroying the integrity of the image, no matter how plain and folksy it looks. I decided to see if I could restore it myself , and so, armed with perseverance and prayer, I embarked on this restoration project.

To fill the gaping hole on San Jose’s head, I had to buy a can of plastic filler, some sort of a wood putty, that sets in an hour, then dries in a day or two. My patience was tested when I started filling the hole, as I had to do put the filler in one layer at a time, wait for it to set until it achieves a clay-like consistency.

Then you build on this layer, poured more filler, wait for half a day or so, and begin the process again until you build up the filler all the way to the surface are of the santo’s skin.  Only then can I mold and shape facial features—like the nose, nostrils,  the beard, the missing cheek and forehead--using all sorts of spatulas, ice cream sticks and even my hands. Sometimes, I was always in a rush; I would begin molding, only to realize that the putty had not fully settled yet. After a day, the cheek and forehead would cave in as the putty seeped through the crevices of the hole-ridden head.

Meanwhile, I tried replacing the missing eye with a glass eye I cut from a broken bulb. When that did not fit, I made another eye using clear plastic, from an empty mineral water bottle. The fit was better! Finally, after two week of filling, shaping, sculpting and sanding--- I declared my finished santo head a success.

The next step was painting both the San Jose head and the Nino. I was just too lazy to do this, so I just brought it to an art gallery in Angeles and convinced the artist-owner to paint them, even though he paint only on flat canvasses.

When I put the San Jose head on the cleaned-up manikin body, I was pleased with the result, although it could have been better. I could still detect a dent on one side of the head—the result of my impatience, of not waiting longer for the putty to set. I could also have done a better job with sanding the piece, as, despite the paint job,  I could still see areas where the wood and the putty meet.

For San Jose’s vestments, I retained the original green tunic and had a full velvet cape made so that his clothes would have more volume and body. I also spruced up the undershirt with lace. 

The Niño had to contend with His old clothes, which I altered to make it smaller. I smooched a wig from one of my old santas, and had his metal halo re-wired (it is still with the latero, so you don’t see him wearing it here).

The final results of my San Jose restoration project are on this page. I have signified my intention to donate this image to our chapel—on behalf of my generous cousins-- as soon as I have a glass-fronted urna or cabinet made. 

When I told my cousins of this plan, they were elated and touched, of course, at the thought that their San Jose—once their padre de familia—would now be a Great Father to a whole barangay who would only be happy to have him in their midst.