Monday, December 27, 2010

46. The Manuel L. Morató Collection: RELIGION IN ART

By Gloria Garchitorena-Goloy Pictures by Dominador Suba

(reprinted from The Sunday Times Magazine, March 17, 1968 issue, p. 34-35)

Collector Morató poses with one of two “Kneeling Angels” made of solid molave which shows evidence of the Chinese chool of carving. Taken from Northern Luzon. It was used in the late 1700 as a lampstand.

A coin started it all. A thing of the world. What one would render, in a manner of speaking, to Caesar. But it led to what is now one of the most comprehensive collections of Philippine Religious Art dating as far back as the 17th century, an assemblage obviously running counter, because of its spiritual motif, to its unspiritual, “materialistic” beginnings.

“Calvary in a Bottle” The diminutiveness (10 inches; 24 cm.) of this Crucifixion piece taken from Vigan, Ilocos Sur shows in contrast with the larger piece in the background. Its vintage is latter part of 1800.

For what Manuel L. Morató has gathered together since his father started him off on his hobby with a large solid gold coin (vintage 1700) brought home from Europe are choice collector’s items annotating the spiritual climate of Spanish Philippines.

In the Morató collection, par of which was shown during the first of the series of exhibits on Philippine Religious Art sponsored by the University of the Philippines recently, are items ranging from wooden statuary, ivory statuary, bas-relief, virinas, paintings, and sundry pieces, all echoing the combined influences of art and religion on the culture of the Filipino artisan.

“Our Lady of Mount Carmel”
This virina family heirloom from Pampanga has fishbone face and hands, a golden crown and clothes heavily embroidered in gold and silver threads.

“Many of these were direct purchases,” says Morató, whose personal associations with equally culture-minded friends helped to broaden his field of collection. By word of mouth, people came to know of what he had and would want to have, and they came hoping to sell and/or exchange their own stuff. Invariably, collector Morató, his eye set only on the truly worthwhile and rare, had had to buy the whole lot of antiques, if only to acquire the chosen piece and in one particular instance, he had to barter a jeep for a virina, a statue of Our Lady of Sorrows. Such wholesale buying left him with items that he had no need for—which he gladly gave away at the drop of a hint.

“The Lady at the Foot of the Cross” A ‘virina’ with fishbone face and hands, and polychromed wooden body. Source is Batangas.

Now organized and set up in two shops—the Bravo stores—one of which is in the ground floor of the Manila Hotel and the other in the family office building on Tomas Morató Avenue in Quezon City, the collection attracts customers, dealers, and antique ‘aficionados’ interested in viewing such items as a Dolorosa with fishbone face and hands, a crucifix carved out of solid ivory, an angel carved from hardwood, a bas-relief of the Blessed Virgin breast-feeding three children, an intricately carved altar piece with the image of the Immaculate Conception inside, a pair of tabernacle doors with icon paintings on the wood, the crucifixion tableau set up inside a glass bottle standing 24 centimeters high, and many others.

Helping him manage this extensive collection are three ladies who run the two stores, a carpenter-carver who restor4es missing portions, a varnisher and four utility boys.

“Crucifix with Silver Décor” This piece, taken from Sta. Cruz, Laguna, is made of soild ivory with glass eyes and stands 19 inches high. Traces of 18th century Chinese influence show in the workmanship.

The items in the collection comes from various points of the country, from Batangas to Bicol, from Ilocos to Pampanga, indicating by these far-flung origins, the Catholicity of the faith, inculcated by the Spanish colonizers among the natives of that era. The Virgin, the Holy Child, the Saints—they all evoke identical religious empathy wherever the Filipino has become a willing Christian convert.

And he has manifested his empathy in the religious antiquary that he has fashioned with faith and which has managed to survive—like that faith—through the centuries.

