Thursday, August 26, 2010


(Originally published on SUNDAY TIMES MAGAZINE, March 22, 1964 issue)

Holy Week festivities in this town center around precious family heirlooms that are about a century old.

BANTAYAN is only a small island located on the northernmost tip of Cebu. Buit one finds here a rich tradition of folk art that recalls the glorious era of the galleon trade and the early stages of Spanish evangelical conquest. A wide variety of religious images mostly depicting the passion an death of Christ is found in the possession of the different families in this town. Most of these figures are reputed to have been ordered from Barcelona.

One of the 1st galleons that came to the Philippines borught with it the 1st Spanish inhabitants who later settled with their families or intermarried with natives.

It is said that whenever the “padre de familia” would leave for a long voyage back to his native Spain, he would ask what his children would like as homecoming gift. The fad in those days was, so runs the story, to ask for an ivory religious image of a patron saint or another “paso” of Christ’s crucifixion for the Holy Week procession. In time, the image or images (for this was a frequent occurence) became regular participants in the annual Holy Week processions.

But not all families had relatives who could order images from the motherland.

Seeing this demand for Holy Week images, Ma Piyano Carabio, a native sculptor, began to fashion his own pieces. Patiently and painstakingly, Ma Piyano Carabio worked on his images, and was so good at it that he became popular and his woodcarving talent became much in demand.

When Ma Piyano died, his son, Ma Binoy took over his job. He depended solely on stampitas for details, and form these, he would attempt to etch an exact replica in wood or ivory. He has to his credit an extensive array of sculptural pieces which helped to complete the 21 existing processional cars which are now being used for the traditional Holy Week festivities.

Besides Ma Binoy, another contributor has also contributed much to the Bantayan folk art. He is Antonio Tinga, a graduate of the Cebu School of Arts and Trade who has been carving image and santos for the ‘carrozas’ in response to his mother’s wish to be an active participant in the Holy Week devotions.

These carved religious images in Bantayan can be classified as predominantly of the informal style which art critics will no doubt evaluate as “products of relatively uneducated, unsophisticated…sculptors”. Indeed, the works of the three sculptors, Ma Piyano, Ma Binoy and the young Antonio Tinga lack style and professional technique; but they possess the expressive power and liveliness of shape which is one of the outstanding characteristics of Filipino folk art. For example, in the figures of the Jews, the facial details reflect a craftsmanship peculiar to folk art: the expressionless countenance. But each of the faces in the different episodes of the crucifixion of Christ portray different facial expressions: of tiredness, pain, patience and thirst.

Most, if not all of the owners of religious images in Bantayan have stories to tell. Of these, the one that is most spectacular is linked with an old-possibly the oldest-religious image in Bantayan, the ‘paso’ of the Santo Intierro, or the scene of Christ in the tomb, owned by the late Mr. and Mrs. Ruperto Maderazo. Believed to have been handed down to the third generation, the statue has a head made of ivory, which came from Barcelona, Spain. Its body was ordered from an anonymous sculptor in Manila more than one hundred years ago. Its hands and feet are detachable. It is said that once, while the statute was at procession, it caught fire. The entire processional car was afire but the pillow on which the blessed head rested was not the least scorched nor touched by the flames.

The family who owns this makes it a tradition to bathe the wounds of the statue with expensive perfume before it is dressed for the procession.

Another image which is a few years younger than the Santo Intierro is that named “La Paciencia”. Jesus is shown sitting down wearing a crown of thorns. He is cupping his face as if patiently awaiting his fate. It is now in the possession of Mr. and Mrs. Silvino Du.

Third in rank in antiquity is the ‘paso’ owned by the Mabug-at family. It depicts the blessed Lady holding Christ in her arms after he had been taken down from the cross. This shows clearly the evidence of age especially in the arm and knee joints of the figures. It is interesting to note the expression on the faces of the Mother and Son. The family claims that the original set of this ‘paso’ which consists the Mother and Son came from Spain. One of the children of the owners had sold the statue of the Blessed Mother to an Aglipayan in Negros. The family tried to buy it back but failed because the new owner would not sell it back to them. They decided to as Ma Binoy to make a new blessed Mother for this ‘paso’. The statute of Christ is more than 80 years old, while that of the statue of the Lady is approximately 30 to 40 years younger.

The family of Mr. and Mrs. Florencio Arcenas also owns one of the oldest Holy Week images. The scene represents our Lord being scourged. In these images, estimated to be 80 to 90 years old, the craftsmanship and art of Ma Piyano Carabio is very evident especially in the etching of Christ’s ribs and collar bone.

In most of these pieces, the variety of wood used was ‘tanghas’, a variety chosen because of its durability and fineness of texture. Second choices was the wood from the santol tree.

The respective family owners are responsible for the upkeep of the statues. They provide the vestments and decorations of the cars especially during the Lenten processions.

An interesting feature of the Bantayan Holy Week procession is the custom of dressing up the children as saints, to represent a Santa Maria, a San Juan, a Santa Teresita, or a San Antonio. The custom, an upshot of individual promises or vows made by the parents for one of other favor granted to them by any of the saints, makes for a colorful aspect which provides a striking contrast betweem the antiquity of the statues and the youth of children.

