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!


  1. very interesting entries as always. hope you continue posting your antique santos finds. any santos hoards lately?