Wednesday, September 28, 2011


A selection of century-old Virgins carved with massive, bell-shaped bodies typical of those made in the province of Bohol, Philippines. Mostly primitive in style, the santos came in many varieties--all-wood or with small ivory heads and hands, polychromed--but all with the trademark bell-shaped bodies often carved from dense, heavy wood.

INMACULADA CONCEPCION. Ivory head and hands (now missing), polychromed, with carved base featuring cherubs. The santo used to wear a wig.

INMACULADA CONCEPCION. Ivory head Virgin with beautifully carved vestments trimmed with relief carvings to simulate drapes, decorated hems and sleeves. Intricate floraln patterns are painted on the body. Low relief angel carvings decorate the base.
VIRGEN Y NINO JESUS. A stocky Madonna and Child, craved in the round and borne aloft by a bevy of angels.
INMACULADA CONCEPCION. A primitive representation of the Immaculate Conception with chubby cheeks and heavy, sloping shoulders on a horned base.
A TRIO OF BELL-SHAPED VIRGINS. Primitively carved from heavy wood, set with bone and ivory heads. The three are similarly carved with praying hands, gently spreading bell bodies with bases decorated with low-relief winged angel heads. The polychromed bodies and bases are carved from one piece of wood.

(Photos from The Catholic Digest, c. 1964)

Sunday, September 25, 2011


By Nick Joaquin
Philippine Quarterly, Vol. II No. 1—October-December 1961. p. 1-2.

(Nick Joaquin was a Rockefeller Foundation fellow in 1954. He won the Eugene Saxon Memorial Fellowship in 1955, the Palanca Prize in 1957, the Stonehill Award in 1958 and recently, the Republic Heritage Award. Many of his stories evoke the Manila of olden days. The feast of La Naval described here celebrates the victory over the Dutch armada which invaded the Philippines in 1646.)

The festivities began on the Saturday before the first Sunday of October. One went to Sto. Domingo to find the great image of the Virgin transferred from the Lady’s Chapel to the main altar and arrayed in gold robes and jewels.

In the afternoon, the novena began. The music of Santo Domingo was famous; the monastery had a fine boys’ choir and eminent friar musicians; and the novena of the Rosary was, in effect, a series of 9 superb sacred concerts. One heard polyphonic renditions of the Litany of the Virgin, old Castilian motets and, every evening, a different Salve, a different Tantum Ergo, sung to organ and orchestra. But the ceremonies always ended with the Despedida, the lovely hymn of farewell so associated with this feast. As the tiples went into the haunting closing phrases of the Despedida, a descending curtain slowly hid the radiant image of the Virgin, the bells rang.

Outside, in the patio, a band played, people clustered around the feria stalls to buy lanzones and roasted chestnuts, the internos from Letran and internas from Santa Rosa romped through the crowd, squealing with delight at the prospect of 9 nights with no study periods after supper.

On the morning of the 1st Sunday of October, before the high mass, the image of the Virgin was borne in procession from the Plaza de Santo Tomas to the patio of Santo Domingo. The morning procession commemorated the Battle of Lepanto in 1571, when Christian forces crushed the last attempt of Islam to conquer Europe. From this victory arose the Feast of the Rosary.

From a side portal of Santo Domingo emerged the carrozas of St. Pius V, the Pope of Lepanto and of St. Dominic. Then, though a cloud of incense, appeared the Santo Rosario, the most splendid image of the Virgin in the Philippines. (The image was carved in 1612 by a pagan Chinese sculptor who later embraced Christianity.) Down the street, past the Colegio de Santa Rosa, rode the Virgin, the crowds on the sidewalks falling to their knees as this image that had been the palladium of the city for three centuries passed by, in a rainbow of precious stones. (The gem of the Virgin’s brow, was, according to legend, wrested from a serpent.)

Into the patio flowed the procession, the bells pealing as the Santo Rosario entered the gothic portals of Santo Domingo, the lit chandeliers now illuminating the crown of the Virgin wrought of gold and jewels that had come as offerings from all over the country for the Virgin’s coronation in the early 1900s. (The Santo Rosario was the first image of the Virgin in the Philippines to be crowned canonically.) At the altar waited the Archbishop of Manila, or the Apostolic Delegate, to celebrate the mass of the victory of Lepanto, the victory in which Cervantes lost an arm.

