Originally published on SUNBURST Magazine, February 1979 issue
The Remarkable Story of the Santos Family that has been carving religious statues for three generations and still holds an annual procession for St. Ignatius that began nearly a hundred years ago.
“From Father to Son, the Chisel is Passed on to Three Generations.”
Art flourished in the late 19th century in Sta. Cruz, which became the cradle of the first sculptors, painters, silversmiths, engravers, and musicians.
Sta. Cruz, then a barrio and not yet an arrabal (district) of Manila, ascended in importance as the home of the elite who acquired their wealth through business and industry.
The entresuelo of the Paterno mansion bounded by Calle noria (P. Paterno today), P. Gomez, Sales and Carriedo rang with the hammers of silversmiths shaping out the finest jewelry under the supervision of Trinidad Paterno. Their jewelry was in demand in Manila and in the provinces.
No. 12 and 37 on old Dulumbayan St. leading to the Arranque Market were jewelry shops that also manufactured altars and silver-plated carros for saints used in processions.
Don Florentino Torres, in his “Memorias”(El Debate, October 19, 1924) recalled: “Romualdo Teodoro De Jesus was the best sculptor; the Zamoras had the most distinguished engraving shops; the brothers Torres, Valeriano and Victorio (among the first electricians of Manila) were the most celebrated scenographic painters who specialized in house décor; Maestro Teban taught the rudiments of music, although his surname was not remembered; he was a professor of various musical groups.”
The taller de escultura of the present-day Santos Family at V. Fugoso St. (Zurbaran)
Sculpture during the16th century Spanish regime was the domain of Chinese craftsmen of Binondo. Antique ivory, silver or polychromed wooden images of Christ, the Virgin and saints show marked Chinoise influence in the eyes and other features. The skill of the Sangleys in church sculpture was mentioned by Bishop Domingo de Salazar in a letter to King Felipe of Spain in 1591.
But in the 19th century, Filipino sculptors emerged in Sta. Cruz. The first sculptures of saints that were borne or pushed in all the provinces of the archipelago originated from the shops of Sta. Cruz and were famous as majestic figures, while the Virgin, female saints, cherubim and angels were beautiful”, Don Florentino wrote.
Jose Rizal’s character, Capitan Tiago, in his novel “Noli me Tangere”, owned several images, among them, the Sacred Family of carved ivory, eyes of crystal, long lashes and blonde wavy hair which were neatly executed by the sculptors of Sta. Cruz”.
Romualdo T. De Jesus, the sculptor mentioned by Torres in his “Memorias “ was an instructor of Rizal in the art. He attended Rizal’s re-interment at the Paco cemetery. Rizal was hastily buried in an unmarked grave outside the cemetery after his execution by Spanish rifles on Campo de Bagumbayan on Dec. 30, 1898. His family and the sculptor’s guild of which he was a member exhumed his remains and secretly buried them inside the cemetery. A cross was placed on his grave with the ineverted initials of his name – R.P.J.—probably to camouflage his true identity from Spanish authorities. The historical photograph of this memorable occasion is preserved by remigio Garcia, owner of Manila Filatefica (a printing firm).
Up to 1893, the mestizos and natives of Santa Cruz and Binondo were organized into gremios (guilds) governed by a tribunal. The headmen, according to Felipe M. Roxas, who became a mayor of Manila from 1905to 1917 “took leading roles in public affairs and reaped the honors and privileges corresponding to their social status” which they showed off “ in public ceremonies and religious processions”.
Benigno Santos was the founder of a dynasty of sculptors who have left an indelible mark on the religious art of the country.
One such headman, Benigno Santos, became a cabeza de barangay of San Ignacio in Sta. Cruz, a position which gave him jurisdiction over 50 to 60 families. As a cabeza, Santos acquired property in the area of Manggahan (P. Guevara), Sulukan (Zurbaran) and Anyahan (Mayhaligue). There was no Quezon Boulevard at that time. This area was referred to as bukid because of the thick talahib growth and the swampy portions planted to buyo (betel nut).
