Sunday, December 6, 2015


The city of Mabalacat in Pampanga resides an antique devotional tableau rarely seen in private homes. The two-figure tableau depicts the apparition of the Sacred Heart of Jesus to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque. Beginning on 27 December 1673, St. Margaret Mary received private revelations of the Sacred Heart.

 The images were inspired by this divine vision that has been traditionally visualized in old holy cards showing the French nun, Margaret Mary, kneeling in front of Jesus Christ exposing his heart.

 They were commissioned by the couple Vicente dela Cruz (b.9 Sep. 1888) and wife, Felipa Lim, prominent sugar planters and entrepreneurs, who own one of the largest residences in the city—complete with a high tower.

 The de la Cruzes have always had a devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, but they chose to include the image of the visionary nun, St. Margaret Mary.

The lifesize statues possibly date from the late to early 30s, and they have a gothic feel in the way the images were carved. Many miracles have been attributed to these images.

During the War, the tower house of the Dela Cruzes was commandeered by Japanese military leaders and transformed it into their headquarters. At  the time of the Liberation, when the Japanese learned that the Americans were coming to take back Mabalacat, they threaten to burn the house as well as the whole town.

The Dela Cruz household prayed and invoked the name of the Sacred Heart to deliver the house from fire. As it turned out, the enemy forces fled the town in panic, leaving the house unscathed. In more recent times, when the heavy roof of the tower was blown off by a typhoon, it fell on a vacant spot on the yard, safely away from nearby apartments and houses around the mansion.

 The Dela Cruz heirs continue to lend the images to the Church of the Divine Grace for the annual feast of the Sacred Heart, where it is processioned on its own carroza.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

235. CARU-CARUHAN DE BINANGONAN: Santos in Miniature

MINIATURE TERCERA CAIDA (third fall of Christ). 
In Binanongan, Rizal, miniature statues of saints take center stage instead of the usual life size ones. This recalls the religious tradition in Colombia, where children process their own child-size santos.

This relatively-new Binanongan tradition is called "caru-caruhan" (play carrozas), and it is held during the Lenten season. It began sometime in the 1980s, when children began imitating the Holy Week tradition of bringing out images for the annual Lenten ritual.

Along Regidor St., the children would parade their homemade santos made of sticks, cloth and other available materials. Over the years, the image became more sophisticated, well-made and life-like,

The wooden tabletop  images are small, no more than 20 inches tall, and are outfitted and arrayed in embroidered vestments and metalworks. There are single representations of Lenten characters as well as tableaus.

The little santos have their own mini "andas" on which they are borne during the procession. The event is highly organized, and there is even a cofradia dedicated to propagating the devotion and practice in the hope of instilling religiosity among the youths.

The group plans the program, including the Wednesday procession that culminates in the gathering of the santos depicting scenes from the passion of Christ in an exhibit hosted by the St. Ursula Church.

This unusual tradition lives on in Binanongan where it is also known as the Caro-carohan de Regidor to honor its place of origin.
It has become a popular tradition, regularly covered by the media, and visited by local tourists and devotees, who delight in watching the miniature santos as well as the spirited display of devotion of Binangonan youths.
Featured here are representative images from the 2008 procession, taken by Holy Week photo documentarian Dr.Raymund Feliciano.


Wednesday, November 4, 2015

234. Santo Stories: SAN ROQUE of Bilibid Viejo, Quiapo

Bilibid Viejo in Quiapo takes pride in having the pilgrim saint, San Roque (St. Rich of Montpellier) as its titular patron. The resident’s devotion is centered on a small, wooden image of San Roque, the pilgrim saint of Montpellier, who ministered to victims of a plague, that he, too, caught. A dog came every day, bringing him bread for sustenance. An angel holds a scroll proclaiming his invocation against pestilences of all sorts.

The origin of this image is lost in history, but since Bilibid Viejo is just a walk away to Quiapo’s carving centers, it may be assumed that the image could have been commissioned from any of the talleres in Evangelista, Hidalgo, or even those in Sta. Cruz. The image is enshrined in a small corner chapel that was constructed way before the war.

The devotion to San Roque and its upkeep were assumed by a confraternity that was founded on 18 July 1926, with 16 pioneer members—Hermandad de San Roque. They actively propagated the faith by holding yearly fiesta activities, held in the first two weeks of August. There were daily sponsored masses, band contests, basketball competitions, movie screenings and musical jamborees. The fiesta is highlighted by a procession led by the image of the Sto. Niño, followed by their patron, San Roque, and then by the Virgin of Mount Carmel.