This year, these treasured heirlooms will once more join in th Holy Week celebrations. We, the Bantayanons are proud of what we have. Ours is a small town, but it has undoubtedly one of the richest reservoirs of religious and antique images.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

26. RETRO-SANTO: Nstra. Sñra de la Medalla Milagrosa

The image of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal is based on a series of heavenly apparitions of the Virgin, witnessed by a novice of the Daughters of Charity in a chapel at Rue de Bac, Paris. On 27 November 1930, St. Catherine Laboure beheld a vision of our Lady standing on a globe with rays of light emanating from her outstretched hands. Framing her in an oval are the words “ O Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee”. St. Catherine was instructed by our Lady to have a medal struck in the likeness of her vision, and shortly after, accounts of healings, conversions, prosperity and other miracles were reported. Thus began the propagation of devotion to our Lady of Miraculous Medal.

The Vincentian Fathers and the Daughters of Charity arrived in the Philippines in 1860 and efforts were immediately started to promote the devotion. It was at La Concordia College that the first association dedicated to the Miraculous Medal was formed.

The Paulist fathers erected a church in which the image of the ‘Milagrosa”—brought from France—was enshrined. The church was burned down during the War, along with the image. A new image was commissioned by the religious order from the famed santero, Maximo Vicente. This image, which is said to be more beautiful than the old one, is now venerated at the Church of St. Vincent de Paul in San Marcelino, Ermita, Manila, where daily novenas are said. Her feastday is November 27.

Monday, August 16, 2010


By Gerry Lirio , Philippine Daily Inquirer , 2000

Mary Magdalene set foot in Binangonan, a sleepy town in Rizal province sometime in 1920. She was fo sale.

A young woman named Brigida Antazo-Ojeda and her trader husband Segundo Ojeda first saw Mary Magdalene on Evangelista St. near Quiapo one fine day. She was a towering 5’8” image of the woman from whom Jesus Christ cast out seven devils in Galilee.

Brigida and Segundo bought and brought Mary Magdalene home in Binangonan. They adopted her like the child they never had.

She was actually the second Mary Magdalene who came to the town. The first one was a smaller, owned by another couple in a nearby barangay. But for still unknown reason, the couple joined Iglesia Ni Cristo and abandoned her in a bodega, like any other old fashioned mannequin.

Another couple wanted to buy her but the Iglesia couple turned it down, saying what the Iglesia had rejected should not be given to somebody else. Nobody ever saw her again. She disappeared without a trace.

In contrast, Brigida’s Mary Magdalene was warmly welcomed at the Ojedas’ ancestral home. She was an instant attraction. The house had huge windows made of capiz and a wide balkonahe that allowed people to see her from the outside.

Earthquakes, typhoons and floods struck Binangonan one after another in the years that followed but Mary Magdalene never left the Ojedas. She stayed even when Japanese soldiers occupied Binangonan during the war.

Mary Magdalene stayed in the corner of the ancestral house even when a Japanese Army captain seized and used it as his command center, forcing the Ojeda couple and their relatives to evacuate.

But the Japanese captain didn’t touch Mary Magdalene, probably either out of fear or out of respect. Brigida would later tell this story to her nieces, among them Leticia P. Manuzon, now a 76 year old retired public school teacher.

Mary Magdalene stayed with the Ojedas, even after Segundo died before the liberation. In no time, she gained the respect of the residents who attributed to her certain miracles in their lives.

She would later join the annual Holy Wednesday, Good Friday processions and Easter Sunday “salubungan” in the town’s poblacion, representing the Galilean woman who washed Jesus Christ’s feet with her tears, dried them with her long hair, and covered them with perfume.

Dressing up Mary Magdalene for the processions that dramatize the life and passion of Jesus Christ is not easy, especially with her 5’8” frame. It is one elaborate production, Manuzon said.

Because she was once a woman of the world, Church leaders in Binangonan allow Manuzon’s family to dress Mary Magdalene to the nines.

“Ay naku”, said Manuzon’s cousin, 53-year old Ursula Libramonte-Ojascastro, another retired public school teacher. “Si Magdalena kasi pustoryosang babae. So we have to capture that”. A petticoat and a robe are a must, for instance.

She wears one bright dress with rhinestones and semi-precious stones for the Holy Wednesday procession and an elegant black dress for the funeral or the Good Friday procession.

Still she has to wear one set during ordinary days and another set when she is brought to remote barangays for the “Pabasa”. Unlike other women saints on parade, Mary Magdalene must hold a bottle of perfume on her right hand. Even if she was once a woman with a checkered past, she wears a sparkling crown.

When Brigida died of old age in 1960, she asked her nieces to cherish Mary Magdalene the way she did. In 1986, Brigida’s ancestral house gave way to a new one. By then, Brigida’s own nieces have their own families. Still, Mary Magdalene continued to occupy an esteemed place.

Mary Magdalene would later undergo some changes: her body and arms were repaired. Her face had to be waxed. Her hair color turned from burgundy to white. Roughly, she’s now 80 years old.

A few years back, a wealthy Chinese trader approached Manuzon and offered to buy Mary Magdalene for a huge sum. The offer was so tempting but it was flatly rejected. In fact, townsfolk would be the first to reject it. To them, Mary Magdalene is priceless.

She belongs now not only to the Ojedas but to all of the town’s devout Catholics, serving as an inspiration to repentant sinners.

A mother sending her little boy to school once made the sign of the cross when she got past Brigida’s ancestral house a few years back. She said a few prayers and urged her little boy to do the same: ”There is a saint in the house”.

Like the Galilean woman who changed her ways, Mary Magdalene is not for sale. Not at all.