But after the government purchased Santos’ properties at a minimal price based on the real estate tax, they evolved into the campus of the P. Gomez Elementary School and Osmeña Park, a children’s playground that is now the site of the Central Market.
In the 1890s, Santos built a chapel on the lot now occupied by the P. Gomez school and a tiny schoolhouse where children were taught catechism. A Jesuit priest said mass at the chapel on Sundays and holidays. Santos initiated the celebration of the fiesta in his barangay. A procession was held with the patron saint, Ignatius of Loyola, as the lone reigning figure. The commemoration of the fiesta developed into a lavish yearly tradition.
For the Sta. Cruz procession, the biggest in Manila in that era, Santos contributed four life-size images which he carved, of San Ignacio, San Pedro, the Panalangin (Christ Kneeling in Prayer in the Garden of Olives) and the awesome Christ with the hands tied to a stone pillar, which is still preserved by a son of Santos.
Even when he was cabeza of San Ignacio, Santos resided on Calle Salcedo between Carriedo and Azcarraga in the heart of Sta. Cruz. Two doors were occupied by his taller de escultura where religious images were turned out of batikuling, a fine-grained white and malleable wood favored by sculptors, and carrozas gilded with ornate silver were manufactured.
Santos learned the art of woodcarving from a Spaniard named Flores who carved the Tercera Caida or Third Fall of Christ for Sta. Cruz Church. There were five figures in the group, including the fallen Christ, Simon of Cyrene who helped him up, and Roman soldiers. The sculpture went up in flames when the church was burned during World War 2.
For Quiapo Church, Santos executed The Death of St. Joseph, a sculpture that is missing today. He had the generous habit of making altars and images and donating them for free to churches in Bulacan and other provinces.
The Santos family moved over to the house owned by Enrique Zobel on Calle Sales close to the laboratory of Botica Sta. Cruz and the residence of the eminent Dr. Ricardo Papa when Calle Salcedo and Calle Dulumbayan forking from it were expropriated by the government . The two streets were aligned to make the southern portion of Avenida Rizal. Calle Cervantes from Azcarraga to Sangleyes (Blumentritt) formed the northern extension of the new avenue. The jewelry shops and the talleres de esculturas on Dulumbayan transferred to Calle Platerias (meaning “silversmith shops”).
SANTIAGO SANTOS, the son of Benigno Santos, became a carver just like his father before him.
Santos had ten children. He was married thrice. Santos’ sixth son (by his third wife) took to woodcarving at the age of fifteen. Santiago was schooled at San Beda College house at the Lady of Montserrat abbey on Balmes and Arlegui, the original building which is used today as a public high school.
Santiago learned the basics of sculpture from his father. His knowledge of making designs for his work was self-learned. Santiago enrolled at the San Beda School of Fine Arts with the intention of professionalizing his craft. However, circumstances forced him to give up the course.
When the Jones Bridge was constructed by architect Juan Arellano to replace the Puente de España wrecked by the typhoon in 1918, Santiago was connected with the firm of Vidal Tampingco and Martinez, and was contracted to make four statues at the north and south approaches. Vidal was the son of Isabelo Tampingco who made the sculptural murals of san Ignacio Church and the Archbishop’s Palace in Intramuros. He was a partner of Felix Roxas, the architect of both edifices. Additional murals were made by Graciano Nepomuceno. All were destroyed when Intramuros was savked during World War 2.
Of the four pieces of magnificent pieces of sculpture, only one has been preserved. It is the symbolic figure of a woman as Filipinas, cradling a son in her arms, which now stands on Rizal Park near the monument of Jose Rizal.
Aside from Romualdo T. De Jesus who lived on Oroquieta, Sta. Cruz, the contemporary sculptors whom Santos recalls were the late Maximo Vicente who had his shop on R. Hidalgo, near the footbridge crossing the estero; Cayetano and Isabelo Tampinco, who had their taller on the small side street in Quiapo now known as R. Hidalgo Extension; Irineo Cristobal on Echague; and Eulogio Garcia, whose shop fronted Quiapo Church.
After a five-year stay at Arlegui, Santiago went to Cebu and opened a sculpturing shop on Calle Norteamericano (the name has changed since then) the only shop of its kind in Cebu then.
