Saturday, July 7, 2018


The visionary and wonder worker San Nicolas de Tolentino (b. c. 1246/d. 10 Sep. 1305, canonized in 1446) played such an important part in the religious history of the Philippines.  The mission province of the Augustinian congregation was created in Madrid in November 1621.  When the last wave of missionaries arrived in the country in 1606—the Augustinian Recollects ---they also named their “provincia” after the good saint. The ‘Recoletos’ ministered in the uncharted regions of Zambales and Upper Pampanga

SAN NICOLAS 1. Height: 18"
Originally thought to be a San Antonio, this heft santo wears the trademark Augustinian cincture, which certainly identifies it as San Nicolas. The well-carved santo sits on an 8-sided ochovado base with traces of floral painting on the front panel. races of gilding on the hems and edges of the santo's habit.

For some two hundred years, the Philippines was a primary “misión viva” of the province, which made possible the opening of seminaries in the country. By the nineteenth century, the Recollects gained greater socio-religious significance in the country, and the conversion and evangelization of Negros was the zenith of their achievements.

It is no wonder that so many San Nicolas images were made in the country, thousands carved by untrained Filipino artisans, to be enshrined on humble home altars for veneration and adoration. Four different San Nicolas antique carvings from my collection are shown on this page, to illustrate the varied styles and visual interpretations of Filipino santeros of long ago.

SAN NICOLAS 2: Height: 17 1/2"
A very folksy santo with not much carving details. But the charm lies in its folksy character. Nonetheless, the overextended sleeves of the Augustinian habit are accurately captured in this santo.

His life story struck a chord with Filipinos who prayed for him to work miracles—in the same way that the vegetarian saint, who, upon being served a roasted partridge on a plate, brought the bird back to life by making the sign of the cross. This gave rise to his popular iconography that shed on the rim, shows him in his black Augustinian habit, holding a plate with a bird perched on the rim, and a cross in his other hand.

SAN NICOLAS 3, Height: 14"
This slimmed-down version of San Nicolas is handsomely carved and stands on an ochivado base. He has a downcast gaze, and his rigid pose is broken by his one foot that steps forward, Traces of gilt, including the outline of a star on his chest, which is one of his attribute--in reference to the guiding star that led him to Tolentino.

The ‘saniculas” cookie tradition that remains to be popular in Pampanga can be traced to an episode in the saint’s life when San Nicolas became emaciated after a long fast. The Virgin Mary and San Agustin came to him in a vision, and they told him to eat a cross-marked bread. He did so and he recovered. He then distributed these ‘St. Nicholas’ bread among the sick, who were miraculously cured of their illness. Instead of crosses, the ‘saniculas’ is imprinted with the figure of the saint.

In Banton, Romblon, a church built in the 16th century is dedicated to him, and his feast day during the annual Biniray festival. In Pampanga, a 440-year-old Augustinian church, was founded in his honor in 1575. The massive, heritage church houses a second-class relic of San Nicolas that is venerated after the Tuesday mass.

SAN NICOLAS 4: Height: 11"
This is the smallest among the Santos Nicolas in my possession, and also one of my first santos. This small folk santo has a long, narrow head that sits on a small, short body. It bears traces of paint, and is remarkably complete, save for a missing hand and a plate. Bought in Baguio in the early 80s, it comes from Ilocos.

A San Nicolas de Tolentino Parish Church, built in 1584, can also be found in Cebu City, one of the oldest in the country. San Nicolas is also recognized as the titular patron of the cathedral of Cabanatuan in Nueva Ecija—the site of Gen. Antonio Luna’s assassination. He is also the ‘pintakasi’ of Lambunao and Guimbal (Iloilo), Surigao City, Capas (Tarlac), Buli and Cupang (Muntinlupa), San Nicolas (Ilocos Norte) and La Huerta (Parañaque).

His patronage also extends to animals and babies, mariners, sailors and watermen (he saved 9 passengers on a ship that was about to go down), dying people and  holy souls.

Thursday, June 28, 2018


By Mary Marshall
Originally published  in Archipelago, The International Magazine of the Philippines, 1978-VI A-48. Pp. 24-26.

The church of Loboc in Bohol was built in 1602, paintings and ceilings were restored in 1927.

 Bohol island is probably  most well-known in the Philippines for its strange, humpy Chocolate Hills and its startled, saucer-eyed tarsiers. Its mefolk too have something of a reputation. Bohol’s heroes include fierce datus such as Warai Tupueng and Sikatuna (famous for his blood compact with the conquistador Legaspi), Tamblot the apostate pries, and Dagoho the outlaw and priest-killer. Not a breed to be trifled with. Nor a region where one would expect to find the flowering of Christian folk art. Nevertheless, some of the most remarkable churches in the Philippines are found in Bohol, and some of the oldest.

Baclayon. The most ancient, was built by its parishioners in 1595 to the design of Spanish priests, Juan de Torres and  Gabriel Sanchez, members of the first Jesuit mission sent to the Philippines, in 1581. Typically, it is a massive construction made from limestone blocks hewn from the quarries of Baclayon and neighboring Albuquerque. It stands confronting the sea, its massive  three-storey tower with splayed base resembling a fortress is not fortuitous. The belfry served as a citadel in which parishioners could huddle for protection when Moro pirates made one of their lightning salving raids during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

The seven sacraments which correspond to the seven ages of man are also depicted in the ceiling murals.

