Wednesday, April 26, 2017

292. OLD PIECES FROM HEAVEN AND HELL: Luis Ma. Araneta’s Venerable Virgins

Text and Photostyling by Felice Sta. Maria
Photography by Ben Laxina, Originally appeared April-June 1980 issue

Collecting is addicting: Luis Ma. Araneta started out as a young boy saving his father’s cigar bands and today owns among the finest assemblages of Philippine paintings, religious sculpture and houseware.

During World war II.Araneta’s involvement as treasurer and fund raiser of a guerilla unit was discovered. While imprisoned in the looter’s cage between incarcerations at Fort Santiago, Araneta was visited regularly by Don Alfonso Ongpin who braved the hecklers to inform his collector friend on who was disposing what treasure. Araneta purchased several pieces in this manner. Gifted with sentiment and a passion for the past, he recalls that fellow connoisseurs of the postwar era through the 1960s thought him mad for redeeming battered santos.

Painted wood with glass eyes and hair eyelashes, 62 cm.
Among the most lovely and charming interpretations of the Virgin Mary is the Divine Shepherdess, based on the metaphor of Chirst the Godd Shepherd who lays down His life for His sheep and who seeks out the lost of the flock.Araneta’s high relief was carved from wood—the Virgin from one solid piece, the angels from separate pieces later pegged into place. In keeping with Biblical contest, angels are pure spirits despite their masculine names; the duo hovering above the Virgin are sexless. Artists worked estampitas, engravings and a few sculptural examples as models; santos were displayed on altar tables pushed against a wallor in wall niches. Both conditions de-emphasize the importance of carving a realistic backview. The face of this santo is European and far removed from naïve, popular renditions made by untrained carvers or by members of a family for their own use. Both Mother and Infant have glass eyes with lashes. A metal crown, symbolic of Mary’s reign as queen of heaven, threatens to slip over her head. Even if it were veiled: her regal rank is exaggerated just as the crown id of unrealistic proportions. Other Divina Pastoras are depicted not only with characteristic shepherd’s staff. But a wide-brimmed hat and costume of an Alpine lass.

Santo-collecting began as a salvaging effort. After Liberation, island churches lay in disarray. As ivory hand fell from wooden arm, and decapitations continued, substituting modern images for old ones seemed th natural remedy. Many a churchman felt obliged to remodel and beautify his parish. As new plaster of paris statues appeared on altars, antique ones were turned into kindling or buried in unmarked graves; others have turned up as parts of chicken coops and fences. Parishioners followed suit, some even leaving heirloom images to survive uncared for on home altars.

Ivory and polychromed wood. 41.5 cmfigure with an 11.5 cm. detachable base.
Whereas the featured Divina Pastora is European in rendition, this santo exemplifies Chinese standards of loveliness. Both Mother and Child have ivory heads and hands joined to wooden bodies. Collectors say that old statues carved by the Parian artisans (and later their descendants no longer confined to the Chinese quarters after 1860) have “bulging eyes”, although other santos reveal their Oriental craftsmanship because of epicantic folds. There are their signs: beauty rings run along the long, swanlike neck; the Virgin’s face is an exaggerated oval; and the fingers of both images are long and tapering.

The Holy Child may have been an afterthought since the babe hangs miraculously without aid from the Virgin’s graceful hands. This santo is Eurasian: the Oriental figure is clad in a western farthingale typical among royalty of the early Renaissance. Rendition is highly sophisticated with a head-to-body ratio of 1:8 , much more than the natural physical proportions of the times. Both images have holes in which haloes or crowns could be attached. The composition detaches from the cloud-and-cherub base; the plain bottom-most brown base is a recent addition.

As the cultural value of santos became clear to the public, old images acquired escalating commercial value. By the mid-1960s, cocktail and creative circuits decreed it fashionable to own Chinese porcelain and Sta. Ana diggings as well as a representative number of limbless, many times decrepit and unidentifiable wooden images; bejeweled ivory-faced dolls evolved the epitome. Chaplains and caretakers were enticed to part with church fixtures as competitive buyers offered new, and sometimes questionable substitutes, in payment. Religious art collectors and imaginative interior designers took to recycling altars, parts of santos, pews  and the like.

