Thursday, March 12, 2015


In March 1937, the1st Philippine Exposition of Christian Art was held in the Philippines, a first-time exhibit of antique religious and ecclesiastical art culled from private and church collections. The pre-war exhibit was organized in time for the holding of the 33rd International Eucharistic Congress in Manila, and was held at the Victoria Gardens, Manila.

 Some of the precious heirloom santos on display include the Buencamino family’s “Last Supper”, a tableaux of 12 seated santo figures representing Christ’s disciples, plus the carved likeness of Christ himself. This grouping still exists today. Just as awe-inspiring was a set of crucifixes that , as one magazine recorded, “won praises from lay visitors and foreigners as well as church dignitaries who were in the city to witness the 33rd International Eucharistic Congress.” Here are the pictures of the exhibited crucifixes and the original captions that described them.

The image of Christ sculptured about 160 years ago, and at present the property of Doña Consuelo David de Jesus of Sta. Cruz, Manila.

The Ivory Christ the first and only one of its kind in the Philippines and probably in the whole world today. It is made of pure ivory supported on a cross on a block of wood of Philippine ebony. This image stands about 2 feet tall (mountings excluded) and is a cherished possession of a family in Naga, Camarines Sur.

The Nueva Ecija crucifix which is said to have been made in 1732, is not, as one would expect, a church property. On the contrary, it belongs to the municipality of Gapan, Nueva Ecija and is at present, in the custody of its lay officials. Many a Gapan townsman, 200 years ago, knelt and prayed before this crucifix not in devotion, but in atonement for theft, slander and slight offences.

Friday, February 20, 2015

215, Santo Stories: STO. CRISTO OF PAKIL

 SANTO CRISTO DE PAKIL. The ancient image of the Crucified Christ in the church of Pakil, as it appeared in the 1950s.

 In the Franciscan-founded town of Pakil, Laguna, one can find an ancient, life-size crucifix venerated at the altar near the church’s entrance. The present church itself, dedicated to San Pedro de Alcantara, dates to 1732, a masterpiece in stone marked with florid ornamentation.

 The Santo Cristo de Pakil is an object of deep veneration among residents, but is also popular among the devotees of the Virgen de Turumba. The legs and feet of the Santo Cristo have all but darkened with age, and the habit of kissing the feet and the anointing of the santo’s extremities with perfume has persisted.

 The origins of the crucified Christ in Pakil is shrouded in mystery. It was said that an old man sought refuge in the town, begging the cura to find sanctuary in the church. The kind priest allowed him in, and the old man requested that he be given some carpentry tools so he could do some work for the church, in return for the hospitality.

 When the old man did not emerge from the room after some time, the door was forced open—and the priest found him gone. But inside the room was a splendidly carved image of Christ crucified, wonderfully wrought in wood and capturing the agony of the Lord in his passion.

 The image – known as Santo Cristo de Pakil—was enshrined in a retablo menor and is used every Holy Week for the Good Friday rites. As the arms are articulated, the figure of the Christ can be brought down from His Cross to be transformed into a Santo Entierro.

 In this form, the image is processioned on the streets of Pakil, followed by a band of violinists, musicians, singers and hundreds of devotees.

Sunday, February 1, 2015


SANTO NIÑO PERDIDO. The lost Holy Child refers to an episode in Luke 2:41-52 when, at the age of twelve, he accompanies his parents to Jerusalem on pilgrimage. On the day of their return, Jesus strayed away from Mary and Joseph. The distraught parents returned to Jerusalem to find  Jesus three days later. The losing of Jesus is one of the 7 Sorrows of Mary.

When I discovered the world of ebay in the mid-1990s, I was amazed at its wide inventory of items for sale or for bidding. I was surprised to find a smattering of old colonial santos for sale, a few from the Philippines, but mostly—at least back then--from the Spanish colonial period of the Americas.

 I could only drool and dream about these wooden antique santos as they were different stylistically from the local santos that I know. They were more doll-like, classically carved, and their coloration mimicked the healthy, pinkish skin tones of Caucasians.

 I still remember the early dealers whose ebay stores visited, like Historia Antiques which offered museum quality santos and a seller who went by with a rather sassy name—dkr-alliegirl. She always had santos in pristine condition for sale, vividly described and beautifully photographed for a willing buyer. But of course, the price tags kept me away from acquiring such treasures—until I saw this little 9.5 inch Christ Child on dkr-alliegirl’s site.

