The first time I saw this antique ivory santo in a Mabini antique shop, it was a puzzler to both the dealer and me. It was slightly larger than the usual tabletop size, with an-all ivory head, heavily stained and with a crack running down one cheek. Only one hand was of ivory, the other was made of wood. It stood on a squarish base.
Unusual too were its metal accessories—it had a halo that looked like a gear of a large clock. It was also holding a staff and was carrying a metal basket. I knew at once, that the baskets and the staff were not original to the piece—maybe these were added to give more value to the santo, but which added more confusion as to the identity of the santo.
The condition, the price and the anonymity of the santo were perhaps the reasons why the santo stayed on the store shelf and remained unsold, for in my next visit—it was still there. This gave me the opportunity to examine the santo upclose. I had suspected it to be a figure of San Luis Gonzaga (St. Aloysius Gonzaga), because the tell-tale signs were there—the receding forehead, the straight nose, the gaunt look. His right hand could have held a spray of lilies, and the other hand, a crucifix—both iconographic attributes.
I sounded off santo restorer, Dr. Raffy Lopez, about this find, and I asked him to take a look—he might be interested in the mystery piece. And so he did, and after some negotiations, he brought the santo home.
He had agreed with my initial assessment, that the ivory santo was that of San Luis Gonzaga. It was also perfect for his next project—he was doing work in Lucban at that time, mounting a Marian exhibit. He was inspired to make a San Luis Obispo de Tolosa (St. Louis of Toulouse), Lucban’s patron, and felt that his newly-acquired santo could be transformed into one.
The first step Dr. Lopez took was the bleaching of the ivory head, which was badly stained and aged by time. The thorough cleaning revealed the white ivory beneath. The late Edgar Torres gave the santo its new encarna.
The proportion of the wooden body was corrected as well—the body was cut at the waist and the torso was elevated to half a centimeter more. This would make the santo a stand a little under 16 inches.
Next came the painstaking work of recreating the bishop’s vestments. Dr. Lopez fashioned an alb made from exquisite lace and a miniature stole that was hand-painted with the tiny images of the four Evangelists.
Beneath the alb is an embroidered ruby-red cassock. The holy bishop is arrayed in a deep yellow cope, heavily embroidered with gold thread, forming floral patterns. On his head is a bishop’s miter of the same color scheme.
Completing the look are the silver works, consisting of book and the crosier, that were specially designed by Dr. Lopez and executed by silversmith-jewelers from Quiapo and Pateros. San Luis wears a ruby ring, as well as a pectoral cross with a ruby inset. His original halo was re-plated and used. A discarded silver crown—symbolizing his royal associations, rests at his feet, on a tiny peaña appended to the saint’s own gilded peaña decorated with stylized acanthus leaves.
Finally, the whole santo ensemble was encased inside a virina, and, for awhile, remained in the ownership of Dr. Lopez, until a private collector from Lucban acquired it. It has been a long journey of transformation, but now, that has come full circle, for the old San Luis has returned home to Lucban at last—as San Luis de Obispo de Tolosa.
Many thanks to Dr. Raffy Lopez, Mr. James Yee for providing the photos and restoration details.