Friday, December 17, 2010


By Arwin Paul Lingat and Peter Joseph Nepomuceno

(originally published in Singsing Magazine, Folk Arts Issue)

The early processions of our ancestors used ‘andas’, platform-decorated floats borne on the shoulders by 2 or 4 people. Eventually, in the middle of the 19th century, economic growth paved the way for the people to build big churches, enabling them to provide their ‘santos’ with more elaborate processional floats vestments and accessories.

Pampanga is a good example of how new-found economic affluence changed the religious rituals of the province. It is very common for rich families here to award their santos, land titles of their own, most of which are farmlands, to help with the upkeep and defray the expenses for the annual processions. It was also a common practice for devotees (‘namamanata’) to give jewelry as a form of thanksgiving for prayers answered and wishes granted.

It was also around this time that ‘andas’ were converted into ‘carrozas’, by mounting them on wheels. Another term used in the Philippines is ‘caro’ (Spanish for ‘expensive’, but others say it is a diminutive of ‘caruaje’, a carriage).

There are of course, different types of processional carrozas, and in recent years, they have been given coined terms to best describe these types.

OCHOVADO: The name is derived from the basic carroza shape that has eight sides, with one or two layers. It is probably the most common shape, as it was easy to mass-produce. It is the most versatile among carrozas as it can be used for almost any single santo.

CAKE: No traditional name exists for this type of carroza; the contemporary term is ‘cake’, because of its layered look, and its similarity to a traditional birthday cake. Eight or ten-sided, with two to three layers of graduating sizes. The layers can be executed ‘lusutan’ style (open fretwork) or paneled with ‘pukpok’ (beaten metal) sheets.

PLATFORM: Rectangular in shape, colloquially called ‘basketball court’. The flat top is good for 2 or more figures and is the most familiar type of carroza seen in Southern Spain, Mexico and Latin American countries.

CALANDRA: A funeral carroza used exclusively by the Santo Entierro (Christ lying in state) on Good Friday processions. It is patterned after the horse-drawn funeral coaches of Europe. Extant examples from the early 20th century can still be found in the Philippines.

TRIUMPHAL: Commonly referred to as ‘chariot’, this 20th century invention that is inspired by the shape of a grand chariot is the equivalent of a stretch limousine for the grandest of santos. The triumphal is usually reserved for the Blessed Virgin Mary and also for certain Cristo images like the Santo Niño and the Cristo Resucitado. Examples of this type of carroza can be found in the Kapampangan region, northern Bulacan and Bataan and western Nueva Ecija. There are Tagalog versions, often copied from the Pampanga examples, but are flatter, and more sled-like.

The triumphal carroza can also mimic the shape of a galleon, hence some variations are called ‘balsa’ (boat or a ship). These elaborate carrozas were thought to be adapted from Spain, but the style is virtually unknown in that country. In fact, one pre-War issue of Excelsior magazine featured a triumphal carroza from Intramuros bearing the image of La Milagrosa which Europeans raved about.


1. Sayal – carroza skirt to conceal the wheels of the carroza.
2. Sobresayal – an overskirt, usually of lace, placed over the sayal.
3. Sinepa – the borderline between the sayal and the carroza body
4. Pescante – branches of light around the carroza, usually equipped with virinas (glass globes) in which candles or lights are placed.
5. Albortante – branch of a candelabra

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

44. RETRO-SANTO: Nstra. Sñra. De Loreto

LADY OF THE HOUSE. The Loreto image of Sampaloc, brough to the country in the early part of the 19th century. Photo ca. 1920s

One of the more unusual representations of the Virgin and the Child Jesus is the one venerated under the title of Our Lady of Loreto. It shows Mary standing over the house representing the Holy House of Loreto (Santa Casa di Loreto) . Legend has it that when Nazareth was overrun by Moors during the Crusades in 1292, the angels brought over the humble brick house where Jesus grew up to Italy—first to Tersatto, then to Recamati and finally to Loreto, in southern Italy.

