I was out looking for vintage paintings one Sunday morning at my North Fairview dealer’s antique warehouse when, from the corner of my eye, I saw this winged santo at the far end of the room.
With the detached fish placed between his legs, I thought at first, it was a San Miguel Arcangel. I had the impression that the saint was stepping on a dragon, the common iconography of this popular archangel.
I was wrong, of course, it was a wooden San Rafael alright, missing a right hand and with a wobbly pair of wings. It was dressed in a tunic, of rather plain velvet, wore a brass halo and held a pilgrim’s staff in one hand from where a wooden fish, damaged at the tail, once hung.
The fish is San Rafael’s primary attribute, in reference to his instructing his young traveling companion, Tobiah, to use the liver of a fish to cure his father Tobit's blindness. San Rafael, 16 inches tall, stood on a simple, square base painted with marbleized effects, typical of those made in the pre-war era.
Despite these flaws, the santo was a well-carved piece. Besides, San Rafael figures are not very common sights in antique shops and tabletop manikin versions are even harder to find. To make the story short, I went home lugging not just paintings but also a damaged San Rafael santo that weekend afternoon.
A week after my purchase, I sent the santo to restorer Dr. Raffy Lopez for repair. Raffy’s services are much sought after in the restoration of tabletop santos, especially of ivory. He orchestrates his group of workers that include a skilled carver, encarnador and vestment makers who still makes embroidered santo dresses in the old-fashioned way.
I pretty much entrust all the work to Raffy—from woodwork, re-painting and vesting. I usually just request for updates, and this he does by sending cellphone pictures of the work in progress.
Here, for instance, we see the repair on the tail of the wooden fish.
And here, we see that a new right had had been carved.
The splotches on the face of the old santo have also been covered with a primer, preparatory to painting.
For the vestments, we agreed on a white textured cloth, styled with funnel sleeves and embroidered tunic with scalloped hems.
A few more days after, Raffy sent me a picture of the completed santo, complete with a garland on his head. I noticed that the halo was not yet in place so I asked Raffy to put it as well.
To his horror, he could not find the original brass halo that came with the santo. A few calls to his carver yielded negative results. Not even my prayer request to St. Anthony could save the day—the halo is officially lost. I wasn’t worried though, because vintage halos regularly appear in flea markets; I always find one or two in antique shops too. In fact, by the end of the day, Raffy texted me to say that a common friend of ours, who was with him that day, had generously volunteered to give me a spare gothic halo he had in his keeping.
But St. Anthony was not done yet, apparently. On my way to Cubao to pick up San Rafael, I passed by an antique dealer whom, I haven’t met in years. Rummaging through his odds and ends, guess what I found—a silver gothic halo that was almost the size of the lost one! To make the day even better, the halo was given to me, for free!
Once I arrived at Raffy’s, he easily placed the halo on San Rafael’s head—the final touch to santo’s restoration. In a way way, this angel of healing, rescued from an antique warehouse, was himself "healed" by one of the country's acclaimed restorer of santos!