During the first week of October, all Manila gathered, morning and evening, at the Dominicans, and Manila houses filled with visitors from the provinces who had come to attend the novena of the Santo Rosario but would stay the whole month, for after the Naval came the fiestas of Sta. Cruz and Binondo, once the city’s gayest celebrations. What Manileño can forget the old-time merriment of October in Manila?

The novena of the Santo Rosario ended on the second Sunday of October with the Feast of the Naval. This is one church feast special to the Philippines; it began in 1646, when a might Dutch armada sought to invade Manila but was routed in a series of 5 naval battles (from March 15 to October 3) by 2 decrepit galleons, the city’s only defenders. The victories were attributed to the Santo Rosario, to whose shrine at Santo Domingo the crews of the galleons had vowed to go on pilgrimage if they would triumph over the Dutch. Manila was saved; and the returning victors fulfilled their vow, marching barefooted from the gates of the city to the shrine of the Virgin. That was the 1st Naval procession, on an October day in 1646.

Six years later, the cathedral chapter of Manila decreed that the 5 victories of 1646 were “miracles vouchsafed by the Divine Majesty of God through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin, Our Lady, and the devotion to her Holy Rosary”. For four centuries now, Manileños have annually been reenacting the fulfillment of a vow made in 1646, when their city was saved through a small naval triumph that has become, for them, as magnificent and memorable as the victory of Lepanto.

On the afternoon of the Dia de La Naval, all roads led to Intramuros for the “procession of processions”, and a multitude lined the traditional route: from the Plaza de Santo Tomas to Plaza McKinley to Arzobispo to the faded grandeur of Calle Real. Above would be the wild dark skies of October, but the streets of Intramuros would be ablaze with light as, once again, across the ancient cobbles, moved the city’s ancient Queen, symbol of the traditions that once welded Manileñans into one.

Manila lost unity when Intramuros perished, and old palladium was borne away to another shrine, far from the city’s gates. The Feast of the Naval has not died, but much of its old glamour has vanished, now that one must go to Quezon City instead of Intramuros. The feast and the setting were one; they should never have been separated And October in Manila has ceased to be magical now that Intramuros and Sta. Cruz and Binondo have decayed into mongrel communities, without a common memory, a common tradition.

But one can still get an idea of what the Naval used to be. Two years ago, the Dominicans finally released all the old beloved images that used to accompany the Santo Rosario in the Naval processions in Intramuros. One can see them again now, in procession, in Quezon City, on the Day of the Naval---St. Vincent Ferrer with his wings, St. Thomas with his sun, St. Catherine of Sienna with her lilies, St. Dominic with his dog. Only one, the most dramatic of the images perished in the war: that of St. Peter Martyr, the image that provoked the most curiosity among the children, because St. Peter Martyr had a bolo through his head.

Now “exiles”, like Santo Rosario, in Quezon City, these lares and penates of the old Manila again emerge in October, after a long absence, to provoke wonder and nostalgia, on the feast called La Naval de Manila.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

81. RETRO-SANTO: Ntra. Sñra. del Rosario de Orani

Bataan’s most well-known and most revered Marian image is a dark-skinned, carved-in-the-round figure of a Madonna and Child, that follows the iconography of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary. It was said to have been brought by the Dominicans to Bataan in July 1587 through the galleons that plied the seas from Spain or from Mexico. Another claim was that the image was carved in the Philippines after the religious order’s arrival.

A chapel in Orani was built to house the image, which continues to be the home of the Virgin since. Ntra. Snra. Del Rosario of Orani wields a scepter and a bastón while carrying with her left hand, the carved figure of Child Jesus, who holds a globe. On their necks are rosaries. At the back of the Virgin, a ‘suksok’ has been carved to simulate the tucked portion of her tunic in her waist. The ‘suksok’ is believed to be a distinct Philippine touch, leading art historians to believe that the Virgin and the Child Jesus were carved locally. As was the custom, the Virgin is dressed in real fabrics even if she is fully carved.

Several miracles are attributed to the Virgin, that is why it is also called “Virgen Milagrosa”. The earliest involves the apparition of Our Lady to a group of Aetas who attempted to overrun the town in reprisal against the Spaniards who had driven them up the mountains. The Aetas stopped on their tracks in fear and awe, thus the attack was aborted.

When the town was threatened with a plague of locusts in 1718, people prayed for deliverance from the pests that were about to swoop on their rice harvest. A tornado suddenly materialized and swept the locusts away.

