I first learned about the image of Sta. Salome from my sister-in-law, Lulu Castro (nee Segovia), who, upon seeing my growing collection of processional santos, told me of their own special image that had been with their family for generations. It is that of Sta. Maria Salome, one of the holy women who were present at the Crucifixion of Jesus, and who later came to clean His tomb.
There are many versions of Salome’s history. It is said that she may have either been the younger sister or a cousin of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It can be said with greater certainty that she is the wife of Zebedee and the mother of the two apostles, John and James the Greater.
Traditionally, Sta. Salome holds a whisk broom. But in many places in the Philippines, she is also identified with Sta. Maria Cleofas, wife of Cleophas and mother of James the Less—who is depicted as swinging a censer. To complicate the situation even more, another Mary—Sta. Maria Jacobe—appears in Holy Week processions holding an incense boat. This has resulted in the transpositions of the three Marys’ attributes, and it is not uncommon to see a Salome image holding a censer and a Jacobe wielding a broom.
Which is why, when my sister-in-law recalled that their image once held a silver broom, I unknowingly corrected her—that what they have all along was, in fact, a Sta. Maria Cleofas, not a Salome. Of course, now that I know more, I also know better.
The story behind the Sta. Salome image of the Segovia family began in far-away Cadiz, in the island of Negros. The current owner of the image, Federico "Papang" Segovia Jr., had a great grandmother, whose name had long ago been forgotten, who bore a son who turned out to be very sickly. As a panata (vow), Papang’s lola promised to sweep the churchyard clean if her son got well from his many maladies. He did, and so the old lady not only kept her promise, but also had an image carved in the likeness of Sta. Salome, who kept Jesus’ tomb clean with a broom. She had this image processioned for many years, in gratitude for her answered prayers. The sickly son grew up to become a priest--Fr. Roman Segovia.
The image stands 51 inches tall, and was meant to be born on an anda. The face is lean and narrow, expressing quiet sadness with its half-opened mouth showing teeth and large sorrowful eyes. The nose is straight and long, with deeply-carved nostrils, while the neck had rings—minute details that are a sign of a carver’s remarkable skill.
The manikin-type body, while not as finely finished, is interestingly carved. There are portions in the back and lower torso where the wood was hollowed out—to keep the image light and easy to carry. The image stands on a simple , flat base with serrated trims, to be attached to the top of a presumably, more ornate anda. A silver broom, now lost, and a plain, stick-in halo (payong) were the only accessories of this family santa.
The image stayed in Cadiz, until the two old maid sisters of Papang's father, Federico Segovia Sr., took the image and brought it to Guimaras, Iloilo, where some family members relocated. Federico Sr. bequeathed the image to his son, Papang, and stayed in his care.The family image stayed in Iloilo, until it was retired when the processions ceased.
How Sta. Salome came to Pampanga was another fascinating story. When Papang Segovia joined the military, he rose to become a sergeant and was given provincial assignments and Angeles, Pampanga became his destination in the late 1950s. Fearing that with his absence, no one in the family could take care of Sta. Salome anymore, he decided to bring the image with him to Angeles. He dismantled the image and stowed the pieces in different suitcases, sailing to Manila with his dismembered family treasure in tow. From Manila, the image traveled with him to Angeles.
Angeles was one of the hot seats of the Huk movement then, a honky-tonk town with a reputation for terror and violence. But with the family protector with him, Papang felt safe in a strange new place. He would eventually meet and marry Imang Liling, a photographic model, and settled permanently in the city to raise a family of two boys and one girl—Lulu, my sister-in-law.
For over forty years, Sta. Salome was stored in its own urna in the utility room of the Segovia village residence in Angeles. Though hidden, it was never forgotten; people from Iloilo who made occasional visits to Angeles would ask every now and then about the santa’s whereabouts, not knowing it was safe and secure with the Segovias.
It was only a few years ago that I managed to see Sta. Salome up close. Her beauty was still discernible under thick layers of encarna and sloppy paint work which rendered her face, a chalky white. A finger had broken and some of the trims on the base had fallen off. Her frayed old abaca wig and tattered vestments were also in danger of disintegrating, and a replacement tin halo was not appropriate to this incredible, antique piece. I knew it was time for Sta. Salome to have a major and complete make-over.
It was easy convincing Lulu to have their family heirloom restored. After all, she was next in line to inherit the image. In Dec. 2007, she secured the image, and I turned it over to Pampanga’s leading ecclesiastical artist, Tom Joven, for restoration. It was a project that would take many months of painstaking restoration, beginning with the tedious process of stripping the layers of paint accumulated through the years--all by hand. In Salome’s case, she had over 3 layers of paint, and as each layer was removed, the finer details of the carving appeared.
Suddenly, the contour of her nose (which I initially thought was rather big), took on a more natural, refined line. Her facial features—her cheekbones, jowl lines, lips and teeth—became more clearly defined. Tom opted to use lightened natural skin tone for the face, as opposed to the whitish encarna of before. He likewise changed the arch of the brows to give it a sadder, more expressive look.
Here’s a before-and-after look of the Sta. Salome:
Bewigged with long, deep-brown colored curls and adorned with an antique rhinestone tiara, the restored Sta. Salome looked very lovely indeed. The pale, creamy colored complexion that is true to the period, suits her very well.
The new vestments, commissioned from Plumaria of Jerome de Jesus were another work of art in themselves. The mix of colors are very contemporary—sky blue for the cape, maroon for the skirt, cream for the bodice, gold for the edgings—but provide a contrast to the traditional styling that included even the mandatory embroidery, all done by machine.
Now all Sta. Salome needs is a broom and a halo—and she’s on her way to joining a Holy Week procession, perhaps next year! In the meanwhile, the Segovia Family are happy to have their heirloom family image back, in her restored glory.
I, too, was totally surprised at her incredible transformation-- Sta. Salome looked like a different Santa altogether. When I finally came to see and fetch her after months of anxious waiting, you could say the all-new Sta. Salome really swept my breath away!
Credits: Restoration/Encarna/Woodwork by Thom Joven, Vestments by Jerome de Jesus of Plumaria, Wig by Bella Francisco, Brassworks by Jeric.