Sunday, September 30, 2012

125. VIRGEN MILAGROSA: A 'Miraculous' Restoration

I rarely make visits to my oldtime Angeles dealer, whose residence-cum-shop is tucked in one of the narrow side streets of Friendship Ave., near Clark, but when I do, I never fail to bring home a good buy or two. I’ve known this dealer since my interest in santos began in the 1980s, and he used to have a popular shop right on Friendship Ave.

The shop was always filled with Americans back then, mostly dependents and families of U.S. servicemen who populated Clark and its nearby environs. I would see them browse though his store, enthralled by the richness of his merchandise—from Oriental plates, colonial furniture to local arts and crafts and, of course, santos. He enjoyed brisk business all through the 80s and 90s, until Mt. Pinatubo took all that away.

But I remained in touch with my dealer, now grown more hoary, eccentric and sickly. After all, I was a loyal customer, buying regularly what I could afford. What I could not, he would let me take home anyway, to be paid in several affordable installments.

 Four months ago, I met up with him and as always, he opened his doors to me. My visit was really a social call, as I learned that he had been hospitalized again. But he seemed fine enough to ply me with his “new arrivals”, a fresh stock of antiques from Ilocos—all laid out for me to peruse on a table. One look and I knew they were mostly clever reproductions mixed up with a few old santos that were not really up to my liking.

I turned my attention to an old cabinet that contained more stuff—and it was there that I found a santo image, broken in 3 different places. It had no hands, and the feet had been detached from the globe base, which clearly identified the carving as an Immaculate Conception image. The santo was of the manikin type, and it was fortunate that the head was still intact, but loose from the body.

 A close inspection showed that the head was outfitted with glass eyes and was carved in great detail—including neck rings. The face was not exceptionally pretty, a bit roundish, the nose a bit big and the lips, pursed and thin. The arms were threatening to disengage from the body, which was in good condition. A portion of a snake coiled itself around the globe base, partially eaten by termites and missing its stand.

When I expressed my interest to buy this damaged santo, I could sense my dealer’s surprise. He wanted PhP 1,000 for it, but I hemmed and hawed, until we agreed on PhP800. I am sure he was happy to get rid of that santo which seemed beyond repair. The santo in all her sorry state, languished in a shoebox for another two weeks or so until I finally brought it to the Apalit shop of santero Nick Lugue. I had an ivory project with Nick, and I thought I’d throw in the broken santo too, for him to work on, no rush. That time, I had made up my mind to transform it into a Virgen Milagrosa, by whose name our town patron, Our Lady of Grace, was also known.

 Nick carved hands for the santa, added a stand to the globe base, and repaired the snake. The feet were reglued to the base and in a month, I had a 21 inch, completely repaired and repainted Virgin, standing securely on a gilded orb.

Nick had the wonderful sense to keep the original white paint of the santa’s torso, the only part that was undamaged, to serve as proof that this was an antique piece. But Nick did even better—he restored the santa for free, for which I will always remain grateful.

In early November, I finally had the time to bring the restored santa to the shop of Dr. Raffy Lopez. I've always liked Raffy's candor, and as I was still unsure at that time, I asked if my restored santa was worth transforming at all into a Milagrosa--considering its aesthetic quality. he said that with the appropriate vestments and slight facial retouches, he could bring out the beauty of the santa, which to him had an interesting air.

 First, the metalworks—a pair of rays, an open crown and a simple 12 star halo—were commissioned from the workshop of master metalsmith, Dodong Azares. I was familiar with his work as some of the metal accessories used by my processional santos were done by him. It was clear that he is just as adept in creating small-scale metalworks as shown by these detailed pieces.

 It took a little over a month for Raffy to finish the project, and when I finally got to his shop to see the completed Milagrosa, I was completely bowled over by the amazing transformation, a total makeover that went beyond my expectation.

 Vested and robed, and with features defined (the eyebrows were thickened and arched, nostril dots were painted on, the eyes were lined), my Virgen Milagrosa now stands taller (additional 5 inches courtesy of the halo) and more beautiful than when I first found her.

In her blue and white vestments, she reminds me so much of Pampanga’s own Virgen de los Remedios. Home in time for Christmas, our La Virgen Milagrosa now occupies a special place in our altar, a new object of our veneration, and a beautiful reminder that miracles do happen!

Thursday, September 20, 2012


An altar-ful of santos from the Diocese of San Pablo and its Churches. From the book edited by Chit Lijauco and photographed by Mon Acasio. (c) 2000 by the Diocese of San Pablo.

