As child, I have always been fascinated by santos. Growing up in the conservative and rustic Sta. Rita town, these images of veneration are a constant in every facet of our community life as Roman Catholics.
My childhood is replete with memories of helping in the dressing of santos for the Holy Week procession or during novenarios for the feast days of various saints. I would always stand in owe whenever I see santos riding their magnificent silver carrozas at the old paglimbunan (processional route) in our town poblacion where they are flanked by a seemingly endless sea of candle lights.
Old clans in our town, aside priding themselves of having produced the most number of priests or being a long time member of a church laity organization, old families also pride themselves of being caretakers of the most exquisite heirloom santos that are the center of veneration during the Lenten week processions.
Even today, there has been a surge of interest in owning a processional santo in our town. But today, the ownership of processional images is no longer exclusive to the rich clans.
A couple of hairdresser friends have in fact joined the Holy Week procession last year which again awakened in me that childhood interest of having my own processional image. I have been collecting old santos and house antiques but have never gotten to acquiring my own processional image.
Though our clan is the caretaker of a couple of images, no one can claim sole ownership and decisions pertaining to the upkeep of the images are always decided by old members of the clan.
So in August of 2011, I started the preparation for my own processional image. I knew for a fact that having one requires substantial funds available along with constant consultation with santo enthusiasts to ensure that I would be guided in the right direction.
For the image, Presidential Merit Awardee for Ecclesiastical Art sculptor Willy Layug of Betis was the unanimous choice. There were other santeros that were suggested but most agree that Layug is by far more consistent in terms of quality and artistry of work. However, some collectors have already given me a heads-up about the price tag. Layug’s almost life-like works come with a price. Unmoved, I decided to test my luck.
Fortunately, in one tribute event for an artist that I was covering, I managed to bump into Layug and discussed with him my desire for an image. The discussion was frank and straight to the point; I stated to him my reasons for wanting an image and blurted out the “unrealistic budget” that I had at that time. Amazingly, he agreed!
The next day, I had an early morning meeting over coffee with Maestro Willy Layug at his home cum workshop in Sta. Ursula in Guagua's Betis District. I told him that I wanted an image of Mary of Bethany.
We discussed how the image would turnout. My inputs were primarily on the dimensions of the image. I wanted it tall; with Spanish features and with hair fully carved into the head (I had childhood fears of bald santos). The santa should be set in an andarol with hands, body and proportions following a santo specification that Layug had adapted from his recent trip to a workshop in Spain.
Regardless of his extremely busy schedule, Tatang Willy managed to squeeze time for the image in between his more important and bigger projects. I only visited him trice to look at the progress of the image and on my third visit what greeted me took my breath away. Willy did not fail to deliver for image was indeed beautiful.
Willy had it personally placed into its body and even threw in a base for the image which was not part of our earlier agreement. That same day, I came home with my very own santa.
I posted the pictures of the head on a social networking site and comments began coming in. Santo enthusiasts were eager to suggest ideas for the vestments and pukpok that would best fit the image.
I decided to skip work the next day and started working on the design for the halo and contacted names given by santo enthusiasts. For the pukpok, Patrick Guina Banal, a veteran of Marian Exhibits, wisely advised me to skip known artists and instead scout for the lesser known craftsmen in Apalit town.
I managed to get the service of a craftsman in Colgante, Apalit had my personally designed halo made for only P2,000 and managed to haggle for a medium-sized diadem for P1, 000.
For the vestments, I had the specifications of the image sent to a well-kown burdadera in Bulacan but was told that the santas vestments won’t be finished until May. Rop Syquia of Maimalan came to the rescue and orchestrated a viste hebrEa EnSeMbLe tHat would serve as my santa’s day-to-day clothing while awaiting the Bulacan vestments.
Photographer Ruston Banal managed to show up after the image was dressed and took majestic images of my new santa all set and ready for the coming Holy Week procession.
Days before the Holy Week procession, the image was already visited by a couple of santo collectors and enthusiasts who have seen her photos on a social networking site.
My Sta. Maria de Betania is now housed in a special room in our farm home in Sta. Rita. Each morning, I would stop by the room and spend a few minutes admiring her beauty realizing that despite the cost and trouble of worrying on how to give justice to a wondrous piece of religious art, she was all worth the effort.
******STA. MARIA DE BETANIA
Owner: Ian Ocampo Flora
Sculptor:Willy Tadeo Layug
Halo and Diadem:Patrick Glenn Guina Banal
Vesturera: Rop Syquia(Viste Hebrea theme)
Photography: Ruston Banal
Creative inputs: Alex R. Castro, Jeffrey Popatco
Image details: Height is at 5' 7" (170 cm) (5' 10" or 178 cm with base) Spanish features, fully carved head with hair tied in a bun. Crescent gold band holds carved hair together. Proportioned upper body set in an andarol. Movable hands following a Spanish santo design. Halo design patterned after an antique Sta. Cecilia image.
Commission Date: August 2011 to March 2012