Friday, December 27, 2013


 WHAT CHILD IS THIS? A large, 15 inch antique Nativity Nino from Guatemala, with a short haircut (Personal Collection).

Christmas is a time not just for bringing out Nativity sets but also for heirloom figures of the reclining Infant Jesus, to be put on display at home--wrapped in swaddling clothes, and placed in a makeshift manger, often under the Christmas tree. In the early hours of Christmas, just after the Christmas Eve mass, the carved figure of the Child Jesus (Bambino, Niño de la Navidad) is taken out from the belen, to be kissed by the faithful as an act of reverence on the occasion of His birth. A spread of antique and vintage "Nativity Ninos" are on this spread .

ON MARY'S LAP IS SLEEPING. A contemporary Bambino, carved in wood from the Vecin Workshop, just 6 inches long. (Francisco Vecin Collection).

WHOM ANGELS GREET WITH ANTHEMS SWEET. A century-old, anatomically-correct Nino, with pronounced Chinese features. He wears a silver diadem and holds an or, now lost. One finger is stuck in his mouth.

WHILE SHEPHERDS WATCH ARE KEEPING. A 14 inch sleeping wooden Nino, with clenched fists, of vintage make. (Francisco Vecin Collection)

THIS, THIS IS CHRIST THE KING. An ancient Nino from Bohol, carved from heavy wood, with its original encarna, now peeling with age. It is just 8 inches long. Its legs are crossed. (Personal Collection)

WHOM SHEPHERDS GUARD. An antique Nino of lightwood, with feet repaired, 7 inches long (Personal Collection).

AND ANGELS SING.An old, lifelike carving of the Child Jesus with full hair and defined musculature. 8 inches long. (Francisco Vecin Collection)

HASTE, HASTE TO BRING HIM LAUD. A miniature Bambino, 6 inches long, of contemporary make, from the Vecin Workshop. (Francisco Vecin Collection)

THE BABE. An antique figure of the sleeping Jesus, with a stocky body and crossed legs. A superb folk example just 6 inches in length. (Francisco Vecin Collection)

THE SON OF MARY. An old Belen figure of the Child Jesus, put on display during the holidays at Our Lady of Grace Church, Mabalacat City. Devotees kiss this image after the Midnight Mass.

Sunday, December 22, 2013


 (Excerpts from Chapter 2, The Arts of the Philippines 1521-1957, ed. By Winfield Scott Smith, Manila, 1958. Published by Associated Publishers, Inc. , p. 9, 14, 15). 

SAN ANTONIO. Ivory polychromed and gilded. Philippine-Chinese school of the 18th century. Unsuual in that the figure is rendered in ivory, harking back to an earlier tradition. The ivory has been enriched with paint and gold leaf (F. Zobel Collection). 

 SAN JOSE. The head and hands were usually fashioned of ivory while the body was a wooden structure under the heavily embroidered robes. Often, human hair was used and frequently, gold, silver and previous jewels were used with the embroidery. (Miss Adelaida Paterno Collection). 

NUESTRA SEÑORA DEL ROSARIO. An execellent example of highly finished and elaborately conceived images popular in the 18th and 19th centuries, and still treasured as family heirlooms. (Miss Adelaida Paterno Collection). 

 SAN ANTONIO. Ivory figurine clothes in robes embroidered with prescious metals. The hair is real. Probably late 18th or early 19th century. . (Miss Adelaida Paterno Collection).

A word should be said about sculpture in ivory. Unlike wooden sculpture, large numbers of old ivory have survived to our day. Their survival was caused, not only by their small size, but by the intrinsic value of the material involved. On the whole, the ivory statuettes lack the vigor of their wooden brethren. Ivory lends itself to technical virtuosity, distracting to the spectator and apparently irresistible to the ordinary craftsman. The worst examples replace expression with simple enumeration. They become mere catalogues, of eyebrows, toe nails, buckles and glass eyes with nothing in particular to hold them together as artistic statements.

The craftsmen who carved them were perhaps too skilful and copied their models over-conscientiously, putting manual dexterity over imagination. As forms of artistic expression, the majority of these figurines are of little artistic and historical value, though they are pleasant enough in their Victorian quaintness, especially when furnished with glass eyes, real hair and elaborately embroidered robes that hide, more often than not, a wooden body.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

176. SAN VICENTE FERRER: The Puzzling Case of a Preacher Saint

 SAN VICENTE FERRER, the preacher-saint, with a stance unlike any other. He holds no book, and he doesn't have the "pointing finger" stance common to San Vicente santos. Instead, he has two clenched fists which could have held other items. Show here restored wearing vestments fashioned from an antique robe of another santa.