Harassed by Moro pirates from the seas and unbelievers from the hills, Chrstian missionaries had limited success in Bohol. The initial impact of the Jesuit missions was confined to the coastal areas around Baclayon, Loboc and Dauis. Even then, it seems to have been superficial as far as most impressionable Boholanos were concerned.

In 1621,a native priest, Tamblot, incited the lowland converts to abandon the new religion. Only Lobic and Baclayon held firm in the new faith.Elsewhere, the renegades burnt villages and churches and built temples to the old gods. In 1774, another, more serious rebellion broke out. When a Spanish priest refused to give Catholic burial to a Boholano killed in a duel, the dead man’s brother Francisco Dagohoy killed he priest and formed an outlaw band in the hills. Many malcontents and rebels against Spanish rule joined him and the revolt lasted nearly 100 years.

Despite the constant challenges to Christianity to Bohol and throughout typhoons and earthquakes, the great churches of Baclayon and Loboc survived. Other damaged churches were laboriously rebuilt or repaired (Loboc in 1855 for instance, and Dauis in 1883). Today, the churches of Albuquerque, Loboc, Loon and Dauis house some remarkable ceiling morals which seem to have been first painted around the middle or later half of the last century.

Many of the murals portray scenes from the life of Christ, his mother and various saints, with San Roque and the Santo Niño especially popular subjects. Sometimes, special themes are followed, such as the Resurrection and the Ascension, or the Childhood of Christ. Sometimes, “musical” paintings are carefully selected for the rear of the church near the choir gallery. We see King David playing the harp, or an angelic trio of violinist, harpist, and flautist, with a ladylike accompanist at the piano.

In Albuquerque and Loon, , the murals include a delightful and unusual series of tableaux on the theme of the Seven Ages of Man. The various scenes illustrate events of religious significance in man’s life, from birth through baptism, first communion and confession, marriage, last rites and funeral mass.

The Ages of Man murals have great appeal. The turn of the century middle-class costumes have an evocative period flavor. In the Loon paintings, the artist allows himself some wry humor: in the scene of the first confession, a horned devil lies in wait outside the confessional for a girl who clearly has been no better than she should be.

In November 1876, the river of Loboc overflowed and flooded the town to the level of the feet of the Virgin painted on the altar reredos. The townspeople implored the help of Our Lady and her intervention in stopping the flood is commemorated with ceiling paintings.

The paintings in Loboc have very local reference. In November 1876, the waters of the river Loboc, across the street from the church, rose during a severe typhoon to the level of the feet of the Virgin of the church, in the reredos above the altar. At this pint, the flood waters were stayed and gradually receded. The miracle, attributed to the Virgin, is recalled in two of the  ceiling paintings, one a Filipino version of the biblical flood with dramatically tumbling nipa huts.

The Bohol mural painters make no claim to be Michelangelo, but their rk has vigor and sincerity hich endows their church interiors with a warmth and life missinh from many more austerely or conventionally modernized Spanish churches elsewehere. For one travel-strained visitor least, their discovery was truly a serendipity.

Saturday, June 23, 2018


All photos courtesy of Dr. Raymund Feliciano

In San Juan, Batangas can be found a church dedicated to the Bohemian (now Czechoslovakia) martyr-saint, San Juan Nepomuceno or St. Johann of  Nepomuk.  The Prague University graduate was appointed pastor of the church of St. Gallus. After earning a doctorate, he was made a canon, and then Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Prague in 1393. 

In San Juan, Batangas can be found a church dedicated to the Bohemian (now Czechoslovakia)  martyr-saint, San Juan Nepomuceno or St. Johann of  Nepomuk.  The Prague University graduate was appointed pastor of the church of St. Gallus. After earning a doctorate, he was made a canon, and then Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Prague in 1393. It was said that because of his refusal of King Wenceslaus IV’s  command to reveal the confessions made by his  Queen Sophia, the king ordered him tortured and thrown into the Moldau River. As such, San Juan is the patron saint of Czech Republic, bridge builders, confessors and is invoked against floods, slander and indiscretions.

 Though not a popular devotion, a few parish churches are dedicated to this “martyr of the confessional, thanks mainly to the Recolteos who propagated the devotion. The San Juan Nepomuceno Church, first erected in 1843 in San Juan, Batangas is one of the few to hold him as titular patron. A stone church replaced it through the efforts of Fray Damaso Mojica. Floods damaged it in 1894, but was rebuilt on its present site.

The Recollects ran the church until 1978, and the administration was transferred to the Oblates of St. Joseph. The same missionary order was responsible for making more major church improvements in 1995. 

The 3-level church façade features a newer portico, three rosette windows between 4 columns,  a second-tier supported by 2 columns with a niche containing a stone statue of San Juan Nepomuceno, and  a pediment topped with a cross. The bell tower, with its midcentury design,  seems out of place alongside the more ancient church.  The churchyard is secured with concrete fence. 

The age-old statue of San Juan Nepomuceno is featured prominently in the central niche of the altar mayor. He is shown wearing his biretta, and around him is a halo of 5 stars  commemorating the stars that hovered and lit his body, on the night of his murder. His iconography includes a crucifix and a pam of martyrdom. In Latin America, he is depicted with a padlock on his lips to symbolize his vow of confidentiality of confessions. 

Inside the church are a number of old, church-owned images including a Dolorosa, Sto. Entierro and a Nazareno.

In comparison with the more well-known churches of Batangas like San Sebastian of Lipa, St, Martin of Tours Basilica of Taal and St. Rafael in Calaca, the San Juan Nepomuceno Church may not look  as spectacular , but remains one of the cultural treasures of the province.

Oblates of St. Joseph website:

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.