 Advertised by the seller as a “Niño Perdido” (Lost Christ Child), it was delicately carved from softwood, with arms fixed,complete with finely carved fingers. The miniature santo stood on a simple rectangular base, and had painted hair and glass eyes. Noteworthy was santo’s original coloration which it has retained all these years—from his painted white body to the pinkish blush on his cheeks. 

I am not familiar with the iconography of a “Niño Perdido”; for awhile I thought it was a companion piece to a San Jose, who was sometimes represented as walking hand in hand with the Child Jesus. 

The ebay auction ended with the Niño attracting zero bids, and when next I looked, it was up for grabs at $175. This was when I made my move and contacted the seller, despite the price which I felt was still steep. It turned out that the seller was Deborah Richter, a formidable collector of Hispanic colonial art, and whose antiques have been loaned to exhibits and museums.

I tried coaxing her into selling the Niño to me for a lower price, but she was rather firm with her price. Eventually, with a sigh, I gave in and paid for the piece at the price she wanted, but satisfied with the thought that the provenance of this piece is impeccable, coming from American collectors of note. Years later, I would find Kurt and Debbie Richter’s pieces included in the book “Saints & Sinners: Mexican Devotional Art”, by Schiffer Publishing, which featured an antique ivory Virgin Mary in a virina, among others.

It took awhile for the santo to reach the Philippines from the U.S. But upon seeing it, I knew it was worth the wait, and the price! My first ebay santo purchase also turned out to be one of the first vestment projects of Dr.Raffy Lopez for me. He put together a satin ensemble heavily embroidered with floral patterns on the front and on the sleeves. Lacey cuffs and a collar, plus a one-piece brass tress potencias completed the Nino’s outfit.

 I found a suitable sized wooden gothic urna for my Niño Perdido, just 18 inches high. On a special altar in my living room, the Christ Child stands, ready to give his blessing to those who come in. It’s been a long journey from the U.S. to the Philippines, but the little boy lost has, at long last, found a new home, and I will be forever grateful for honoring us with His holy presence.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015


OUR LADY OF ORANI, The Miraculous Lady of the Holy Rosary. ca.1950s photo

 Source: The National Catholic Almanac
Publicado Por Las P.P. Dominicos

 Thrice, she returned.

 It was during the early years of the Spanish regime in the Philippines. Spome villagers had gone hunting one morning and as they, later, discovered thay had come upon the neighbourhood of what is now known as Orani town, they made haste to depart, for, somehow, the story had gone the rounds to the effect that the inhabitants of this place were none too friendly with strangers. But, as they turned back, they found an image of the Virgin of the Most Holy Rosary under some shady “camatsile”trees.

Won over by its friendly countenance, they took it with them to Samal, where she was ensconced in the main altar of the town church, there to be their Patroness. Early the next day, the villagers went to church to hear the morning Mass. It was the acolyte that first noticed it as he approached the altar to light the candles. The image was missing . A diligent search was immediately started upon direction of the parish priest. Nowhere in Samal was the image to be found.

Sometime after, they found her in the place where she had originally been discovered—under the shady “camatsile”trees. She was brought back to Samal. Twice did she disappear again, being once more found in the same place. The thought then, struck the people of Samal that, perhaps, the Virgin wanted herself revered in that site.

In no time, they erected a church in that place, which became the foundation-center of the town of Orani, for the Samal villagers soon found that the inhabitants of that hitherto unfrequented place were not unfriendly at all with strangers. Hence, the name “Orani”, which comes from “Kauri”, or “Kaurani”, meaning friendly. The Virgin had befriended the two towns.

 Through the centuries, this image has been most beloved by the faithful, who ceaselessly recount the many favors She has bestowed upon them, which include saving them from savage tribes’incursions, a locust pest, and massacres during the Japanese occupation. The image is richly dressed and has, as usual, the Child in one arm, although in the other, instead of the Rosary, which the image has a round the neck, She has a cane.

 According to information released by Acting Chief Nieves Baens del Rosario, of the Workmen’s Compensation Division, through a request from Rev. Fr. Calimbas, Parish Priest of Orani , “a deluxe crown worthy of her honor is being finished to crown her glory. The people, by popular contribution, will have a new dress prepared for her”.