 Having studied the iconography of saints for quite awhile, I was confident that I could identify major santos in the Philippines based on emblems and attributes. I was stumped, however, by the riddle of a small folk santo figure, found in one of those friendly shops along Sta. Rita exit in Bulacan.

At first glance, I thought I had found a San Vicente Ferrer, the preacher saint and one of the most common santos in rural Philippines.

It had the trademark tonsure haircut, a portly face and figure, even a pair of tiny wings, nailed at a strange angle on the edge of the santo’s back, thus lying flat instead of seen spread out up front.

Even stranger was his pair of hands, which were attached to the wire arms to the body. Both were carved in a clenched position, as if holding objects. Traditionally, San Vicente is depicted holding a Book of Judgment with his left hand, and with his right arm and pointing finger raised upward, so there is certainly something amiss with this image. A clenched fist can’t possibly hold a book!

Could the santo have held a trumpet in his other hand—a rare attribute that symbolizes the announcement of the Judgement Day? Or could it be that this is composite image,  made from different santo parts? The santo head does not quite plug smoothly into the head hole of the mannequin body. But the legs, as one can see, are consistent with the make of the santo head, right down to the paint finish and proportion. Granted that this was a put-together santo, whose male santo body was used to complete the image—one with two clenched fists?

The only santo figures I know with the same stance are the angels of San Roque and San Isidro Labrador. San Roque’s companion angel holds in both hands, a plaque with a prayer against pestilence, while San Isidro’s holds a plow with both hands. Could this be the body of an Angel then—remember, it came with wooden wings!

 Of course, I entertained the possibility that this might be an altogether different saint—San Pedro Martir, perhaps, who looks similar to San Vicente. His attributes include a palm of martyrdom, a sword and a machete—but then, the santo head has no slit to put a machete in.

Regardless who this santo was, I thought It was worth restoring. In fact, I was confident I could personally restore it myself.

I began by repairing the missing parts of his feet with clay epoxy. I also enlarged the crevice for his head and repositioned the tiny wings.

From scrap embroidered vestment materialsI had saved from a past santo project, I fashioned a simple tunic with a belt.

As a final touch, I converted a round earring with fretwork into a halo. The results of this restoration are on this page.

He will, for the time being, be a San Vicente Ferrer to me. Maybe I’ll have a small wooden trumpet made, to hold in his right hand.

And maybe, I’ll see if I can coax him to hold a book. I may not have been able to solve the identity of this strange santo, but at least I managed to put him on the path to salvation!

Thursday, December 5, 2013

175. Retro-Santo: STA. INES OF THE RODRIGUEZ FAMILY, Bacolor

AGNES WITH AN AGNUS. The private image of Sta. Ines, owned by the Rodriguez Family of Sta. Ines, Bacolor, Pampanga, as she appeared in the early 1970s.

One of the most prominent families of Bacolor were the Rodriguezes, who were part of a much bigger Rodriguez clan that originated from Bataan and Mariveles. The Bacolor branch had as its progenitor, Don Olegario Rodriguez who settled his family in Barrio Sta. Ines.  A descendant, Dna. Gorgonia Rodriguez y Yabut (b. 19 Sept. 1886/ d. 14 Nov. 1960) came to live in the "Bale Sim" family mansion as its resident-in-charge in the early 20th century.

Into the large, art-filled Rodriguez Mansion, Dna. Oniang added the devotional image of Sta. Ines. Touring Europe in the 1920s, she and her entourage visited Spain, and had an image of the young virgin-martyr of Rome wrought there. The 4 foot plus image of Sta. Ines (St. Agnes) is iconographically depicted with her attributes—a palm of martyrdom on her right hand, and a lamb on her left, symbolizing her purity (also, the Latin word for a lamb is agnus, a play on her name).  The completed santa was brought home to Bacolor where it has now become a much treasured and revered family heirloom.

Though privately owned, the Rodriguezes allow Sta. Ines to be brought out during the saint's feast day,  21 January.