These santos depict the evolution of religious sculpture from the naïve to the sophisticated as well as the growth of Marian devotion. Mary is multi-faceted : virgin mother, heavenly queen and mankind’s hope. Her cult finds its roots in the Holy Family. The Philippine-carved Ntra. Sra. Del Rosario is a naïve sculpture-in-the-round made from a heavy solid piece of wood. The folk interpreted their saints and virgins and Jesuses as they thought fitting. This rendition combines the Immaculate Conception’s crescent moon with the Del Rosario prayer beads. The Imaculada is done in an advanced popular style; amorini such as those on the base  are characteristic of Imaculadas from Bohol, Negros, Laguna, and Batangas. The Virgin of Caysasay served as local prototype for Imaculadas. In 1570, the Manila diocese was created and put under the protection of the Imaculada;  only in 1854 was the Imaculada Concepcion defined as a dogma of faith. Imaculadas are usually depicted above a globe or a crescent moon, with their hands in prayer.

Images are either ecclesiastic or secular, and function in processions or on altars. Araneta has the entire range. T is difficult to determine the provenance and date for each and every piece, a collector is sure only if he has first-hand data on his side. But Araneta’s staff records what it can. Aside from the approximately 1,500 catalogued objects including antique paintings, salakots, furniture, kitchenware, silver and porcelain, Araneta has at least 500 santos.

There are approximately 100 statues of Virgin Mary in his mansion-museum. First-floor wings contain specially built section for Our Lady of the Rosary, Immaculate Conception, Mother and Child, and the Divine Shepherdess. Heaven and hell surround the visitor,; cherubs gaze down along with elaborate icons; there are paintings, estampitas, and books on the life of Mary as well as Roman Catholic saints and martyrs.

The Collector reads the life of one saint a day. When asked by a firned what he wul save from the ultimate deluge, Araneta pointed to his favorite santo: a gold-dressed Nuestra Senora del Rosario dangling a delicate set of prayer beads and encased in an antique virina.

These two santos were purchased in Mexico. The Del Rosario is symbiotic virgin, again combining crescent moon with rosary. The mother and child is a sophisticated treatment of a traditional theme. Despite attempts at classical finesse, the sculptor failed to master the effect of wind on the virgin’s garments. Strangely, there is a gold cross on this santo; the Latin cross was not a Christian symbol until after the Christ Child grew and was crucified.

The Virgin Mary is a Filipino gauge for feminine beauty: “Marylike was once the college- girl cliché for gentle lady propriety. Among the most available sangos for sale on the market are Del Rosarios, Imaculadas, and Del Pilars. Hyperdulia remains intense; Filipinos are intimate with their saints—what more then with the Mother of Christ, who appeals to the traditional importance accorded family units and the matriarchal title. How many miracles are attributed to the Holy Queen! She has turned away the Chinese and Dutch invaders from Philippine shores, protected galleon runs, stemmed off typhoons, headed the sick, and appeased the heartbroken. Women, and even men, such as Araneta, are named Maria in her honor.

Dulia reaches back into the early years after the Crucifixion when martyrs were secretly paid homage in the Roman catacombs by followers who laid palms on their corpses, and after burial on their graves. When Mary died, she was idealized. Clement of Alexandria encouraged using pagan symbols in the second century. During the reign of Cosntantine, Christianity was accepted and the building and ornamentation of churches began. Representations of the Virgin Mary were among the earliest, including those of Christ and the Family. In 787 A.D., he Council of Nicaea allowed the veneration of images in answer to Emperor Leo the Isaurian’s attempted iconoclastic schism.

It is not uncommon to find an antique figure clad in new clothes such as the one pictured ; a meticulous collector like Araneta, however, commissioned garments that resembled the frayed, authentic one, down to the gold thread. Many antique processional santos are still found with their wardrobe complete although hey are in various stages of decay. Old folks believe harming a santo or its clothing will bring bad luck.

Throughout the Medieval Age, Marian devotion continued; eleventh century chivalry is in fact and offshoot of the Virgin;s cult that has helped elevate woman (whose status suffered tremendously from Eve’s recorded curiosity). It was only in the 13th century, however, that Marianology crescendoed: the Assumption, Immaculate Conception and Intercession were philosophically highlighted by the Spanish thinker Ramon Llul (1235-1315); Scotus of England provided theological buttressing.

Renaissance art glorifies Mary; by the 17h century, cloth garments, glass eyes, real hair and jewelry were used in creating baroque santos also referred to as flamboyant. Throughout Europe, ivory faces and hands were pegged into wooden bodies and transformed into elaborate images for church and home veneration, figures lost in ornamentation.

