Sometime in 2006, my Makati santero, Mr. Francisco “Kiko” Vecin called me up to ask if I was interested in acquiring a vintage San Pedro Apostol that someone had brought to his shop. Carvers, collectors, dealers and sellers often bring all sorts of santo stuff to his Makati talyer—most to fix, others to just dispose, as Mang Kiko, too, was a formidable collector of antique santos.
At that time, I had already taken an interest in Holy Week santos, so after work, I decided to drop by his shop to see the santo. I was a bit disappointed that San Pedro was just 44 inches high, its body a bit stiff and crude. The arms were not even articulated. It came with a carved rooster—St. Peter’s attribute -- that had incorrect proportions—it was squat and stout, and stood on a solomonic-like pole, attached to a plain, rectangular base. I didn’t even think that the santo was a perfect match for such a poorly-carved, featureless rooster.
When I inspected the head, the name of the carver, which I had now forgotten, was inscribed on the neck. Mang Kiko told me that the carver made the piece in the early 70s, which, to me, was too recent as I favor only antique pieces. The thing that was going for this particular image was its high degree of craftsmanship; its carved details, following classical tradition, were outstanding. San Pedro’s facial expression was uncannily hyper-realistic. I made an offer, which Mang Kiko communicated to the seller. The moment I left his shop, however, I was becoming lukewarm about San Pedro.
Would I also deny this santo, who, in turn, denied Christ not once, but three times in His time of Passion? But too late-- the next day, Mang Kiko called to say that the Seller had agreed to my offer. I mustered enough gumption to ask Mang Kiko, if he could renegotiate with the seller to lower further his price, given the santo’s less-than-desirable size, age and condition. I could sense Mang Kiko’s growing frustration—but, bless him, he made one more attempt to talk to the seller with my second, lower offer.
To my amazement, the Seller, who must have been in dire financial fix, agreed! So that’s how I came to bring home San Pedro where it languished in a room in my house for months, then years. I saw no need to have it restored as our town already had a Holy Week San Pedro.
Over three years later, I was at the place of Pampanga's best-known master restorer, Tom Joven, discussing a project when the subject of this particular San Pedro came up. Apparently, Tom had seen a photo of it posted online and thought it was good enough to be completely restored. I took up his offer and brought San Pedro to him, with no particular timetable in mind.
My only requirement was that the santo’s arm be made articulated and that the rooster be separated from the santo. I also asked that the column on where the rooster rested be changed into a pillar.
I happened to find a silver-plated rooster on ebay which was sized better to match San Pedro, so I asked Tom to replace the image’s original wooden rooster with this metal figurine.
San Pedro was left with Tom at around June of 2008; I was hoping it would be finished in time for my January 2009 birthday, but when that day came and went, I just completely forgot about it.
So many things have happened since then—I went away on a month-long trip, my mother got sick and then passed away. I was not able to track the progress of the work, as I had more pressing things in mind.
Eventually, I received a text from Tom: San Pedro is done, at last. My first glimpses of the apostle-saint was through these photos sent on facebook.
I was completely stunned by the transformation. The swarthy, gritty face of San Pedro has been replaced by an encarna done in the Italian religious painting tradition, marked by a pale complexion and highlighted with a pinkish blush. The carved hair and beard, once dark, were lightened.
The arms have also been articulated; the rooster replaced by my metal figurine on a new, more streamlined, yet graceful column.
Metal accessories have also been prepared by Tom—from the small beaten silver-plated halo and two keys—iconographic attrbutes of the saint, one key to open the gates of heaven, and the other, for the gates of hell.
I didn’t have vestments made yet for San Pedro, but I scrounged around and borrowed pieces here and there from my other santos, so that I could visualize how he would look like, robed and dressed.
The results are in the next few pictures:
The santo that I nearly passed up turned out to be quite a handsome work of sacred art, ready to inspire devotion to those who look up to this apostle-saint who eventually became our first Pope.
I am glad I had the santo restored, even if it felt like it took forever. Like the selection of a new Pope, it was worth the wait. Viva il Papa! Viva Apung Iru!