The image of Our Lady of Loreto was brought to the Philippines in 1813, where it was taken to the church of Sampaloc. It shows Mary holding the Child Jesus with her right hand and a short golden scepter on the other. The devotion quickly spread among the residents in that said Manila district, but suffered a setback with the destruction of the church on two occasions: during the Chinese Rebellion of 1639 and the Liberation of Manila in 1945.

The devotion has flourished to this day at the Loreto shrine on Bustillos Street in Sampaloc. Incidentally, it was in the Holy House of Loreto that the Litany of Our Lady (a forty one invocation addressed to her) was first sung and then universally used, with other invocations added through the years.

Today, the Basilica of Loreto houses a small chapel of gold and white where the Holy House of Loreto is kept. In 1910, Our Lady of Loreto became the patron saint of pilots, because of the tradition of the house's flight from Nazareth. On September 8, the traditional birthdate of the Virgin Mary, aviators gather at the shrine in Loreto to pray and participate in a colorful procession.

Her feast day is celebrated every 10th of December.


(From The Sunday Times Magazine, 8 May 1966 issue, p. 27)

The insane may not be aware of it but they enjoy the special protection of the Blessed Mother, known hereabouts as the Virgin of the Abandoned. The patronage traces its beginnings to the early 14th and 15th centuries when the mentally incapacitated of Valencia, Spain hitherto living in abandonment inspired the missionary zeal of a religious of the Military Order of Our Lady of Mercy, the Venerable Father Gilberto Jofre. In an impassioned sermon addressed to his parishioners, he called attention to the miserable state of these mental cases. His appeal did not go unheeded. Ten citizens responding to his appeal, decided to build a house called "El Hospital de Los Locos" to accommodate deserving cases.

In time, a confraternity called "Nuestra Senora de Los Inocentes" was organized and later approved with Apostolic Bulls and Letters issued by Pope Benedict XIII. The confraternity sought permission to make an image of the Blessed Virgin under the invocation of the Our Lady of Innocents. Permission was granted and the image came to be called instead as "Our Lady of the Innocents and the Abandoned" (Nuestra Snra. de Los Inocentes y Desamparados).

The story of how this image was made is a remarkable one. It is said that when members of the confraternity were looking for artisans to work on the image, three strangers presented themselves. For some unexplainable reason, the confraternity members, relying only on the strangers' words of assurance, and without even exacting proof of workmanship in terms of credentials, submitted the project to them. For three days, the strangers were locked in a room with enough provisions to last them for the duration of their work.

On the fourth day, strains of heavenly music began to emanate from the room, prompting the confraternity members to investigate. When they finally succeeded in tearing down the locked door, they discovered to their surprise that the strangers had gone, their food left untouched, and what was more incredible, the image finished to perfection! It is now preserved in the church of Our Lady of Abandoned in Valencia where devotion to it continues to this day.

The image shows Our Lady dressed in a blue and white mantle, wearing a crown of twelve stars and holding a bunch of flowers consisting of a rose and azucenas in her right hand. On her left arm, she cradles the Infant Jesus who himself carries a dove on his right hand and a cross on the left.

The duplicate image which is now venerated in Marikina was made sometime in 1903 and is now owned by the Dijuangco Family of the same town. (A similar image is enshrined in the parish church of Sta. Ana which observes her feast on May 12).

True to her original dispensation, the Virgin of the Abandoned of Marikina exercises a special concern for those who, one might say, have no one to care for them. Natives of the town will attest to the fact that many an indigent inevitably finds his way to the church, to rest there during the day, or to take refuge during the night. By what manner of discovery a person completely detached from reality could have traced his path to the shrine of the Virgin, no one knows. The inscrutable, after all, is beyond human comprehension and only faith and the mystery of Divine mercy can account for the workings of the motherly benevolence of the Mother of all men which has so enriched the lore of faith through the centuries of time.