Ornate santos, as well as  a number of classical renditions, are usually enclosed in a fine glass dome or giant candles shade. Both protective cases are called virina in the Philippines. The term is likely a corruption of vitrine, which in Spanish means not only a glass and wooden showcase (the vitrine became a highly popular piece of furniture in Europe from the 17th through the 19th centuries for displaying Chines finds, antiques and Victorian knick-knacks). Although new virinas are available, they are thicker than antique ones and come in plastic as well as glass. Bell-jar like covers grew popular after the Suez Canal opened in 1956 and facilitated the export of fragile European ware to Manila; travel time was cut in half. Virinas appear in various sizes—from those for miniatures to large ones that can house an entire Holy Family complete with magnificent glass entourage of palm trees, people and animals blown individually in the mid 1800s by Bilibid prisoners.

Slender giant hurricane shades that bulge out at their middles accommodate solo saints because of their slender proportions. Candle covers, like te dome versions, fit perfectly to an elaborately carved wooden base that is usually gilded; the tube type’s top is sealed off by a removable and an equally elaborate, matching wooden crown. Clocks, secular sculpture, beadwork and silk flowers were likewise displayed dust-free under glass covers, particularly during the Victorian era when a profusion of decoration ruled interiors.

Much of the Araneta collection is in wood, this having been the popular medium. The priests themselves,  Chinese artisans and a vast number of Filipinos are responsible for wooden santos.

Glass and wood-encased engraving, mounted on silk.
30 cm x 24.3 cm x 4.1 cm.

Collectors refer to the simplest renditions as naïve or popular. Untrained carvers knew little of anatomy; their images add the most basic attributes of the chosen saint to a very rigid, usually symmetrical and extremely unhumanlike body. Improvisation is common; folk santos combine what is genre with imported doctrine.

An unschooled worker’s guide was whatever example the local curate could offer: costly image bought in on a galleon from Mexico or Spain, a tiny one tucked away by a zealous missionary who foresaw his needs in the sculptureless Orient, but more commonly estampitas, escapularios, and prayer book engravings. The result of the non-artists’ endeavors are highly imaginative representations of how early converts envisioned God, the Church, Purgatory, Heaven, Hell and the super humans that became saints.

The folk carved hard, medium and soft woods with whatever tools were available. Collectors point out that when a knowledgeable buyer hefts a possible purchase at an antique shop, he is not just checking for kinship with the image; heavy woods are rare today and buying a substantial santo carved from a solid block lessens the chances of owning a reproduction.

While flamboyant images hide their material in an attempt at realism, sophisticated santos do not. Done with more skill than naïve images, a sophisticated or classical piece, is a sculptural creation; in the case of ornate santos, “decoration” to quote Fernando Zobel de Ayala, “is the statue itself, not classical styles”.

Saturday, April 15, 2017


RESURRECCION. Photo courtesy of Mr. Leo Cloma

 Holy Week in the Philippines culminate in the pre-dawn Easter rite called “Salubong”—a pageant that dramatizes the reunion of the Risen Christ with His Blessed Mother. The religious figures are separately borne on andas or on carrozas, followed by a segregated crowd (men follow the Jesus icon, women, that of Mary) and the two processions converge together, resulting in the meeting of Mother and Son.



Photo courtesy of Dr. Raymund Feliciano

One of the highlight is the undraping of the Virgin’s black mourning veil by an “angel”—performed by a chosen young girl dressed with angel wings. The Virgin is then called the Nuestra Señora de Alegria ("Our Lady of Joy"), and the joyous rites are capped with a shower of flowers from other participating angels.

Photo courtesy of Jerry Punzalan Sagmit

Photo courtesy of Jvlian P. Liongson

Photo courtesy of Dr. Raymund Feliciano

 The figure of the Risen Christ, on the other hand, is also called Cristo ng Muling Pagkabuhay or Resurrecion. He wears a loincloth, sometimes with a cape or a sash, and holds his standard in His left hand and His right hand, raised in benediction.

Photo courtesy of Jose Talapagobra FB page.

Photo by Alex R. Castro

Photo courtesy of Dr. Raymund Feliciano

On Christ's head are tres potencias, symbol of His faculties. He stands on a cloud base, fancifully called "ensaymada" base, especially the antique ones, for the resemblance to the swirly pastry.

Photo courtesy of Mr. Leo Cloma

Photo courtesy of Mr. Jejomar Roberto

Photo by Yuu Miyamoto FB page

Traditionally, the images of the Risen Christ are small—antique ones seem to have a standard size of 39 inches. That’s because Christ is meant to be shoulder-borne on a wooden platform, which can be maneuvered easily to move back and forth, or to lean—so that the Christ figure can be made to appear like it is animated, leaning or nodding when it meets the statue of Mary. 

Photo from Nuestra Senora de Loreto picssr page.

Photo courtesy of El Rey-Guapo FB page.