During the last War, a Japanese attempted to deface the image by shooting it with his gun, but the gun would not fire. The soldier fled in abject fear and left the image alone. As recent as the Red Tide season, the Virgin of Orani is credited by fishermen of Bataan for saving their catch by driving the deadly tide from the Bay of Orani. It was said that the hem of her dress was found wet and soiled with sea water. Survivors of the Pinatubo eruption also told stories of the appearance of the Virgen del Rosario before many victims, offering solace and comfort.

Orani’s Lady of the Rosary was canonically crowned on 18 April, 1959.
Feast Day: Every 2nd Sunday of October.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011


I can’t believe this 13 in. ivory San Juan found in Tiendesitas was passed up several times by many antique collectors. It had sat for too long at the Bernales Antique Shop—and had been relegated to a shelf full of repro santos and second-rate antiques.

When I asked about the piece, the girl manning the store told me that this ivory santo (which she couldn’t even recognize) had elicited a lot of inquiries and interest from prospective buyers, both here and abroad. In fact, she said, a U.S. customer had been calling her about his particular item. If that were so, I thought about telling her, why is this ivory Juan still here?

Well, as collectors know by now, when Tiendesitas opened a few years back, the arts and antique section was much ballyhooed as the place with the most number of dealers carrying the finest selection of antiques. Indeed, some of the shops in Mabini and Philtrade relocated to Tiendesitas with the hope of winning new clientele and doing good business there. Apparently, this did not happen; but it’s not easy to see why. The exorbitant price tags of antiques at Tiendesitas are the biggest turn-offs--prices often pegged according to the dealer’s whim rather than based on true market values.

When I finally asked about the price, I was already expecting the worse. To my surprise, she quoted something that I thought was very reasonable. When the shop owner arrived, I tried to have the price trimmed, but he was firm, contending that it was a good price to pay for a piece that’s relatively complete.

The most striking part of this ivory piece is the carved and gilded floral base, with the upper peana deeply carved with roses and the lower part with acanthus leaves. At first I thought that the base was a replacement as floral bases were often seen on female santas, but a closer inspection showed it to be original to the piece, as the feet, pegged to the base, showed no sign of having been transferred.

The clothing of San Juan was in bad shape, but the major embroidery was intact. Its violet satin cape had turned yellow while the green robe was in tatters. The santo was wearing a hoop skirt to keep the shape of his robes, which I thought was a nice detail. The santo head had lost much of the painted detail as its wig. The hands were intact, although one was missing a finger. The halo and other metalwork were all gone.

When I got home to Makati, I could not keep my mind off the San Juan, so I called the dealer and asked if they make free deliveries. He said ‘yes’, and by the time the afternoon ended, I had my ivory San Juan—my third ivory San Juan, in fact.

The next weekend, my San Juan was off to Dr. Raffy Lopez for his usual diagnostics. It turned out he had seen this santo in Tiendesitas before, and had even been interested, but he found it too short (just 10 inches + 3 in. base) for his taste. He took note of the well-made ornate floral base and he asked my permission to have it copied (permission granted). As usual, I discussed what I wanted with the San Juan. I wanted the embroidery from his old robes saved and transferred to a new vestment of deep green satin. I also wanted the base to be repaired and re-gilded.

When we took a look at the ivory hands, I noted that one hand was in a gripping position, so he could not have held a quill but a sprig of flowers (St. John’s Wort). Fortunately, I saw a small San Juan holding a similar branch at Floy Quintos’s Deus shop, so I just drew it from memory for Raffy to copy.

After two and a half weeks, Raffy finished the work and as always, the results of the restoration were startling:

The face of San Juan was repainted with details, and a painted wooden book was added—at no extra cost.

Raffy also stuck to the original embroidery design for the robe even as he recreated and supplemented the missing parts with more gold threads and sequins.

Friends have often asked how on earth I could still find reasonably-priced ivory pieces, such as this San Juan. I wish I knew the answer.

Serendipity? Being at right place at the right time? Charisma? Seeing how cash-strapped the antique industry is now, the only thing that is guaranteed to work is to flash—what else?—your cash. In the end, all things considered, the definition of a 'fair price' depends on how much you are willing to pay for the piece.

Sunday, September 4, 2011


Santos from the San Agustin Church, the mother church of the Augustinians who arrived in the Philippines in 1565. Built in the heart of Intramuros, this "permanent miracle in stone" survived the last violent war, and holds a unique and special place in the hearts of Manilenos. San Agustin is a veritable treasure house of ecclesiastical art, some of which are featured here:

St. Michael, the Archangel, battling the Devil. 19th c.

