Thursday, June 6, 2013

151. CASA DE SANTOS: From a Buy and Sell Ad to a Trove of Sacred Treasures

Incredible how a simple ad posted on a free classified advertising paper—Buy and Sell Philippines—can lead me to a treasure house of antique santos in a nondescript San Juan neighborhood. It had  been my habit to scan the antique section of the weekly issue of Buy and Sell Philippines, and in 2005, one particular ad caught my attention. It was from a seller from San Juan, advertising a set of antique processional santos which she wanted sold as a lot for a whopping Php 475,000.

I am not easily deterred by such big ticket prices, as I had taken note that the ad had been appearing in previous issues for quite some time now, with no apparent takers. With nothing to lose, I ended up visiting the Seller's place, which turned out to be a small accessoria that had a narrow flight of stairs leading to the second floor residential area.

When she opened the door, a heavenly assemblage of large santos greeted me, two standing on the floor, another on top of a mesa altar. I couldn’t believe my eyes---here before me were three, beautifully carved images of Sta. Maria Salome, a complete San Isidro Labrador and a kneeling Cristo for an Agony in the Garden tableau. The dealer then recounted that these were owned by a family who had recently migrated to Canada. She was left with the task of selling these images as they could no longer take care of them.

One by one, I checked them out, noting their original outfits, the carving style and the patina of age. The image of Sta. Salome was particularly appealing; she had her original wig and was wearing her old rhinestone jewelry. Her censer though was missing. She was a tall santa, perhaps 54 inches tall, with a complexion that has become kayumanggi with age. What struck me upon seeing her were her pair of large, expressive eyes which, at one point, looked slightly cross-eyed ('banlag').

Next to her was a very large kneeling Cristo for an Agony in the Garden tableaux. This image had well-carved features, right down to the noodle-like strands of His full beard. It had a hallowed-out body to make it lighter when carried during processions. The only negative points were the hands--which seemed like replacements, and the absence of the Angel, which has long since disappeared.

The last of the santos was a complete San Isidro Labrador, which, although smaller (48 inches), had a fairly large base that had all the attributes present--the plowing angel with the cattle, and the kneeling landlord. The cattle was moulded from escayola or plaster of Paris.

I had to keep my emotions in check after assessing the santos, deferring my negotiations for another time, another visit. But my wonderment never ceased at the thought that, in this little accessoria, past a narrow, dingy eskinita lined with  intoxicated tambays lost in their drinking sprees, was this roomful of sacred treasure, precious santos, uncared for and forgotten, waiting for their next generous owner to come along.

(POSTSCRIPT: After much haggling, i finally got the Agony Cristo, which I felt was the best of the lot. I would have wanted to bring home Sta. Salome too, but my budget was good only for one santo. I was later told that Sen. Jamby Madrigal, whose mother was a formidable santo collector, snapped up both the Salome and the San Isidro santos. Today, I have fully restored this Agony Cristo, complete with His Angel, and the whole ensemble is processed annually in my home city of Mabalacat during the Lenten festivities)


  1. So good to Salome's current whereabouts. Your Cristo Oracion is the best and perhaps the oldest out of the three, no?

  2. Certainly, the best and oldest of the lot. And I got a good deal too, leveraging on the fact that it was angel-less, and hence, incomplete.