Photo courtesy of Mr. Leo Cloma

The Risen Christ is then enshrined in the altar for the Easter Mass to remind us all of the doctrine of Christ's resurrection and of the reward of life after death.

Photo courtesy of Romain Garry Evangelista

Photo courtesy of Dr. Raymund Feliciano

Resurreccion of Villa Escudero

 On this pages are images of the Resurreccion, from different towns and provinces, many still used for the festive Salubong easter rites.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

290. MAHAL NA SEÑOR of Caingin, San Rafael, Bulacan

MAHAL NA SENOR. A 1953 replica image of the
Crucified Christ of Caigin, after its blessing.

Caingin is one of 34 barangays of San Rafael in Bulacan, in fact, one of the largest of the town. It is the home to the very old  Caingin visita (chapel), which was believed to house an ancient, 18th century Crucifix, also believed to be miraculous. For this reason,  it is called the Parish of Santo Cristo, or the Crucified Christ.

Photo courtesy of Mr. Leo Cloma.

As expected,  the original “ Mahal na Señor Santo Cristo” was replicated by families and private individuals for their home devotion. One such image is this 1953 tableaux of the crucified Christ flanked by smaller figures of the Mater Dolorosa and apostle San Juan. The side figures are so proportioned to emphasize the Santo Cristo in the middle. 

The owner of this fine Crucifixion tableau is unknown. Currently, a replica of the Santo Cristo is used in the annual Holy Week procession.\


Thursday, March 30, 2017


THE SANTO SEEKERS, Mario Mercado and Lorna Montilla.
Condensed from the original article: "COLLECTING FILIPINIANA THE HARD WAY" ,  first published in Chronicle, 1962.
By C.V. Pedroche

City-bred duo tramped backward towns in Panay to find wealth of artifacts and reliquaries

 Two young people, Mario Mercado and Lorna Montilla, are doing something few others have done: they are collecting old religious images, relics and other Filipiniana the hard way. And they are doing it for love.

With them it is not the collector’s cold-blooded mania for owning and storing precious odds and ends; it is with deep sense of conviction that somehow they will find again the Filipino soul in these bukbok-eaten, noseless, armless, and–in some instances–headless relics of our country’s past. These two dedicated enthusiasts are not swivel-chair collectors.

Having very little money, they cannot afford to wait for precious art items to come their way through profit-conscious agents. They have decided that the cheaper–through more dangerous–way to get their art pieces is to go out and look for them right at the source.

 To Mario who is barely twenty-three this is the right way–the only way. He is hunter, explorer, boxer, writer, painter, amateur archaeologist, photographer, mountain-climber all rolled into one masculine, nervous personality. Lorna is wiry. And she is game. City-bred, she has always pined for the wide open spaces. And she has found in Mario a tough companion who knows his way about both in city and mountain fastnesses, in caves and dark-room. She asks for no quarters. And Mario gives none. Both young, they have no patience with restraint. Nor convention.

Once they had agreed on their itinerary they set out to fulfill it. The first place they decided to explore was Panay where Lorna comes from. After only a few weeks’ stay in the mountain regions of this province they returned to civilization with several crates filled with the most astounding assortment of ancient religious images, shards, plates, vases, jars, daggers, skulls, and yellowed manuscripts. 


Mario says they have barely scratched the surface. They intend to return soon and continue digging. Lorna walked hundreds of kilometers with Mario and laughingly admits it was no picnic. She dug as fast as furiously as did Mario and the hired hands. She sweated it out, knowing that beneath the rolling knolls lie a pile of priceless artifacts which might give a clue to the history of our country–or at least of that part of our country. Hopping from one hill to another limbered up Lorna’s city legs. But, she said, it was worth all the pounds she lost.

 A Religious Colony in Old Jaro 

 Jaro’s ruins betray the death of a vast religious colony, in the words of Mario. Its foundations are intact but its walls are deadly gray, moss-covered and weed-choked. Paintings inside its churches have somehow survived, murals have been retouched, betraying the inexpert hands of native artisans.

Attempts at sculptures abound in these ancient houses of God –but these, too, reveal the awkward groping for expression of unschooled artists.The two next took in Iloilo, Molo, Tigbauan and Oton which, Mario says, has been almost completely devastated by the convulsions of the earth. 

But, he adds, there was something this violence could not kill –the beautiful palm-lined beaches and the sweet tender coconut meat on which they often had to slake their thirst and hunger.