Altar-size image of St. Monica, mother of St. Augustine, at the Chapel of Sta. Monica.

The Assumption of the Virgin Mary, brought by Enrique Delgado, OSA in 1888. Inscribed under the globe, "G. Becessa 1555".

Crucified Christ, previously attributed to Juan delos Santos, but now in question. Its Baroque qualities do not coincide with the time in which the artist worked. 18th c.

Ivory image of the Blessed Virgin, which used to occupy the niche on the top of the grand lectern at the choirloft.

A large figure of the Crucified Christ carved in wood, in a retablo formerly from the Legazpi Chapel. Frontal formerly from the sacristy.

The Christ Child depicted in a Captain General's uniform. He resembles the young Philip IV.

An all-ivory tableau showing the Archangel Michael trampling the Devil. 19th century, given by the Augustinian Sisters of La Consolacion College of Manila. founded in 1883.

Ivory St. Laurence, the first martyr, wears a dalmatic. He was martyred by being roasted on a spit. Missing gridiron emblem. 17th-early 18th century.

Large life-size wooden image of the Crucified Christ, which used to hang in what is now the sacristy. It was brought out during the novena for the souls of purgatory. It has jointed arms and the year 1770 is inscribed on its left shoulder.

This magnificent ivory headed Virgin holds a cincture and carries the Christ Child in her other arm. 17th-early 18th century

(Photos from San Agustin: Art & History 1571-2000, by Fr. Pedro G. Galende O.S.A. and Regaladao Trota Jose. Hongkong: Solutions)

Thursday, September 1, 2011

78. RETRO-SANTO: Ntra. Sñra. De Monserrat

At the Chapel of San Beda is housed the image of Our Lady of Montserrat, one of the are representations of the Virgin seated on a throne with the Christ Child on Her lap. Both she and the Child Jesus wear crowns of gold. Her dark complexion has earned her the name “La Morenita” (the Dark One).

The image of Ntra. Sra. De Monserrat was first brought to the Philippines by the Benedictine Fathers in 1895, an exact replica of the small dark-complexioned statue of the famous Monserrat virgin venerated in the Benedictine monastery nestled atop the Monserrat mountain of Cataluña, near Barcelona, Spain. Monserrat means "sawn mountain" because the rocky mountain resembles the teeth of a saw from a distance.

According to tradition, the miraculous image was first known as La Jerosolimitana (the native of Jerusalem), since it is thought to have been carved there in the early days of the Church. The statue was eventually given to St. Etereo, Bishop of Barcelona, who brought it to Spain. In the 7th century, when the Saracens invaded Spain, the Christians of Barcelona heroically defended it for three years until they could hold out no longer. The image was brought for safekeeping to Montserrat, in a small cave on 22 April 718 and was discovered and placed in a small church that was soon built; this little church developed into the present church that was completed in 1592.

PICTURE SOURCE: Shrines of the Virgin Mary in the Philippines. A Catholic Guide Manual by Gaudelia G. Donato.
Photographs by Sr. Esther Maria, S. Sp. S. (c) 1975.

Of carved wood, the 3 feet plus statue is in a sitting position and has an elongated face and a delicate expression. Done in the Romanesque style, the Virgin wears a gilded tunic and cloak.Beneath the crown is a veil adorned with stars, squares, and stripes in subtle shades of color. The Virgin holds a sphere, while the other is extended in a graceful gesture. The Child Jesus sits on His Mother's lap and also wears a crown. His right hand is raised in blessing; His left hand holds an object that resembles a large pine cone. A cushion serves as the Madonna's footrest; she is seated upon a chair that has large legs and whose back is topped by cone-shaped finials. It was to this miraculous Lady that St. Ignatius Loyola offered his sword and dagger in 1522.

The replica was first kept in a small chapel in Tanduay. The devotion quickly spread as the same indulgences gained in her Cataluña shrine were also granted to visitors of the Manila chapel. To accommodate the growing number of devotees, the image had to be taken many times to the San Sebastian Church just to accommodate them. The image was transferred to the Chapel of San Beda when the school moved to Mendiola St. in 1926.

Patroness of Benedictine Monks in the Philippines, San Beda College
Feastday: September 8
Shrine: Abbey Church of San Beda College