(Catholic Digest, Commemorative issue, April, 1965)
The devotional character of Catholicism in the Philippines is reflected in the numerous statues and statuettes of the saints that fill our churches.
This has led some members of the Filipino intellectual class to look down on Catholicism as nothing more than superstition fit only for the ignorant masses. Thus, a need for developing devotional piety into a mature act of faith, a real norm of action in daily life, arose.
The fact remains that it was the simple childlike piety of the common people as expressed in the popular devotions to Christ, His mother and His saints, that has largely kept Catholicism alive in this country despite the shortage of priests.
As relics of our religious and cultural heritage if not always as works of art, the ‘santos’ found in many old churches that dot the Philippines have inspired the interest of a growing number of collectors in the last seventeen years.
Images that have been put aside to give way to more ‘modern’ ones when old churches were renovated, or which have been kept in private homes as family heirlooms, have gradually found their way into the hands of private collectors who vie with one another for the rarer pieces.
A brisk trade in these statuettes has developed, and concern has been expressed over the fact that a good number of them are being exported out of the country.
A stimulus to the interest in Spanish-Philippine religious art, was an article published in ‘Philippine Studies’, the Jesuit quarterly, by Fernando Zobel de Ayala, the noted artist and art patron.
The article, ‘Philippine Colonial Sculpture’ published in 1958, was later expanded by Mr. Zobel into a book, ‘Philippine Religious Imagery’ (Ateneo de Manila, 1963).
The first on its subject, Mr. Zobel’s book surveys religious painting, sculpture and related arts during the centuries of Spanish rule in the Philippines. Aside from explanatory sketches by the author, the book includes a collection of 147 photographs by the distinguished photographer, Nap C. Jamir.
Seven of the Jamir photographs in Zobel’s books are reproduced in this issue, through the courtesy of the Ateneo de Manila University which holds the copyrights. They include a Santo Niño de Cebu from the Araneta Collection; part of a Via Crucis from Virac, Catanduanes (Araneta Collection); an apocalyptic Virgin (Araneta Collection); another version of the Santo Niño from the Hidalgo Collection; a curious sculpture of the crucifixion inside a glass bottle (Zobel Collection); a bas relief of St, Augustine from the Araneta Collection; and a bread mould decorated with the image of St. Nicholas from the Galvez Collection.
Mr. Miguel Galvez, noted artist and collector, kindly made 20 photographs of pieces from his collection available to the CATHOLIC DIGEST for this special issue.
“The discovery and political conquest of the Philippines by the Spaniards in the sixteenth century”, writes Fernando Zobel, “ was a spiritual conquest as well. The conversion of the Philippines to Christianity had an immediate effect on art. Catholic Christianity urgently required churches and religious images and very quickly the demand was met”.
“It is true”, continues Zobel, “that these churches and images were based on European models, but they were actually built, carved or painted by Oriental hands and inevitably a new style—a fusion of Spanish, Chinese and Philippine characteristics—emerged.”
In some way, the ‘santos’ preserved the flavor of Philippine Catholicism through the centuries, and to the scholars, they tell a story of how faith grew in this country: the historical model was European, the execution was done locally, and the product is part of our national heritage today.