Primitive Sculptured Statuettes 
Collecting the religious images proved to be less strenuous but as interesting as digging for artifacts. The people are deeply religious, Mario says, and they keep in their houses–even in the humblest huts–wooden images carved hundreds of years ago by their forebears. Soon the the temporary headquarters where our explorers kept their finds began to fill up with all kinds of wooden images–sculptures that show attempts at reverence and form, though utterly awkward beyond description, sometimes comic in an openly honest though unconsciously satirical way.

 The religiosity of these people can be best judged by the number of images they keep in their huts. There were crucifixes and extra-long, extra-short, extra-massive Christs with the bewildered eyes of dolls, or with Mona Lisa smiles, with blood oozing out in geometric pattern on their sides, and many such interesting features peculiar to primitive works of art.

 The statuettes are so old they ooze bukbok from tiny holes on their heads and bodies, so frail that they break into pieces with the slightest fall. Since they look so ugly and mutilated, the town priests have refused to allow them to be carried around during processions–or to bless them during fiestas. So the people have kept them in dark corners of their homes–where the two collectors found them. 


How they secured these relics is quite another story. Sometimes the people just flatly refused to part with them however tempting the offer that had been made from them. In most instances they accepted new mass-produced plaster images in exchange for their priceless ones.

 After a while, though, people began to suspect the two. Stories were circulated about how they were spies or that the images they gave away were loaded with time-bombs or some such secret weapons meant to exterminate them. An old woman warned the people of Tigbauan who sold their statuettes to the strangers or exchanged them for plaster ones, that their departed ancestors would haunt them for thus desecrating these heirlooms by giving them away indiscriminately.

 Meanwhile the two daring young explorers are getting restless once again. Already the city dust is getting under their skin and their limbs are beginning to get flabby with inaction. In a few weeks, they assure us, however, they will be out again exploring in parts unknown. What they will bring back this time will be quite another story.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017


VINTAGE STA., VERONICA Processional Santa.
When Tiendesitas, a shopping complex located within Frontera Verde in Pasig on 26 Sep. 20015, it was met with much hoopla. After all, it was envisioned to be a budget-friendly shopping destination (“tiendesitas” means a cluster of little shops), with specialty “villages” that sold fashion, native food, pets, plants and other novelties.

Of course, for santo collectors, the opening of the “Antique Village” was a welcome section of Tiendesitas, another happy-hunting ground for antique santos, all in one location.

Indeed, the early list of shops that could be found there included well-known names like Sarimanok (Henry Wee), Laong-Laan Antiques (Yanga), Unang Panahon (Esposos), 888 Noble Antiques and Henry Babiera—who was instrumental in getting the shops together at the new shopping hub.

The shops did not disappoint, as the prices were relatively reasonable (the shops were not air-conditioned and the location—along C5—was then considered very far). But when access and generation of traffic became major issues, the shops started to close—and the “antique village” shrank in size to give way to more lucrative businesses.

Tiendesitas deteriorated to the point that the antique shops were reduced to a handful. Eventually, as the area became more developed commercially, Tiendesitas was upgraded by the developers in 2014, adding buildings, second-level shopping places, escalators and airconditioning. The business climate improved with its relaunch and today, Tiendesitas has 450 traders from all over the Philippines.

However, the same cannot be said of the antique shops. The dwindling supply of quality items forced more closures and for the remaining shops to carry lower-quality antiques and reproductions—a sad statement that the glory days of the Philippine antique trade is really gone.

In March 2011, a few years before its renovation, a walk around the antique village of Tiendesitas yielded these santo offerings from select shops still operating in the complex.




ANTIQUE STO. ROSARIO, now in R. Lopez Collection



Monday, March 13, 2017


In the year 1640, several fishermen saw a statue floating on the waters of Laguna de Bay. Seeing that it resembled the statue of of the Blessed Virgin, they tries to bring it to Pakil, but they could not do so because it was too heavy.

Some of the old folks of the town gathered on the shore were about to begin their traditional devotions to Our Lady. As they sang the words of the “Turumba” (a song and dance tribute that often results in people “trembling and falling down in great joy) , the image became light enough to be carried in procession. The people enshrined the image in the church and called it ‘Our Lady of Turumba’ .

Every year, on the third day after Easter, the faithful honor her with seven consecutive novenas. The image stands 85 cms high,with its face and hands made of ivory. It depicts Our Lady of Sorrows, showing her heart pierced with seven swords and a golden handkerchief in her hand. She is clothed in rich silk material with rhinestones, and she wears a blue mantle, a gold bracelet and a golden crown.

PHOTOS COURTESY of: Dr. Raymund Feliciano

Article reprinted from  “2nd Marian Congress Philippines Souvenir Program, 1954.
NOTE:  The image is actually made of wood, not ivory head and hands, as the original article reported.