42. The Saintmakers: THOMAS M. JOVEN, Making Saints, from Bacolor to the Vatican

Thomas M. Joven of Bacolor began as an antique collector and ended up as a restorer of repute for some of the country’s leading collectors and heirloom santo owners. Some of his early restoration projects include the precious family-owned Tercera Caida (Third Fall of Christ) of the Potenciano Family of Biñan, Laguna, which was infested with termites. Another assignment was the Callejero (processional image) of San Miguel Arcangel of the De Leon Family of San Miguel de Mayumo, Bulacan.

In the mid-1990s, he served as a finishing consultant in the shop of the Bituins, which owned Betis Crafts, a world-class furniture business in Pampanga that exported its products internationally. He worked on period furniture, studying finishes, paints, textures and antiquing techniques which serve him well in his career shift as santo restorer.

As a restorer, he personally does the stripping of paint, manually priming and mixing the desired encarna color based on period style. Unlike other restorers who plunge right away to repair images, Joven studies each piece meticulously and makes recommendations based on the age of the piece, remaining true to the style of the period. It is a painstaking and laborious process, and work is slow but sure. His woodworks are carved by local carvers, which, at one time included Nick Lugue and Ardie de Dios, both accomplished carvers.

His succeeding works include the Nuestra Señora de la Correa of the Church of San Agustin in Intramuros, which was restored in time for its canonical coronation on 4 September 2000; the two Nstra. Sñra. De La Naval de Angeles images of Angeles City, Pampanga (both the 1830 ivory image owned by the Hensons and the wooden image on the niche of the main retablo of the Holy Rosary Parish Church); the Nstra. Sñra. De la Naval de Bacolor, a 19th century Virgin featured on the main niche of the retablo mayor of San Guillermo Church, damaged by the lahar inundation of 1995; San Pedro Apostol or Apo Iro of Apalit, onwed by the Arnedo-Gonzales family, whose numerous cracks were starting to show and whose paint was inappropriate for ivory.

In Marikina, Joven refurbished the city’s Nstra. Sñra de los Desamparados for its episcopal and canonical coronation in October 2005. The Desamparados of Sta. Ana also underwent restoration under his supervision.

The restoration of the Patroness of Pampanga, Nstra. Sñra. De Los Remedios was also assigned to him for the 50th anniversary of Her canonical coronation. His latest commissions include the stone image of the Nstra. Sñra. De La Candelaria and the Ultima Cena, all from Iloilo.

An ardent religious heritage advocate, Joven served as the Pastoral Council President of Bacolor. He was the leading figure in the restoration of the 3 retablos of San Guillermo Church, which were submerged under lahar and severely damaged in 1995. He also made the retablo of the San Vicente de Zaragosa Chapel, which he designed based on 18th century motifs, then lavishly polychromed.

His client list includes the country’s foremost arts and antique collectors Paulino and Hetty Que, former Intramuros Administrator and Central Bank Governor Jaime Laya. His collection has been featured in books and many high profile ecclesiastical arts exhibits like those of the Ayala Museum and the Museum of the University of Sto. Tomas.

Former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo also chose ivory works of Tom Joven for presentation as gifts to the President of Mexico and to Pope Benedict XVI.


Mahal na Araw (Holy Week) is that time of the year when families bring out their heirloom santos associated with the Passion and parade them off in ritual processions, arrayed in sumptuous gold-embroidered raiments and expensive devotional adornments. In the old days, these priceless santos—some larger than life—were lavished with gifts, with some receiving part of the year’s revenue from rice or sugar harvests for their upkeep and maintenance.

Not only did families dote on their treasured images, they also spent thousands on the wheeled platforms that bear them—carrozas or caros. The most prized carrozas are those made with panels of solid silver melted from old Mexican coins. The silver panels, often detachable, were made by craftsmen in “pinukpok” style, the same process in making metal décor for calesas, also known as repoussé, where designs are created by hammering the reverse side of the silver sheet. Other metalwork methods include chasing (indenting with a hammer or a dull-pointed object), embossing (raising in relief by pushing in the background) and engraving.