Friday, November 29, 2013


 CRUCIFIXION IN IVORY. A magnificent crucifix featuring the suffering Christ (in all-ivory) on the Cross, on a stoney mount decorated with shrubs and miniature glass figurines. The whole ensemble is encased in a virina.

There are two devotional articles that are considered indispensable in every Filipino home. One is a statue of the Blessed Virgin, and the other is a Crucifix. Since the early days of our Christianization, the crucifix--showing Jesus Christ crucified on the Cross--has been a sacred object of veneration, whether carved crudely from wood, fashioned from expensive ivory, or commissioned from a religious talyer in Quiapo.

Here then are different crucifixes of varied materials and styles, seen over the years in antique shops and dealers' stores, but all exalting the glorious death of Jesus Christ.

METAL CRUCIFIX. The corpus of Christ of cast metal is nailed on an ebony crosstrimmed with brass rays and finials. The cross stands on a wooden stoney base, that is encased in a glass dome.

FOLK CRUCIFIX. The figure of Christ, with its original paint, wears a loin cloth and tres potencias of  beaten tin. The kamagong cross, too, features rays made of cheap tin.

TABLETOP CRUCIFIX. Offered by an online dealer, this folksy crucifix shows a nicely-proportioned Jesus Christ mounted on a softwood cross, trimmed with simple cantoneras of tin.

CLASSIC CRISTO. A classically carved Christ, complete with glass eyes and etched loincloth of silver hangs on a kamagong cross. The bloodied figure is missing its rays and crown of thorns,

CRISTO MORIBUNDO. A wooden Christ, with his head down, hangs limp on a cross. It is handsomely attired with a silver loincloth with repoussed design.

NATIVE CRUCIFIX. A rather stiff rendition of Christ in wood, on a kamagong cross, has folksy features, but is splendidly arrayed in silver accessories, including the skull-and-bones at the foot of the cross.

ALTAR CRUCIFIX. A precious wooden crucifix is richly trimmed with beaten, gold-plated brass rays and finials. The wooden Christ wears a satin loincloth on which metal appliques have been sewn. The crucifix is housed in a 1920s urna.

PRIMITIVE CRUCIFIX. This naive crucifix must have been carved by an untrained artisan from softwood. It bears traces of paint and gesso.

HEIRLOOM CRUCIFIX. Made of fine wood, this crucifix shows a well-carved Jesus Christ that has kept all its important accessories thru the years--from its wig to its high potencias and polished silver loincloth. The kamagong cross is trimmed with beaten silver and is kept in a family urna.

VINTAGE CRUCIFIX. The wooden figure of Jesus Christ shows a well-carved physique, which is in sharp contrast to the simple cross on where he hangs. The rays of the cross are fashioned from tin.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

173. Santo Stories: STA. FILOMENA, Biñan's Incorruptible Saint

TWO FILOMENAS. Filomena Almarines (b. 1913- d. 1938), the incorruptible milagrosa, and the Sta. Filomena image enshrined in her tomb. The figure was donated by Filomena's childhood friend.

There is an image of Sta. Filomena (St. Philomena) enshrined in the tomb of a namesake from Biñan, Filomena Almarines. The two have nothing in common except a common name, but for the people of Laguna, their Filomena is also worthy of veneration as a saint.

 Filomena Almarines was born on 6 July 1913 in San Antonio, a barrio of Biñan, Laguna, the daughter of farmers. She was said to be a saintly young woman, prone to introspection. At age 25, she died on 13 August 1938, some say, of emotional stress. She was buried at the Biñan Municipal cemetery. 

When her own father died in 1947, Filomena’s tomb was opened with the intent of gathering her bones to give way to her father’s body. But great to everyone’s surprise when, upon opening her coffin, the workers found her body undecayed, her face as fresh as the day she was buried, and even her burial dress intact.

People immediately proclaimed her a saint, owing to her incorruptibility. Devotees trooped to her tomb, miracles were supposedly wrought (e.g. candles melted on her tomb to form the face of Jesus), and Filomena’s wonder-working powers were reported in American newspapers. Holy cards of “Sta. Filomena” were produced and sold as souvenirs to pilgrims from all over the Philippines who came to Laguna to visit the “milagrosa”.

A local cult quickly developed and persisted till the early 50s. A childhood friend of Filomena caused an image of Sta. Filomena to be carved, which was subsequently installed in her tomb.

