Text and photos by Linda B. Bolido
(Originally published on Philippine Daily Inquirer, 4 April 2004 issue)
An antique collection shows early Pinoy Catholics put their trust in saints who would now seem obscure.
It seems even religion is not impervious to the penchant for following what is uso. Almost 4 decades of collecting religious antiquities and this prominent lawyer, a resident of Quezon City who wants to remain anonymous for obvious reasons, has yet to add an image of the child Jesus to his treasure trove.
But then, his pieces are no younger than 50 years, and the Nino phenomenon—although sweeping—seems to be more recent vintage. Of course, given the current popularity of the Nino (not only is He seen everywhere, on dashboards, offices, wet markets and even beside Buddha, but the Ati-atihan, the traditional celebration of the Child Jesus’ feast day in Kalibo, Aklan, is likewise staged all over). His images will doubtless be among the collectibles soon.
The antique collection, which the lawyer says he started with the first money he earned while still a college (he bought a pair of angels in his native Bulacan for P50), seems to suggest 2 things: One, Pinoys have always been maka-ina, hence renderings of the Virgin Mother (or Mama Mary as many Filipinos prefer to call her) in her various appearances; and two, even in religion, the Pinoy’s “favorites” tend to change.
While the Nino may be many people’s current object of devotion, if not favorite doll—with costumes ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous—farmer, soldier/policeman, rock star, little prince, Constantino in a santakrusan, etc.—that if put together, will put to shame the wardrobe of Barbie’s ex, Ken—early Filipinos still put their trust on saints hardly heard of today.
Take San Vicente Ferrer. The collector has found out that the Dominican priest was a constant presence in Filipino homes in the early days, and was considered a bringer of good fortune and protector from illness.
So popular was San Vicente in earlier times that the lawyer has at least 5 statuettes of the saint. The saint, also known as the Angel of the Apocalypse, is usually shown with wings. He was reportedly the patron of builders not so much for erecting physical structures but for helping rebuild and strengthen faith.
The Holy Family—Joseph, Mary and Jesus—seemed to be another favorite object of veneration. By the time the collector got the images, however, the Nino fever appeared to have been in full force that the child was often missing.
Another favored trio by earlier artists and religious was the Holy trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The collector was especially proud of a large painting of the coronation of the Virgin Mary after Her ascension to heaven, which used to grace the hall of some monastery.
Also occupying pride of place are images of Mary as the Lady of Penafrancia, patroness of the Bicol region, and Nuestra Senora de los Remedios, patroness of the Malate Church.
One of the oldest (over a hundred years old) and most expensive pieces he got was the Virgen de Porteria, which, as the name suggests, was often placed in the receiving area.