The San Roque fiesta is still being held in Quiapo, marked with rowdy street games. Not many people know that in the not so distant past, especially in the post-war years, the celebration of Bilibid Viejo’s patron had a more devout air, with many groups like “Sub-Comite de Damas, Señoritas y Soletros”, “Los Companeros” (a band of musicians that played during the fiesta) and Bilvie Youth Club lending their hands to promote the devotion though organized pilgrimages, excursions to churches and the promotion of scaramentals through San Roque medals.

Friday, October 23, 2015







Friday, October 9, 2015

232. Santos of La Naval: STA. CATALINA DE SIENA

STA. CATALINA DE SIENA. Antique ivory image
used in the La Naval procession of Our Lady of the Most
Holy Rosary, Sto. Domingo Church, Q. C. Credits: Saga of 
La Naval, Triumph ofa People's Faith, Dominican 
Province of the Philippines, 2007.
St. Catherine of Siena, (b. 1347.d. 29 April 1380), youngest of 25 children, joined the Third Order of St. Dominic and received the stigmata. She encouraged Pope Gregory XI to abandon Avignon for Rome, ending 70 years’ exile of the papacy from the city. Canonized 1461, Declared Doctor of the Church in 1970. Patroness of Fire Prevention. 

About The Image: The image of Sta. Catalina is housed at the Beaterio de Sta. Catalina. At the base of the image is inscribed: Donacion de la M.R.M. / Catalina de la Resurrecion/ Jez/ +13 unio 1853. This means that the image was donated before Mother Catalina died in 1853. When the Japanese destroyed the building on 28 Dec. 1942, the image was evacuated under the leadership of Fr. Francisco Sadaba O.P. of Letran. The air raid sirens threw the bearers in panic, who left the image in the street while they scampered for refuge at the Jesuit religious house in Intramuros. Eventually, everybody reached the University of Santo Tomas campus. The image is dressed in Dominicn’s habit.

Attributes: Crown of roses proffered by Christ, chosen over a crown of gold, heart in hand, rosary, book (referring to her work) and lily, symbol of virginity.

Friday, September 18, 2015


A rarely-seen tableau showing the archangel with Tobias,
  whom he helped in catching a fish. Once home, the angel
prepared a salve from parts of the fish that was
then used to heal Tobias' blind father. This 17 in.
primitive piece was found in a Manila online shop.

Indeed, antique santos can come from the most unexpected places. The advent of the internet has changed the way we shop--antiques, included. Where before, sneaking out to the antique enclave of Manila from my Makati office meant braving jeepney rides and lunch-hour traffic just to check out  new santo arrivals, now, santos are available on demand--thanks to good old ebay, rubylane, or etsy.

A century-old santa of heavy wood, with characteristic
bell-shaped skirt, typical of Bohol santos. The image,
with very sparse carving, except for the very detailed hair,
is polychromed. It was found on the Philippine selling site,, which has since become,

Suddenly, these online shops and auction sites provided a convenient and alternative way to acquiring santos. With just a click, you can be an armchair shopper and check on the antique through pictures provided by the dealer, and read through the descriptions, price points and shipping preferences. Sure there are risks involved in sourcing santos in this manner-- especially with international transactions--but by and large, my online buying experience has generally been pleasant.

This 13 inch santo was found on a Facebook Group that sold
antiques and collectibles. When I first saw it, it was encrusted
with thick grime, but the octagonal base was interesting.
Deep cleaning revealed painted details like stars on the santo's
habit and colors on the base.

Eventually, local selling sites like, started adding "antiques" as part of their product categories, and if one were patient enough to check the items regularly, one could spot a great santo find.

A large and hefty San Pedro, 28 inches high, found on It went unsold after several re-posts, so I
eventually bought it at a discounted price. The santo is
carvedin one piece, saved for the head and hands. 

But what really made santo collecting more exciting was when social media sites became immensely popular. Facebook, for instance, attracted like-minded people who formed groups to share common interests. The sharing eventually progressed into buying and selling, and today, there are perhaps, more than a dozen facebook groups involved in the lively trade.

This looks like an angel fragment from a large San Isidro
de Labrador tableaux, based on the hand position of the
figure who appears like he is manning a plow. The base is a
replacement. It was obtained from a facebook group, and was
shipped all the way from the Visayas to Pampanga!