In 1929, Santiago’s father became gravely ill. At his father’s bed, his sister Bonifacia whispered that the prodigal son, Ignacio, had returned. But Benigno Santos was too ill to hear anything and he died without communicating with his son.
Of his father’s collection, Santiago said that the few that were left including small ivory images, were raffled off among his brothers and sisters. His youngest brother, Eustaquio, won the most significant work: Christ tied to the stone pillar by the Roman soldiers. The soldiers were burned during the war and only the Christ remains.
Santiago left Home because his father scolded him for not finishing a piece of sculpture. Santiago said he was still making the design of the image when his irascible father flared up and hurled a piece of wood at him. Not knowing where to go, he visited a friend, Andres, the only son of Manuel and Pilar Benitez, at Arlegui. When he revealed he had left home, Andres’mother asked him to stay with them since she only had one child.
Santiago’s sister, Mercedes, brought him unfinished pieces of woodcarving from his father’s shop which he worked on. His father knew of the arrangement but never spoke to him although Santiago knew the elder Santos once watched him as he carved on wood in Antipolo. There were reservations between father and son.
In 1930, Santiago went into partnership with Pascual Herrera (his compadre who was in the photograph of Rizal’s grave at Paco Cemetery). They bought a deteriorating Chinese tienda on the corner of Zurbaran and P. Guevara and built in its place a small woodcarving shop in 1937. The Santos-Herrera shop prospered. Herrera died after the war in 1945.
During his prime as a sculptor, Santiago made a carro shaped like a vessel for the Nuestra Señora de La Naval housed the University of santo Tomas Chapel of the Dominicans, now at Santo Domingo in Quezon City, and the carro of Tondo’s Santo Niño. These silver-plated works were disposed off at a bargain price of Php6,500 and Php7,000 respectively. He also produced a carro for the Santuario de San Juan at Blumentritt and for a chapel in Bacolod City, he made the Pieta. To Iloilo, he sent sculptures of saints to the De la Ramas, Guanzons and Villanuevas.
Santiago’s wife, Margarita, died in 1955, shortly after completing their Silver Wedding Anniversary which was attended by Archbishop Rufino J. Santos. The children she left him were Alfredo (Ding, married to Consolacion Jorge), Caridad (Mrs. Alberto Anzures) and Manuel (married to Pacita de Vera). Santiago has two other children, Eriberto and Rosario.
Santiago still resides in Zurbaran. He has close-cropped gray hair but he is still hale. Ocassionally, he carves ivory with a chisel but avoids wielding the sledge hammer at the age of 74.
Santiago has turned over the chisel to his son Alfredo, The Santos family has an open offer to San Ignacio residents that they will carve any saint’s image of their choice for free provided they clothe the image and send for its participation in the procession during the annual fiesta. On Ding falls the burden of carrying out this vow.
To date, there are 11 images paraded around during the barangay fiesta, all carved by the Santos family.Not even Quiapo, which has the most lavish procession during its January 9 fiesta, can top the number of images of San Ignacio. The San Ignacio procession, attended by the residents and brass bands, penetrates even the narrowest byways of the area. It has been held consistently ever since Cabezang Santos instituted it in the 1890s, except during the Japanese Occupation when times were hard and Filipinos were suffering.
On an ordinary day, Ding Santos sits in a small shop where his father used to sit in Zurbaran, which has been renamed Valeriano Fugoso, after a former mayor of Manila. The area has metamorphosed from a grassy and swampy patch into a bustling commercial district where motor vehicles, tricycles rub fenders with carretelas and the multitude milling about all day.
Ding creates out of whimsy cute Santo Niños, lovely Virgins, bleeding Sacred Hearts and delicate faces and hands out of ivory. His brother Manuel sprays and paints the finished images, attaches the crowns of silver and gold plating and garbs them in the rich velvet costumes embroidered with gold thread.
Batikuling has become scarce. He supply from Laguna has run out and that of Mindoro is not always dependable. But Ding carries in in the tradition of his grandfather, his father and the Santa Cruz sculptors of yore.