Sunday, August 27, 2017

299. Guided by the Light: THE MAKING OF A NTRA. SRA. DE GUIA

In my early collecting years,  I must admit I was guided by impulse more than judgment, when buying antiques. That is what happened around 1983, when I made a decision to purchase my first ivory santo, a brown Virgen from the ramshackle shop of Momoy Cabuenos on Arquiza St. which had been there on display for over a month. 

The brown ivory image, with new base.
new wig, original clothes. 1983
It was not exactly what I wanted—it looked folksy, but definitely old—having browned with age. The solid ivory head was set on a crude body with wire armature arms, on which small “tinidor” brown ivory hands were attached. It had no base, and the old tattered, abaca-lined clothes came with the deal—Php 3,500—the exact amount of money in my pocket.

Had I been more patient, I could have saved more and could have purchased a better- looking santa, but at that time, all that mattered was this desire to have my first ivory image, period. 

It took only a week or so, to realize the “folly” of my purchase, for as soon as I took it home, cleaned it, dressed it and affixed it on cheap-looking, gold-tinged base, I was, to say the least, disheartened. Even with a wig, a crown and a virina, the Virgin looked stiff and unappealing.

I usually take pictures of my santos upon their complete restoration, but not this image. I  just put it behind some of my more better-looking, classically-carved santas I acquired in the years that followed, and stayed in that relegated position for years.

The image, as kept in a corner, next to a
ivory Sta. Veronica. ca. 1983.
When I became acquainted with the works of Dr. Raffy Lopez around 10 years later, I decided to show the image to him to see if there’s any way to give her some “character”, as she looked so plain and ordinary. Dr. Lopez was fascinated by the deep brown coloration of the image;  he even praised its naïve features and folksiness.

He then pored over his files and showed me a picture of Ermita’s famed patroness, the oldest Marian image in the Philippines—Nuestra Señora de Guia (Our Lady of Guidance). 

History tells of its discovery by Legazpi’s men in 1571—the hardwood, 20 inch figure was found  resting on a clump of pandan leaves being adored by natives. It was assumed to have been left behind by Spanish missionaries who came to the islands earlier. “This is going to be your image”, he said.

It was a perfect choice, all things considered. What’s more,  the Marian title had a special connection to my hometown, Mabalacat. The Estado General of 1879 reports that the Mabalacat parish was elevated to a vicariate status under the titular patronage of  Nuestra Snra. De Guia most probably around 1836—so that sealed it for me.

In  the next few months, Dr. Lopez undertook the conversion and restoration of the ivory image. The long, unproportional body had to go, and a new one was made. Features like eyebrows and lashes were added on to the brown ivory face.

A cloud base was carved, while a latero meticulously carve the pandan leaves from tin plates that were then painted green.The blue green cape and ecru tunic of satin were sewn, gold-embroidered with pandan leaf and floral motifs. A new set of crown and 12-star halo were ordered. Only the wig with its long, wavy hair was saved.

When the assembled image was presented finally to me after 2 months, I could not helped but be overwhelmed by its incredible transformation. The brown Madonna that I used to conceal behind other, prettier ivory santas now possesses a quiet, dignified beauty unlike any other, thanks to the guidance of Dr. Lopez. 

Today,  in my little home, my Ntra. Sra. De Guia now stands centerstage in one shelf,  reserved for the most special and most precious santas in my collection. 


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