The santos featured here were all purchased online, from different sites. The deal is based on mutual trust, and I would like to think that the groups of which I am a member are strict in the enforcement of house rules, that mandates inclusion of a description and a price, plus a lot of caveats!

I was drawn to the vibrant color of this very common
preacher saint, a vintage piece that is at once simple,
yet powerfully attractive with its bright hues and tones.
Most of all, it was very affordable! At just 11 inches tall,
it was also cute! It was found being  sold in a facebook group. 

Negotiations and deals are sealed through private messaging and phone calls. Meet-ups and delivery by a courier are the most popular modes of transferring ownership of the item.You would agree that the santos that I have acquired online are a charming lot, with prices no different from antique shops, and in most cases, even cheaper. It takes a discerning eye and an inquisitive mind to spot a santo that's right for you and your budget, and a fast finger to click on the button to type in your final decision--MINE!

One of my favorite online purchase, this heavy folk santo was
emailed to me for consideration, before it was listed online.
It is a beautifully carved piece and has on its original paint.
It stands over 16 inches tall including the base of turned wood.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

230. Santo Stories: VIRGEN DE BALINTAWAK of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente

VIRGEN DE BALINTAWAK of the Philippine Independent Church as it appeared in the early 1900s. The carver is unknown. Source: Sunburst Magazine, 1978.

One of the most unusual religious images ever to emerge from the years of the Philippine revolution is the so-called Virgen de Balintawak. It is an image that was based on a dream that allegedly saved several heroes of the Revolution, and which was recounted by the militant writer, Aurelio Tolentino. It was said that when Bonifacio, wife Gregoria, Jacinto and other katipuneros sought refuge for the night in the house of Tandang Sora in Balintawak, one of them had a dream. It was a vision of a Mother with Western features, curiously attired in a balintawak dress, sinamay blouse and butterfly sleeves, next to his bolo-wielding Child, in red short pants and Katipunero hat, shouting “Kalayaan!” (Liberty!).

 The Mother figure then whispered a warning to the dreamer,”Mag-ingat kayo!”(Be careful!). The shaken katipunero woke up and narrated his strange dream which they took as a serious warning. They cancelled their plan to return to Manila and decided to stay put in Balintawak. Shortly, the group learned that Spanish soldiers had raided the Diario de Manila and found incriminating evidence that led to the discovery of the Katipunan.

Bishop Gregorio Aglipay, the rebel priest of the Catholic Church and a member of the Malolos Congress. Founder of the Iglesia Filipina Indepndiente, which proclaimed its independence from the Spanish hierarchy, in 1902.

To mark this miraculous moment, the first Obispo Maximo of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente (Philippine Independent Church), Bishop Gregorio L. Aglipay (b.1860/d.1940), caused an image to be carved following the description of the katipunero’s dream. The Mother and Child image were housed in the old Aglipayan cathedral along Azcarraga St,, (now Recto) around 1905, but which was razed to the ground during the American retaking of Manila in 1945.

The old Aglipayan Cathedral in 1905, where the Virgen de Balintawak was first enshrined. It was burn during the battle of Manila in 1945.

A 1925 novena ,“Pagsisiyam ng Birhen sa Balintawak”, was also printed for the Aglipayan faithful—whose rituals and practices, like the veneration of images, closely copied those of the Roman Catholic Church. According to the obispo, the Mother of Balintawak is a symbol of the Philippines , and the child katipunero represents Filipinos who aspire for liberty. The figures serve as reminders of the great sacrifices reminds us of the tremendous sacrifices of the liberators of our Country and of our sacred and inescapable duty to follow them, also making all possible sacrifices of Rizal, Mabini, Bonifacio, and other heroes, whom Aglipay recognized as teachers, prophets and evangelists. 

Virgen de Balintawak today. There was a time when the PIC stopped dressing the images in Filipiniana costumes, but that has since resumed.

The Virgen de Balintawak is an example of how Filipinos have successfully indigenized the Catholic faith to make it an ownable religion, at a time in our history when Filipinos became an oppressed people of God.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

229. Fat Friar in Ivory: SAN ANTONIO DE PADUA

THE PREACHER SAINT, San Antonio de Padua, was born in Lisbon, Portugal and is venerated today as one of the greatest Franciscan saints.

Saint Anthony of Padua, the great Franciscan thaumaturgist, was often described as short and even chubby. The first biographies of the Saint made some references to his physical stature, suggesting that he was ‘robust’ and that he had a ‘Mediterranean’ complexion. In the 1500s, Girolamo Romanino depicted Anthony as a slightly balding man with a rounded face.

