Friday, May 23, 2014

196. ST. LOUIS Of FRANCE: The King Who Would Be Saint

ST. LOUIS, KING & CONFESSOR. A small figure of the King of France, rendered in bone, stands 6 inches high, on a wooden base. Ca. 1900s. Personal Collection.

I graduated from Saint Louis University in Baguio City, Northern Philippines, and in the whole time I was there, I really never bothered to find out about the saint after whom our school was named. There was a confusion of some sorts as to who the real patron was; our university exam booklets for example, has the profile of San Luis Gonzaga (St. Aloysius Gonzaga) of Italy illustrated on the cover. Then, there is the university seal (Sword and Shield) which is described as having the "stylized lily associated with St. Aloysius Gonzaga, the patron of the school".

The school, however, was founded by CICM (Congregatio Immaculati Cordis Mariae) missionaries from Belgium, so they could not have chosen a Italian saint for its patron. It made more sense to name the school after a French saint--King Louis of France. He was born in 1214, in Poissy, France to parents Louis VIII, and Blanche, daughter of Alfonso VIII of Castille.

He was barely 12 when he lost his father, so his mother assumed the regentship and took over in raising her Louis, instilling in him the virtue of holiness in his thought and deeds. At 20, he married Margaret, the daughter of Raymond Berenger, Count of Provence, with whom he had 11 children. Two years later, he took over the reins of the government of France.

He headed several crusaded, but in 1238, he was captured by Mohammedans but was able to return to France. He attempted another crusade in the East in 1267, but this time, he would never return. In 1270, he caught a sickness in Tunis and died after receiving the last sacraments.


In his reign, Louis had a vision to make France as the most eminent of all Catholic nations in Europe. He built religious edifices like the famous monsatery of Royamount and the convent of Maubuisson. He was responsible for the purchase of the Holy Crown of Thorns relics from the Eastern emperor at Constantinople. He heard Masses twice a day, and was surrounded with priests during his travels. He outlawed usury, forbade private wars between his feudal vassals and was renowned for charity.

This representation of him--an ebay find--was carved from a singular piece of narrow bone that resembles ivory. The slim figure is carved in the round and shows the crowned royalty holding a book. Other attributes include a sword and a shield representing his authority. He is often attired in royal robes with golden fleur-de-lis (the "stylized lily" described in our university's crest). The carving is signed with the name of the maker, "Louis Plesey", a namesake of the saint.

St. Louis is the patron saint of barbers and grooms, and is invoked against the death of children. The royal saint's feast day falls on Augut 25.

Thursday, May 15, 2014


One of the very first santo heads that I got when I started my santo collection was this medium-sized head of San Miguel Arcangel (St. Michael Archangel). The head itself is about 10 inches tall, and seems to have been meant for a fully carved (tallado) body. San Miguel is always depicted in full battle gear as he fights the Devil, so he wears a helmet topped with a flower carved in relief.

Outfiitted with glass eyes and carved hair that sports a knot at the back, this San Miguel head has very patrician features, as evident from his straight, aquiline nose and a stern, almost emotion-less expression. I had to do a double take when I saw this head up for sale in a Baguio antique shop in the late 80s. I thought it first to be so unattractive; the thought of buying a santo fragment was rather unappealing to me back then.

I am glad though I got ut (for the princely sum of Php 350)!). San Miguels of this size are hard to come by; if complete, this would have been suitable for display in a church or for a procession. It would certainly have cut quite a fine figure, especially with its battle stance--holding down the Devil with one foot while in the act of thrusting a spear (or brandishing a sword)  into his nemesis.

While a popular and an important angel saint, only a scarce number of devotional santos of San Miguel in private homes. People are familiar with his imagery through the Ginebra San Miguel gin label, which has attained an iconic status in Philippine pop culture. The original "Markang Demonyo" label was drawn  for La Tondena Company, by no less than National Artist, Fernando Amorsolo, when he was but a fine arts student.

"Ang inumin ng tunay na lalake" was Ginebra's slogan. It could also very well apply to San Miguel Arcangel, the protector , the equalizer, the warrior angel--who always fought his very best in the battle of good versus evil--like a "tunay na lalake".

Monday, May 5, 2014

194. HE IS RISEN: Resureccion Restored

RISE AND SHINE. The newly-restored Resurrecion found in a Manila estate sale. Save for the staff which needs a new banner, the restoration, undertaken by Dr. Raffy Lopez, was done in under  a month. The image dates from the early '50s.

This 32 inch wooden Risen Christ figure came to me in this sorry state, from a Manila estate sale. It was unkempt and dirty, with an old hanky for a loincloth, with metal parts missing and corroded.

 Though not so old—it dates from the 1950s—it featured a refined carving style, the ultra-slim figure showing pleasingly lithe proportions.

The physique of Christ itself is noteworthy for its lean and long lines, looking perfect from all angles.

The face, gaunt and thin from his mortal ordeal, shows a calm demeanor, neither smiling nor exhibiting sorrow. This, after all is the Risen Christ, symbol of rebirth, of renewal.

Standing on a traditional cloud base, the Christ figure stands 22 inches tall, obviously made for home devotion. Its right hand is raised in blessing, the other holding a rusted banner, with the pennant missing. 

Upon acquisition of this piece, it was immediately whisked off to my santo restorer for diagnostics.

It would seem there was little to restore—some missing fingers, paint losses, unstable parts—but as it turned out, the santo needed a major overhaul.

As was always the case, I was sent updates through photos sent through my phone. After a month, the restoration was finished!

My Christ of the Resurrection—the central figure of the Easter Sunday Salubong---rises again!!