 SAINT GREGORY THE GREAT. From the church of San Gregorio Magno. The patron saint of Majayjay, he was elected Pope in 590 A.D., the first Benedictine to occupy the highest position in the Catholic hierarchy.  He was resposible for the Gregorian chant. Feast Day: March 12.

 ST. BARTHOLOMEW. From the church of San Bartolome de Apostol. One of the 12 apostles of Jesus. Tradition holds that he preached in the East and died a martyr's death in Armenia, being flayed alive for having won converts to the Lord Jesus.. Feast Day: August 24.

 ST. PETER ALCANTARA. From the church of San Pedro de Alcantara in Pakil. The town's other patron is the Ntra. Sra. Dolores de Turumba. Feast Day: October 19.

 VIRGIN OF GUADALUPE. From the church of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Pagsanjan. Fray Agustin de la Magdalena donated the first image of the town patron, Virgen de Guadalupe in 1687. A new image was crowned in 1947 by Bishop Obviar. Another image was donated by the Basilica of the Ntra. Sra. de Guadalupe of Mexico in 1958. Feast Day: December 12.

 ST. JOHN NEPOMUCENE. The second patron saint of the town of Pakil is the martyr San Juan Nepomuceno. Feast Day: December 11.

OUR LADY OF O. From the Church of Our Lady's Nativity in Pangil. The image of the pregnant Virgin and the Christ Child were sent by King Carlos II to Pangil in 1764 as sign of his gratitude. Feast Day: December 18.

SAINT ANTHONY OF PADUA. From the church of San Antonio de Padua in Pila. The Franciscan patron is housed in the first Antonine parish in the Philippines (est. 1581). The town's other patrons include San Roque and Virgen de las Flores. Feast Day: June 13.

SAINT ROSE OF LIMA. From the church of Santa Rosa de Lima in Santa Rosa. The Peruvian santa, whose devotion was begun by Dominicans who first ministered in the area in 1792. Feast Day: August 23.
SAINT JOHN THE BAPTIST. From the church of San Juan Bautista in Calamba. The church where Dr. Jose P. Rizal was baptized was rebuilt after WWII. Feast Day: June 24.

SAINT PAUL. From the magnificent domed Cathedral of San Pablo in San Pablo. The first hermit is the patron of the town, although images of San Francsico de Asis and San Agustin are displayed prominently on the church facade. Feast Day: January 15.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

123. VIRGEN DEL ROSARIO: A Patron Recovered, A Devotion Restored

For many years now, I have been looking for an affordable antique Nstra. Sra. Del Rosario ivory; we have long considered the Virgin of the Holy Rosary as our family patron. After all, my mother’s surname was Del Rosario, and as a young woman growing up in Angeles, she would pay homage to Our Lady at the ancient Sto. Rosario Church.

When my mother passed away in 2009, it became even more imperative to look for a Del Rosario image. Sometime in December 2009, I texted a free-lance dealer on a whim, asking if he had old ivories for sale. Sure enough, he texted back—he had one, he said—a Virgen del Rosario. I didn’ expect him to respond too soon, as I realized that my antiquing budget had been stretched too far with my almost-weekly acquisitions of vintage paintings, processional images (a pair!) and other sacred art.

But when he sent me an MMS photo of the antique image, I was taken by the simple yet beautiful qualities of the image, despite its flaws. Obviously, this is not a top quality image—the carving shows that: the facial features are not well defined and the fingers are of the usual “tinidor” style, associated with folk images. But the ivory parts of this Virgen del Rosario are complete, from the heads and hands of the Virgin to those of the Child Jesus. It is becoming increasingly rare to find complete Del Rosarios these days. Often,  antique shops separate the Virgin from Jesus, which are then sold individually.

A closer look at the images reveal that the bodies are without any damage and the original gilded base, though ridden with holes, remains intact. While the images still have their original human hair cabelleras (wigs), they have lost their glass eyes.

The vestments, with simple and sparse gold embroidery,  have also survived,  but I doubt if the tattered clothes can still be salvaged. I would be crazy if I passed up this Del Rosario, and so, after a short wheeling-and-dealing, the seller agreed to my offer and came rushing to my office to personally deliver the antique Mother and Child santo.

After Christmas, I came a –calling once more on Dr. Raffy Lopez, my suki restorer. He still had to finish my 3 santo projects with him, and here I am again with yet another one. Already harassed with vestment orders for the approaching Sto. Niño Malolos Exhibit on January 24, Dr. Raffy nevertheless took on my usual “no-rush” Del Rosario project.

Two and a half weeks after, I got a text that the Virgen del Rosario  was ready for pick up. Now, that was fast! As always, the results were amazing. Now outfitted with glass eyes, daubed with color and wearing new wigs (I had wanted to save the original frizzy human hair wigs  on the images as they gave them a real antique look, but alas, they had become too brittle to be re-used), the ivory faces looked more expressive.

