Thanks to the wonder of cellphone technology, I was one of the first to lay my sight on this antique ivory head-and-hands San Francisco de Asis (St. Francis of Assisi). An antique dealer sent this to me for my consideration and I immediately expressed interest in this well-made treasure sourced from a family in Las Piñas.
The tell-tale stigmata on the hands clearly identified it as the Franciscan saint prone to ecstasy. His left hand was in a clutching position—which meant that it was holding a crucifix at one time, one of his attributes. The other hand would have held a skull, although the saint’s palm had no hole to anchor the skull.
The ivory santo was not perfect though, as the glass eyes were missing and so were the metalworks. The replacement velvet vestments were trimmed with the original embroidery from the old one, marked with a few holes here and there. The base, was also missing, but the dealer assured me that he just forgot to retrieve it from the owners.
I already am a happy owner of a San Francisco de Asis ivory santo which I purchased at Makati Cinema Square at an unbelievably giveaway price. Found in a box with assorted stuff for sale, it was a perfect piece, complete with a brass halo and a banner. To date, it is one of my most remarkable finds.
This San Francisco, however, was iconically different, and I was determined to have it restored by Dr. Raffy Lopez, even if he had a full schedule. As always, I had my way and he agreed to take on the restoration work, with the condition that I give him no deadline. My only instructions were to keep the base intact, as much of the gilding was intact, minus the sheen. I also asked him to improve the cut of the vestments, as I have seen Franciscan santos wearing short capes and something like a cowl.
I always have a way of losing track of my projects and when he texted me early this week to tell me that my San Francisco was ready for pick-up (complete with my, ehemm, bill, which was as reasonable as it could be, given my ‘demands’). He sent me a cellphone photo to give an idea how it turned out to be.
The old but serviceable embroidery were neatly transferred on a brown, softer fabric, and augmented with new ones. The cowl and the short manto were incorporated in the new habit, trimmed with simple gold embroidery at the hems.
I had been keeping the cross from my late Mother’s silver rosary for years now. It had been a birthday gift by a close relative for my mother, and it was etched with the presentation date—1951, which meant that my mother was just 28 when she received this present. The silver beads have been lost, and all that remained was this silver cross with the tiny corpus. When I slipped it in the closed hands of San Francisco, it fit his clutch perfectly!
So ends another tale of santo restoration for my San Francisco de Asis. But I would not let it end without telling you of my visit to the saint’s hometown in Assissi, Italy back in 2008. I got to walk the streets of Assisis, enter his revered domed church and pray on the floors where he once knelt.
Why, I even got to see his tomb. Whenever I see this santo likeness of him, I know I will always be reminded of that sanctifying pilgrimage, breathing the same air as that extraordinary man of the cloth known to all as San Francisco de Asis!