At an out-of-print book shop cum gallery in Cubao, I came to pay for vintage fiesta programs I needed for my historical research----and I went home with this incredible ivory image of Pio Quinto ( St. Pius V, born Michele Ghislieri 1504-1572) in its original altar.
“Expect the unexpected” was once our ad agency’s creative credo, and it also rings true when it comes to finding sacred treasures such as this one. En route to the Main Avenue office, I had texted my dealer earlier to say that I was dropping by to pay for my purchases worth Php400. He was kind enough to open his office for me on a weekend (it was a Sunday) and then casually told me that he had a santo that I might be interested in. In his absence, he instructed a househelp to bring out the image for my perusal.
As soon as I entered the shop, I saw this dirty gothic urna that was threatening to fall apart. Through the dusty glass, I could still make out the figure of a santo with a papal tiara, holding a 3 bar-staff, which I immediately identified as the papal saint, Pius V. It also didn’t take much to recognize that the head and hands of the image were of—gasp!-- precious ivory!
THE FIRST TIME EVER I SAW HIS FACE. The image, when I first saw it in its grimy, dusty state. The urna was collapsing and a bunch of plastic flowers lay crumbling at the image's base.
The image was decorated with tulle and plastic flowers that were crumbling with age. Tacked inside was this torn 1906 prayer card to honor the beatification of Tonkinese (Vietnamese) martyrs.
VIET-ERANS OF THE FAITH. This damaged prayer card commemorates the beatification of Tonkinese beatos: Martyrs Vicente Liem, Castaneda, Ochoa, Jose Kang, Hermosilla, Almalo, Frederich.
I paid for my book purchase, and then rang up the dealer to tell him nonchalantly that I had seen the santo and was not impressed (I am so good in feigning disinterest). I suppose, I told him, given the santo’s sorry state—it would be priced accordingly. But of course, he replied, and then proceeded to quote the price of the santo—inclusive of the urna.
THROUGH A CLEAR GLASS, DARKLY. Peering through the front glass panel of the urna, the image of Pius V was clearly, unmistakably of ivory.
I nearly choked at the unbelievable bargain-basement-300-feet-below-sea-level -price. Why, it’s only 1/6 of the current market price for ivory santos of this quality. I just continued on with my best Oscar performance and gave him a ho-hum response. Round off the price, I said, and I will not only issue a Pay-to-Cash check now, but I will also rid your shop of this dusty, grimy santo with its shaky urna. He agreed! I hastily gave him a check, lugged the santo to the car and Pio was mine!
CLEAN AND PURE IN SPIRIT. The ivory image cleaned and re-dressed in its original satin vestments.
Back home, I quickly removed the santo from its case. It was still wearing its original hand-sewn satin vestments in yellow and green. It was even wearing an alb with lacey edgings that you can’t see.
HEADS AND HANDS OF A SAINT. When removed for cleaning, the head turned out to be a solid piece of carved ivory. The finely carved ivory hands were attached to the manikin body with wooden pegs.
The ivory head and hands were in excellent condition. I was wondering about the hairless head. Did it have a flock of hair at some point? The wooden feet were painted to look like papal shoes, decorated in the intricate estofado style. The metal accessories were intact—from the staff to the tiara which was only missing a finial. A restorer dated this as a pre-War piece, possibly made by one of those commercial talyeres in Quiapo district.
Two weeks after, off to santo restorer Dr. Raffy Lopez I, and my santo went. I wanted to save the original vestments but the professional santo restorer prevailed on me to discard them. Instead, for my tabletop image, he opted to get design and color inspirations from the vestments of the original Pio Quinto of Sto. Domingo.
LA NAVAL'S PIO QUINTO. The original lifesize San Pio V of Sto. Domingo in his crimson and cream-colored vestments. Pix courtesy of Wilfred Jason Naval.
He even added a wig to the bald pope! After a month, these were the results:
IVORY SAN PIO QUINTO, (St. Pius V) as restored by Dr. Raffy Lopez.
I have also repaired the urna by myself, stabilizing loose joints with glue and nails and replacing the lost moldings, thanks to my frame shop. And by the way—to rid myself of any guilt feelings--I have also told my dealer that the santo he sold me was of ivory. This was not the first time this happened. Two years ago, he sold me a painted San Roque that turned out to be ivory. For sure, he wouldn’t have let go of these images had he not made a reasonable profit. To him, it was a fair done deal. To me, it was my find of the year.