Long before the advent of wheeled carrozas were the andas (walkers), the platform mounts of santos, borne on the shoulders of able-bodied men. In Sevilla, Spain, these processional platforms were called pasos, which functioned as elaborate stage sets for the images. Andas referred to the structural supports for the paso. Heavy, decorated fabrics hung from the paso’s stretcher, thus hiding the paid carriers or costaleros. Eventually, as the size of platforms grew and the representations became more complex (the Ultima Cena tableaux has at least 13 santos!), the anda was mounted on a wheeled chassis for better maneuverability. Early carrozas had narrow calesa/cartela wheels, but these have now been replaced with modern, automotive tires for a smoother, jolt-less ride.

If one could not afford silver, wood (batikuling was a favorite) was utilized to make the carroza body. This was then carved, varnished, polychromed or gilded with gold. Historian Mariano A. Henson writes of an 1860 Holy Week procession in Kuliat (Angeles) in which images were carried on gilded floats, replacing the modest biers used in 1830. The gilding was done manually by women “who are not gluttonous and not given to smoke, chewing tobacco or buyo”. Woman’s saliva was used to moisten the gesso on the carroza so that the gold foil, when applied with a brush, stayed fast on the surface. This process assured the survival of the gilt even after years of handling and exposure to the elements.

Carrozas came in many forms: multi-storied, columned, canopied or made to look like boats. The carroza of Ntra. Sra. De las Estrellas, an ivory image owned by the late Carlos Mercado of Sasmuan for instance, is shaped like a chariot. Platforms can be designed with 8 sides or ochovado style. Carrozas carrying the sorrowful Virgin (Dolorosa) were equipped with a palio or a baldachin supported by carved poles or varas. The Mercado clan has a Sto. Entierro inside a calandra or a funeral coach, topped by angels bearing the symbols of the Passion. Silver chandeliers held glass virinas decorated with sampaguita flowers. In Mabalacat, the 28 emblems of the Passion (ladder, hammer, nails, crown of thorns, dice, etc.) are incorporated as silver milagros on the black sayal (skirt) of the carroza bearing Apung Mamacalulu.

During the Spanish times, the commodious ground floors (zaguans) of convents and large colonial mansions were perfect parking spaces for carrozas. Before storing, the metal parts were treated with shoe polish or zinc oxide dissolved in alcohol to prevent tarnish.

It would seem however, that carrozas not only served to carry santos, they were also used as funeral biers for children. I have seen at least one memento mori picture of an infant laid atop a carroza surrounded with flowers and lights, a beguilingly chilling sight. Perhaps, it was decided that this child, with a life still untainted, deserved to journey into the next life in the same spectacular way as our holy santos.

In the 1920s, families ordered their carrozas from ateliers in Quiapo, like the popular Maximo Vicente. The art of carroza making is still practiced in Pampanga although exceptional carvers are getting harder to find. One has to scour out-of-the-way religious shops in Betis and Guagua for these artisans. Gener Bautista of San Gabriel, Macabebe still accepts commissions for old-style caros while Rolly Flores and Boyet Flores, a descendant of the famed Flores carving family from Betis, continue the tedious carroza-building tradition.

Whether burnished, silvered, chased or plated, each carroza is reflective of the highest degree of skill attained by our local craftsmen. That is why, this Semana Santa when the santos come once more a-rolling, pay close attention to the carrozas—the spectacular splendor-on-wheels, bearers of divinities who have come down to earth to remind us of our Lord’s Passion, as well as the greatness of Filipino talent.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

40. RETRO-SANTO: Nstra. Sñra. Del Carmen

The image of Our Lady of Carmel housed at the San Sebastian Church on Plaza del Carmen, depicts the classical theme of the Mother and Child with the signature Carmel scapular in their hands. The title of "Our Lady of Mount Carmel" was given to the Blessed Virgin in honor of the brown scapular given to St. Simon Stock, who organized the Carmelite Order in England. The members were required to wear the brown habit as well as the scapular which became a symbol of Mary's love and protection.