This antique ivory santo of the famous preacher saint vividly captured those descriptions. The chubby-faced saint was obtained from a local Manila shop, and which I found on display while passing by the said antique store. The ensemble was complete, the santo wears its original Franciscan habit, frayed and tattered, but with the gold embroidery intact. He holds a sprig of lilies on one hand and cradles an orb-carrying Nino on the other arm.

I was struck by the quality of both ivory and carving--the face of San Antonio and the Christ Child are wrought beautifully in white ivory, painted with great detail, from the perfectly arched eyebrows right down to the irises of their eyes. Yet, the image also shows hints of folksiness, as gleaned from the way his fingers are rendered, and the awkward stiffness of his stance.

I had not planned on acquiring this image, and for months it lay displayed inside a replacement virina, mounted on its gilded carved base. I was told that it had been reserved, so I had sort of given up on this beautiful santo. A few more months passed before I learned that San Antonio was back on the market, and it was offered to me at a reasonable discount.

In one of his sermons, the good saint wrote "The saints are like the stars. In his providence Christ conceals them in a hidden place that they may not shine before others when they might wish to do so." How lucky I am that this piece--in all its fatness-- has come out of its hiding to shine as one of my prized and favorite ivory santos in my collection..

Monday, August 10, 2015

228. Collecting the Past as a Beacon to the Future: DON LUIS MA. ARANETA, by Ernesto E. Punzalan

Condensed from an article by Ernesto E. Punzalan of the same title,
Originally published in Sunburst Magazine. March 1979. 
Photography by George Tapan and Resty Guevarra.

Luis Ma. Araneta, the genteel and generally acknowledged numero uno of private antique collectors in the Philippines, could very well have the same outlook as the above Italian in amassing his own vast collection. A patrician by birth and manner, Araneta regards his relics as “a part me, my sensitivity to what represents man and art, especially to that which we call Filipino”.

The image of the Sto. Nino was a favorite subject of both Filipino and Chinese and carvers of the 18th century. This ornate Nino is dressed up in an 18th carat gold filigreed costume complimented by a gold corona, boots and sceptre, with a red satin cape intricately trimmed with gold thread borders and fleur de lis designs. The orb is silver with gold trimmings. Done in heavy wood, 18th century.

 The Filipino is a vague shroud behind which hovers the mysticism and snob appeal of antique collecting. Mga lumang bagay-bagay, the almost derogatory Tagalog term for anything old, has been the bone of conetnion and debate among many collectors for 2 decades now. What started as atrickle in the fifties is now a confused fad. Legitimate art enthusiasts are swept aside in the stampede of hoarders, hustlers, investors, unscrupulous dealers and artistic mafiosi.

 Today, no abode of the Filipino nouveau riche can rise without an anonymous painter’s obra from the 18th century or a Sung or Ming vase (usually bought at padded prices) and a plethora of fakes and instant antiques assembled by those creative artists of Rizal and passed off to the flush but unknowing as the real thing.

 Don Luis, as he is fondly called by most acquaintances—or ‘Lui’-- to his friends, enthuses: “”I am glad that the awakening that has made me realize the value of these objets d’art is now a common experience”. His awesome museum is now made possible, a quixotic enthusiasm. He brought to it from the start an in-born artistic talent (he is an architect) and a millionaire’s checkbook.

The Araneta collection has thus become perhaps the most talked about in the country. The ramblings house (palazzo might be a more accurate term for it) in McKinley Road in Forbes Park teems with priceless discoveries—ageless santos in ivory and wood prominently displayed side by side with old Damian Domingo, Amorsolo, Hidalgo, Luna masterpieces as well as the efforts of anonymous painters. Luis Araneta’s antiques has made him humane, he says.

Photo from the Pagrel Exhibit Catalog, Intramuros, 
 His desire to share his largesse to his countrymen has already led him to donate a large portion of his collection to the San Agustin Church Museum. The “Pagrel Collection”, an acronym which stands for the name of his three children—Patricia, Gregorio and Elvira—is housed at the former refectory of the Augustinian friars in the convento of San Agustin.

Photo from the Pagrel Collection Exhibit Catalaog, Intramuros.
It has been dedicated by Luis Ma. Araneta to the memory of his mother, Doña Carmen Zaragoza vd. De Araneta on the occasion of the first centennial of her birth on June 29, 1976. Don Luis himself passed away on Easter Sunday on April 22, 1984.

Additional photos from the PAGREL COLLECTION Catalog.