 Rumours have it that this contribution was started “by a woman who was asked by the Virgin for a new dress.” The same information narrates that, “When the Japanese occupied Bataan, the image of Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary was in the Church of Orani. About March of 1942, the people of Orani were able to visit the town. They brought the image to Sapang Lucas, Lubao, Pampanga.

 In September of the same year, the image was brought back to Orani. The whole town was jubilant and gave its patron saint a warm welcome. Because of threats that Orani would be burned by the Japanese, the image was brought on January 7, 1945 to Tamblan, a fishpond near Hermosa, Bataan. In the early part of the same year, the image was brought back. She is one of the few original saints which survived the ravages of war.”

 We end with some of the stories going about on the intercession of this image during the battle of Bataan: Ä big group of retreating Fil-American soldiers was almost annihilated by the Japanese had it not been for thick clouds emanating from two merciful hands. When the clouds cleared and the enemies were dispersed, the image of Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary was seen as the Saviour. “”Evacuees from Zambales and Bataan hiding in the mountains narrated that Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary used to visit them.

” We give no credence to these tales save that worth a human story. We abide by what the church will officially declare thereon. Biut, they are only given here to show our people still conserve that age-old love for the Divine Mother, Queen of the Holy Rosary.

Saturday, December 20, 2014


ANGELS OF LIGHT, MY GUARDIANS DEAR. Two midcentury angels holding pole lamps, now restored. ca. mid-50s, early 60s.

 Another great find from the antique strip near the Sta. Rita NLEX exit is this pair of small wooden angels, offered by a Japan-surplus shop owner. On occasions, vintage and antique religious pieces would surface in his store, and these—along with several santos acquired from a Manila family---and these light-bearing angels were part of his loot, now up for sale.

 The early bird catches the worm—so they say—and I proved that when I arrived first at his shop when he called to tell me of his just-arrived inventory of santos; I had the first and best picks of the day, and I went home with a hoard of stuff—including these circa 1950s angels.

 Though not really old, and scruffy, the 16" carved angels show a lot of potential. For one, it’s hard to find a pair—most are sold separately. The angels are naked, saved for a draping of cloth to cover them, and painted with regular house paint.

 The wings, saved for one, has broken off, and the squarish bases have lost some of their moldings. The necks and hands are threatening to fall off. All other parts remained intact, including the glass eyes.

 This pair may have been used in home altars, perhaps a chapel—the pole lamps that they hold are electrified, and there are no holes to indicate they were ever put on carrozas.

 The pole lamps were customized from regular metal tubes and small thistle-shaped, frosted virinas. Unfortunately, one glass virina has broken, the broken parts badly glued back together

 In this state of disrepair, the angels went straight to my santero, who recommended a full restoration—which included reglueing and securing broken wooden parts, repainting, outfitting of new wings and replacing missing pieces.

 It took less than a month to finish the project. When the angels were returned to me, they sported a new, rosy pink complexion, and looked fresh as the day they were made.

 The only minor kink was that, I could not put back the lamp poles through their grasping hands, as in the process of stabilizing and restoring them, they have been slightly repositioned and no longer aligned. A thinner pole would be needed—and that would be a future project for these angels…my new Angels of Light!

Friday, November 21, 2014

211. Perfect Combinations: SANTOS AND NINOS

ST. ALOYSIUS GONZAGA, Feast day, June 21. Patron saint of young students, Chrsitian youth, plague sufferers. 

A gallery of ivory statuaries depicting saints and virgins carrying the Infant Jesus, as shown in an exhibit at Malolos, Bulacan, in 2012.

SAN ANTHONY OF PADUA. Feast Day, June 13. It is said that Jesus appeared to this Franciscan saint in the form of the Holy Child.  Invoked when finding lost or missing objects.Patron of sailors, travelers, fishermen.

OUR LADY OF MOUNT CARMEL. Feast Day, July 16. Our Virgin and the Holy Child Jesus appeared to St. Simon Stock, and presented him with a brown scapular,  a devotional sacramental signifying the wearer's consecration to the Blessed Virgin.

ST. CAJETAN. Feast Day, August 7. While attending the Xmas celebration at St. Mary of the Crib, he is said to have been given the grace of receiving from Mary, the Child Jesus into his arms. Ptron saint of the unemployed, seekers of job and good fortune.

ST. JOSEPH, Feast Day, March 19.Husband of Mary, father and guardian of Jesus.