The head and hands of the Virgin and the Child Jesus are of ivory, and both wear heavily embroidered vestments in traditional gold and brown colors. Unfortunately, the heads of the Virgin and Jesus were stolen in the mid 1970s, and has not been recovered since. The head of the sacristans, Felipe Dy, head of the sacristan mayores, offered to restore the statue from the generous donations of parishioners. The well-known shop of Maximo Vicente re-created the missing parts of the original images.

The revered statue of the Virgen del Carmen was brought to the Philippines in 1617, by Spanish Recoletos, on their 3rd mission to the country, led by Fray Rodrigo de San Miguel. The sacred statue was actually a gift presented by the Discalced Carmelite Sisters of Mexico while their ship was anchored there, en route to Manila. The crew elected the Virgen del Carmen the ‘capitana’ of their ship in their voyage to the Pacific.

When the Agustinos Recoletos safely arrived, the image was enthroned in a makeshift church that was built in an area called Calumpang, the same place where San Sebastian now stands. The Cofradia of the Virgen del Carmen was established in 1625, and quickly gained popularity, attracting members not only from Manila but also from nearby provinces like Laguna, Pampanga, Bulacan and Batangas. They were primarily responsible for spreading the devotion to the Virgen del Carmen, with Her feast initially celebrated every January 21. Rome later moved her feast day to July 16 for the universal church.

In 1964, the Mt. Carmel Shrine and the Monastery was built in New Manila, becoming only the second shrine dedicated to Our Lady of Mt. Carmel.

Composed by St. Simon Stock

Most Holy Virgin! Beauty of Carmel! Virgin flower forever in bloom!
Bright ornament of Heaven! Thou Virgin Mother of the Man-God!
Mother of holy love! Mother of Mercy and meekness!
Mother honored above all mothers!
Star of the Sea! Be thou propitious to they dear children of Carmel,
And to all who the happiness of wearing thy holy Scapular. Amen.

Monday, October 25, 2010


Crèches--or carved models of the Nativity--have been part of the Christmas tradition for nearly 1,000 years. They center around a figure of the Infant Jesus lying in a crib, generally with a small manger as a backdrop.

In the Philippines, the local 'belen' (from "Bethlehem") shows the child Jesus attended by small groups of figures--Mary and Joseph, the Three Kings bearing gifts, a few shepherds and their sheep. More elaborate versions may include a cow and a donkey, sheep, angels, cherubs, camels and ordinary villagers.

The height of the crèche-builder's art was reached in 18th century Naples, where puppet-like figures with beautiful terra-cotta or wood heads were created. They stood as high as 18 inches and were elaborately dressed, not unlike the rare ivory versions made here.

Peddlers and other travelers eventually carried the crèches throughout Europe, and has since become an international symbol of Christmas. Craftsmen in the Provence region of France to this day produce the traditional small earthenware figures known as "santons" (little saints, in the traditional dialect) that their ancestors began making early in the 19th century. Cast in century-old molds and painted by hand, the figures represent people of the area dressed in period costumes.

The more common Belen santo figures found here are carved in the folk tradition and are but a few inches tall. Getting a complete set is almost next to impossible as small figures tend to be lost. The set is oftentimes broken up too by antique dealers, who sell characters individually--like the Three Kings, or just the figures of Mary, Joseph and Jesus.

The most interesting figures are those that depict local provincial folks--women with pots on their heads, squatting vendors, and village people dressed in everyday camisa chino and baro't saya.

At one point, the Belen tableaux underwent simplification withe the reduction of characters--the solitary image of a sleeping Nino in ivory on a manger soon became a more popular Christmas fixture.

In many Philippine churches nationwide, it is customary to have a small altar devoted to the Nativity scene, which plays an important role every year during the annual rituals of the Christmas celebration.