Although we initially agreed on a blue and pink ensemble--a quick examination of the faded vestments actually showed her cape to be blue—I eventually opted for a cream and gold ensemble. Besides, I already had an Immaculate Conception vested with the same color scheme.

The vestment design was based on some antique metallic embroidery I had long ago saved from an a lost Del Carmen image. The rosette and trefoil patterns were re-assembled on the front of the robe and the cape, supplemented with new embroidery.

As I was absolutely clueless about  crowns and halos, I left the choice of metalworks to Dr. Lopez, who commissioned his platero, Dodong Azares, to make identical gold plated brass crowns.

A few before and after photos are shown here, to give you an idea of the extent of restoration done on the Virgin:

Thus restored, our antique Virgin del Rosario is housed inside a 20 in. made-in-Spain virina purchased from ebay, with a customized base provided by Dr. Lopez. 

Maybe I’ll add a mini-rosary and a scepter later, but for now, I consider this project completed.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012


This wooden Christ head with matching hands is one of the earliest antique santo heads that I bought for my collection. I had forgotten where I got it, but it was definitely from a Mabini antique shop and that I paid Php 6,000 for it, inclusive of the damaged hands, which I thought was just too much then.

The head itself shows some wear and wood damage at the neck. But the original encarna, though a bit scruffy, is intact, which shows that the santo head is really old, my only reason for buying it. I was not particularly impressed by the carving and I thought the narrow-faced Christ was a bit ‘cross-eyed’. 

By surprise, I found a similar Christ head in the workshop of Mang Kiko Vecin—a twin, in fact, with the same narrow head, same ‘banlag’ (cross-eyed) eyes and shallow beard carving—leading me to believe  that these were mass-produced heads from some early 20th century Manila religious shop.

Nevertheless, I took it home and for the longest time, I kept figuring what to do with it. The hands with missing fingers bore wounds. It could be a Sacred Heart, although popular depictions show Christ with a raised pointing finger. I could also have it made into a Salvador del Mundo, standing on a half-globe with arms outstretched. Christ the King was another possibility, a standing one, like that from Vigan. But since I had other priorities, I put this Cristo project momentarily in the sidelines.

Two years ago, an officer from our church asked to borrow a Christ the King image from me. But the only one I had was an altar-size seated Cristo Rey in an urna, too small for church use. This year, I was once again asked if I had a Sacred Heart Christ that I can lend for church use.

It was then that I decided to proceed with the restoration project for a Sacred Heart statue, using the antique Cristo head and hands—convertible to a standing Cristo Rey image!

Off to Mang Kiko Vecin I went, for the construction of the body. I thought it would be an easy task, as it took only three weeks for the carvers to make the body.

The finishing was done in another week or so—followed by the drying process. I had earlier told Mang Kiko to have the body painted and white, but when I was called to check on it—the body was painted blue!

That was no big deal compared to the retouching of the head.  The head had some discolorations and pockmarked holes, but Mr. Vecin wanted to preserve the original encarna by just doing  light washes on the facial scruffs. But the encarnador couldn’t get the right mix of color right, and the first attempt had the Cristo head looking like it had  ‘an-an’ (ringworm) all over the face! 

The damages on the wood couldn’t be repaired completely by putty or epoxy, until I suggested the use of clay epoxy which I recently discovered and which can be easily be placed in crevices and molded by hand. The hands were no problem at all, although the painter had the same color mixing problems.

The new,  flaming Sacred Heart to be set on Christ’s breast was carved separately and then set on brass rays. The image, standing on a simple half globe base, measures 52 inches from the top of Christ’s head to the bottom of His peaña. 

Dressing up the image was next.
Since I wanted a set of no-frills vestment, I asked Ramon Gutierrez to create the robes of the completed Sacred Heart, to be done in traditional colors of white (for the tunic) and bright red (for the cape, with a pink lining).  The draping was also conventional, with the cape tucked under the armpit, with one end over the shoulder. As Sacred Heart, the image now looks like this:

Meanwhile, the other metal accessories that will help transform this Christ image into a standing Cristo Rey were ordered separately from my pukpok (metalsmith) boy from Mexico, Jeric Canlas. Specifically, the image needs a royal crown, a scepter and an orb.

A few more weeks of work and my Christ image--as Cristo Rey-- was ready to be installed at the Divine Grace Church, in time for the Nov. 13 Christ the King celebration.

I am happy with the results of the restoration, and happier still with the convertible transformation—from Sacred Heart to Christ the King. Viva Cristo Rey! Viva Sagrada Corazon de Jesus!