ST. ROSE OF LIMA, Feast Day, August 23. The first saint of the new world was a mystic who saw visions of the Child Jesus. Patron saint of Peru, Philippines, California, florists, gardeners and embroiderers.
ST. STANISLAUS KOSTKA, Feast Day, August 15. Legend has it that the Virgin placed the baby Jesus in the saint's hands and urged him to join the Society of Jesus. Patron saint of Jesuit novices, Poland, students.

ST. THERESE OF AVILA. Feast Day, October 15. This Spanish mystic and Doctor of the Church is associated as former owner of the esteemed image of the Infant Jesus of Prague. Patron saint of Spain, Croatia, lacemakers, sick people.

Thursday, October 16, 2014


THE LITTLE LORD JESUS LAY DOWN HIS SWEET HEAD. A 7 in. antique ivory Nino sleeps on a new brass crib with  a canopy decorated with old mother-of-pearl flowers. Old plaster sheep from an antique creche and miniature candlesticks flank the Dormido. The whole ensemble is housed in a vintage virina from Thailand, which used to hold an antique Buddha. Personal Collection..

 One of my most treasured santos in my collection is this antique Niño Dormido of solid ivory. I acquired this 7 inch image from a formidable collector of antiques in a most fortuitous way.

 A gentleman collector had previously seen my modest collection of santos posted online and was pleased to know that we shared the same santo restorer. Next thing I knew, he extended an invitation to me to visit his home in a Manila suburb that was filled to the rafters with the most astounding collection of sacred art—from paintings, retablos, tabletop ivories to processional santos. I was just happy to make his acquaintance (he tunred out to be a kabalen!) and grateful for opening his ancestral home to me.

 I was still gushing over this gentleman’s collection when I met up with my santo restorer friend. “”Oh,”, my friend said, “you might want to see his antique Niño Dormido that he is unloading. I have it with me!”.

 It was love at first sight when I beheld the figure, wrapped up in an old silk handkerchief. It was not perfect—his nose and a hand had broken off, both feet were chipped, and the wooden pate on his back was missing. Still, it was an impressive figure, old and hefty, with an impeccable provenance.

Antique Niño Dormidos rarely come up in the market, for they are prized devotional pieces by owners. I knew then, I just had to have this sleeping Niño. But when told of the price tag, my heart sank—it was affordable by today’s standards, but still I didn’t have that much amount of money. “Not to worry,”said my friend, “ all we have to do is call the collector! And I’ll tell him who the interested buyer is!”.

To make the long story short, I made an embarrassingly low offer, which, to my surprise, was accepted! It was a kind gesture on the part of the collector, whom I had only previously met once!

Once I took the Niño home, it spent months in a shoebox because I really had no idea how to display it. Ideally, this should be in a virina (glass dome), on a velvet bed of some sorts—I have seen examples online. But the costs of antique virinas are so prohibitive—this, before the day of Made in China glass domes.

 It was then that I remembered I had a small glass dome bought in Thailand, which once held a Buddha figure. It was not antique, and the glass itself was thick and full of bubbles—not the clear, thin glass of Czechoslovakian-made antique virinas. But I thought with a bit of creativity, I can make do with this glass dome.

 The first thing I did was to have a new traditional base made, to replace the original base that had tacky floral carvings in front. Designing the brass bed or crib where the Niño would lay proved to be the greatest challenge.

I have seen bridal glass domes with spectacular brass canopies decorated with metal flowers, birds and leaves—and I wanted something like that. In the end, I customized my own design, which I took to my nearest ‘pukpok’ metalsmith in Mexico. I had to explain everything to my metalsmith painstakingly, providing him with visual pegs for small details such as the brass bird, the shapes of leaves and flowers. I also asked him to incorporate an antique brass halo which I earlier found, as a centerpiece accent. It took awhile for him to finish the crib, as it needed to be gold-plated too.

Once done, I took the crib home and figured out a way to embellish it with a cushion and other trimmings. The red velvet ‘bed’ was fashioned from fabrics scraps and cotton batting, thanks to my limited sewing skills. I still had old ‘lagang’( mother-of-pearl) flowers that I used to decorate the wire frame.

 Miniature brass candlesticks sent by a friend from U.K. doubled as flower holders, and a flock of plaster sheep—remnants from an antique crèche were the finishing touches for my Niño Dormido virina project.

Thus, the Christ Child reposes, no longer hidden in a shoebox, but on a velvet, canopied brass crib for his Head, housed in a special glass dome fit for a newborn King.