Monday, October 25, 2010


Crèches--or carved models of the Nativity--have been part of the Christmas tradition for nearly 1,000 years. They center around a figure of the Infant Jesus lying in a crib, generally with a small manger as a backdrop.

In the Philippines, the local 'belen' (from "Bethlehem") shows the child Jesus attended by small groups of figures--Mary and Joseph, the Three Kings bearing gifts, a few shepherds and their sheep. More elaborate versions may include a cow and a donkey, sheep, angels, cherubs, camels and ordinary villagers.

The height of the crèche-builder's art was reached in 18th century Naples, where puppet-like figures with beautiful terra-cotta or wood heads were created. They stood as high as 18 inches and were elaborately dressed, not unlike the rare ivory versions made here.

Peddlers and other travelers eventually carried the crèches throughout Europe, and has since become an international symbol of Christmas. Craftsmen in the Provence region of France to this day produce the traditional small earthenware figures known as "santons" (little saints, in the traditional dialect) that their ancestors began making early in the 19th century. Cast in century-old molds and painted by hand, the figures represent people of the area dressed in period costumes.

The more common Belen santo figures found here are carved in the folk tradition and are but a few inches tall. Getting a complete set is almost next to impossible as small figures tend to be lost. The set is oftentimes broken up too by antique dealers, who sell characters individually--like the Three Kings, or just the figures of Mary, Joseph and Jesus.

The most interesting figures are those that depict local provincial folks--women with pots on their heads, squatting vendors, and village people dressed in everyday camisa chino and baro't saya.

At one point, the Belen tableaux underwent simplification withe the reduction of characters--the solitary image of a sleeping Nino in ivory on a manger soon became a more popular Christmas fixture.

In many Philippine churches nationwide, it is customary to have a small altar devoted to the Nativity scene, which plays an important role every year during the annual rituals of the Christmas celebration.

38. Santo Stories: VIRGEN DE LOS REMEDIOS of the Maceo Family

By Jayson Maceo

Family santos are highly regarded as heirlooms, precious enough to be kept and passed on from generation to generation. This is the story of one such treasured image, that became the object of a dispute, resulting in its loss. But the story has a happy ending, despite the fact that the original image was never regained. Here, Jayson Maceo, writes the story of a family image that once was the center of their Marian devotion in their picturesque town of Lucban, Quezon.


The story of our family image begins with this old prayer booklet entitled “Novena nang Casantosantosang Virgen de los Remedios'. This novena was originally owned by my great-grandmother's cousin, Remedios (Lola Medoy) Deveza, the only child to survive from the marriage of Julio and Procesa Deveza. Her three older brothers all died in infancy, and so her parents offered a novena to the Virgin of Malate—Nstra. Snra. De los Remedios—in the hope that their next child would come to this world alive. Their prayers were answered with the birth of a baby girl on 6 November 1905(?), whom they would name Remedios.

In gratitude, an ivory image of the Remedios Virgin was commissioned by her mother Procesa after her birth. Remedios took possession of the image when she came of age. She remained a soltera throughout her life and died Nov. 12, 1995. But before she passed away, she decided to give the image of Our Lady to my great grandmother's sister Patricia (Lola Taring). She bequeathed this, together with the image of Sta. Juliana of Liege and the original novena of the Virgen de los Remedios.

After her death, however, a series of disputes happened, and in the process, we lost possession of the Virgen de los Remedios. What remained with us were only Sta. Juliana and the tattered novena of the Virgin. I was just ten years old at that time. We were all saddened by the loss of the Virgin, most especially Lola Taring.

Besides, Lola Taring was too old then to commission a new image. She would soon die on 25 October 2008. But before she moved on, she handed down to me the novena and her hope that someday, our family would have a Virgen de los Remedios of our own. Her prayers were answered just a few days before her second death anniversary with this new ivory image of Nstra. Sñra de los Remedios, commissioned from the expert santo restorer and maker, Dr. Rafael Lopez.

The new ivory image of Our Lady of Remedies was a product of a series of creative consultations with Dr. Lopez, who provided me much guidance as to the eventual look of the Virgin.

Initially, I had wanted to have the ivory head carved from an old ivory ball given to the family, but I was drawn to a beautiful ivory head and hands that Dr. Lopez had in stock. We ended up trading ivory parts and thus, this head and pair of hands became the basis for our new image.

While the body was being constructed, the delicate encarna work on the ivory face was begun by the master artist and painter, Rafael del Casal.

He presented several options for the peaña, reconstituted from two bases. Two cherubs were added as a finishing touch.

The Virgin's tunic was executed in pink satin, with a cape in blue green shade. The embroidery was based on an old design, while the metalworks were of my own preference.

As a final touch, a sliver of wood from the original Virgen de los Remedios of Malate was given to me by a friend which we encased in the gold and coral tambourine necklace of our Virgin.

On 13 October 2010, we finally reclaimed our very own Virgen de los Remedios with the completion of the 26 inch tall ivory treasure. In her hands, she holds the rosary given to me by Lola Taring, a few years before her death.

She had her homecoming in Lucban that same month--on 24 October--just a day before the 2nd death anniversary of Lola Taring. A traditional 'padasal' was held to mark her day of passing and honor her memory.

The next month, during her feast on November 21, another special 'padasal' was held, a fitting and perfect tribute to Our Lady--our Virgen delos Remedios-- that once was lost, but now found again.

Thursday, October 21, 2010


The devotion of Filipinos to the Santo Niño (Holy Child Jesus) is deeply rooted in the history of the country when Ferdinand Magellan and his crew first set foot on the island of Cebu. Using the sword and the cross to win over the people, the Spaniards gifted Hara Amihan, the queen of Cebu and wife of Rajah Humabon, a statue of the Holy Child upon her baptism. Known today as the Sto. Niño of Cebu, this is the first and most popular image of the Christ Child around which popular devotion and ritual celebration revolve every January.

It also started a tradition of unbridled celebrations throughout the country that has remained strong through centuries, a feast approved by the Holy See. Sto. Niño statues have found their way in every island in the country, each one an object of veneration and folk piety expressed through festivals like Cebu's Sinulog, Iloilo’s Dinagyang, Aklan's Ati-atihan, Tondo’s Buling-Buling and the festivals of Tacloban, Pakil, Malabon, Ternate, Malolos, Hagonoy, Davao and even in faraway Sabtang Island of Batanes.

In 1979, fashion designer Benjamin Farrales founded the Congregacion del Santisimo Nombre del Niño Jesus, a company of Sto. Niño devotees that holds the famous Sto. Niño procession every 3rd week of January, participated in by hundreds of Holy Child images from all over the country, borne on carrozas of inconceivable beauty and variety. These are just a few scenes from their previous processions.

Monday, October 11, 2010

36. PHILIPPINE SANTOS: Relics of Our Religious and Cultural Heritage

(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.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

35. Santos de Marfil I: SAN JOSE, from the Lopez Workshop

Dr. Rafael Lopez, a medical doctor and a family physician by education and training, has a unique avocation that has become his lifetime passion: creating and restoring sacred art, his specialty being ivory santos.These are some San Jose ivory santos (both new and old) that he has restored from private collectors and from his personal collection.