Sta. Filomena’s own life story is clouded with mystery, starting with the discovery of the remains of a young girl in the catacombs of Priscilla in Rome, on 24 May 1802. The tomb bore the Latin inscription, “Filu mena”, translated as ‘daughter of light’.

Over the years, Filomena’s life story was pieced through the 1833 visions received by Mother Maria Luisa de Gesu, a Dominican tertiary. Filomena came from a noble family; her father had been a prince. Converted into Christianity, the family went to Rome. There, she attracted the attention of Diocletian, whose advances she spurned. This resulted in her martyrdom.

Her image depicts that of a young girl, no more than 15 years old. She holds the instruments of her martyrdom: an anchor which was used to drown her to no avail, a pair of arrows pointing downwards, and a javelin. Sta. Filomena is the patron of young girls and is also invoked by those in desperate situations.

 As for the Filipina “Sta. Filomena”, she continues to rest at the Biñan cemetery, now renamed as Sta. Filomena Cemetery.

Oldtimers and tourists intrigued by her story continue to pay a visit to the tomb of this “marilag na paraluman at milagrosang santa ng Biñan, Laguna: Bb. Filomena Almarines”.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

172. Holy Week Santos: SENOR DE LA PACIENCIA

One of the most moving images processioned during the Lenten season is the image of a seated Christ, right after he was scourged, crowned and cloaked. It is a depiction of him right after Pilate brought Jesus out and presented him before the crowd with the words, "Behold the Man!" (Ecce Homo in Latin).

This image of Senor de la Paciencia (or Paciencia, as simply known in the Philippines) is just one of the many variations of the Ecce Homo representation. Some tableaus represent the entire scene -- with Pilate and his soldiers, a bound and bleeding Jesus in his crown and cloak, and a crowd led by priests.

Others present only the figure of a bound Jesus, either with the cloak and crown. Spanish and Latin American countries have a longer appellation for this seated Christ:  El Cristo de la Humildad y Paciencia (Christ of Humility and Patience).

On a low stone seat an exhausted Jesus sits bound and crowned with thorns, wearing a loin cloth, a rope yoke, and a red or purple cloak and holding a reed scepter.In Mexico, people call these santos  El Dios or Señor de la Peña ("The God of Suffering").

Philippine images conform closely to this depiction of the Paciencia: local santos show the tired, sad Jesus seated with his hands on his chin, in deep contemplation of his inevitable fate that is forthcoming. His hands are often bound together, but there are representations that show him with hands free, with one hand holding a reed scepter as a symbol of mockery.

There are no no references in any of the gospels that has Jesus seated at any time after the crowning with thorns, but the seated Jesus may derive from a misreading of John 19:13, where Pilate once again takes Jesus out in front of the crowd and "he sits down on the judgment seat" (Pilatus ergo cum audisset hos sermones adduxit foras Iesum et sedit pro tribunali). 

Shown here is a selection of Paciencia images--some antiques, some contemporary, from different parts of the Philippines.

(Photos taken by Dr. Raymund Feliciano and entrusted to the author)

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

171. MATER DOLOROSA: Heirloom Image of the Ocampos of Quiapo

One of Quiapo’s well-known residents were the Ocampo Family. Jose Mariano Ocampo, a wealthy lawyer and realtor, owned a 1 hecatre property on both sides of the Estero de Quiapo. From 1936-1941, he built a Japanese-inspired tower of concrete, known to Quiapenses as the “Pagoda”. Ocampo was interested in Asian and Japanese culture, but he was a Catholic. In fact, he surrounded the Pagoda with a garden filled with cement statues of religious figures like San Agustin, Sta. Teresita de Nino Jesus and the Virgen del Carmen.

 But the most prized possession of the family was the centuries-old image of their Sorrowful Virgin, Mater Dolorosa, a processional figure. One can still discern folksy elements in the carving style, a certain stiffness that does not distract from the beauty and reverence the image inspires.

MISS PHILIPPINES 1954, Blesilda "Bessie" Ocampo, offers her trophy to the Blessed Virgin as an act of thanksgiving, before vying for the Miss Universe Pageant where she placed as a semifinalist.

 Familial devotion revolved around this heirloom Dolorosa, so that when daughter Blesilda Ocampo won Miss Philippines 1954, the first act of gratitude she did was to present her trophy to their patron. She did the same when she arrived from the 1954 Miss Universe Contest, where became the first ever Filipina semifinalist in the most prestigious pageant of the world.