Sunday, April 25, 2010


Spain is acknowledged for its rich, emotional widespread Marian following; the fervor spread to the Philippines. Virgin Mary was easily popularized as a maternal figure; perhaps the native predisposition was affected by the fact that in a number of locales, priestesses reigned over pagan rituals and if a man presided, he adopted an effeminate manner.

Each order had its variation of the Mary theme. The Virgen de la Consolacion, also called Virgen de la Correa, was a favorite of Basque immigrants and an Augustinian rendition of the Mother and Child figure; in keeping to the apparition of Sta. Monica, Mary and the Babe wear black leather Augustinian belts. Her cofradia began in Intramuros in 1577 and devotions were strong in Cebu and Bacolod. The same Order ran Malate Church with its Virgen delos Remedios and spread the cult to Pangasinan; it also favored the Angustia or Piedad processioned on Holy Thursdays.

Franciscan manifestations of Mary include Virgen de los Desamparados; the Spanish made replica of Valencia Cathedral’s Lady of the Abandoned was touched to the original before shipment to Sta. Ana Church in 1719. These friars in brown brought the Loreto following to Manila’s Sampaloc district in 1619. Among the most effective of their Marymases are those to Nuestra Señora de Dolores in Pakil, Laguna and Nuestra Señora de Penafrancia in Bicol, They brought a statue of Mexico’s Guadalupe Virgin for Pagsanjan in 1687 and in Los Baños, attributed the hot springs’ curative powers to Nuestra Señora de las Aguas Santas de Maynit.

The Immaculate Conception appeared to St. Francis; beyond a doubt spread of the devotion is due to his Order, although many renditions of her image are also found in towns ministered to by other groups. Jesuits, like Franciscans, were fond of Nuestra Señora de Iluminacion, also called Virgen de Candelaria.

It was Sto. Domingo de Guzman himself who first saw Nuestra Señora del Rosario and her rosary beads. The local cult climaxed in the Virgen de la Naval sculptured by a Chinese convert in 1593.

Recollect devotions include those to Virgen de la Salud and Nuestra Señora del Carmen. The latter is a Carmelite devotion. Recollects on their Philippine trip stopped at the Carmelite padres in Mexico who presented them with a Mother and Child wearing Carmelite scapularies; this image was enthroned in Quiapo’s San Sebastian Church. Recollects are known to have used the Paciencia santo, Christ scourged at the pillar, in Eastern rites.

Many home altars had San Isidro Labrador; he is Madrid’s patron and it is no wonder spiritual pioneers introduced this Spanish-born to the Colony. In fact, many settlements and churches are dedicated to the various patrons of the parish priests’ hometowns in España.

Early missionaries used the saintly mélange to prove Christianity’s superiority over animism and Islam. Selecting a church titular or a town patron meant finding a saint whose attributes or “powers” related to the Asian community, many times in direct parallelism with pre-Spanish deities. San Rafael who carries a fish appealed to fishermen; San Isidro was ideal for farmers and when priests introduced the plow which is part of his iconography, natives considered it a gift from their heavenly sponsor.

Before long, localized rationales and signature symbols emerged. San Pedro Apostol became the cocker’s friend because of his feathered sidekick; bird beaks and whole animals disappeared from santo arrangements as talismans. A carabao replaced San Isidro’s ox; equestrian Santiago Apostol acquired a following of coachmen and jockeys; knifemakers identified with San Bartolome who carried the flaying knife of his martyrdom; San Nicolas de Tolentino’s breadroll transformed into a tarat known to fly back on his fiesta like Capistrano Mission’s swallows. And, as an indication of the language problem that existed despite the cleric attempts to promptly learn native dialects (considered faster and simpler than teaching Spanish to a multitude), San Pascual Baylon is favored by dancers because his family name recalls the Spanish verb bailar.

As the saints marched onwards unto more Virgen de Bien Aparecida in Santander, Nuestras Señoras de Fuensicia and Fuensanta in Segovia and Teruel’s Nuestra Señora de Tremedal—all Hispanic Madonna and Child variants. Island moon tips are occasionally pegged in the base’s sides whereas Iberian moons are small low-relief seldom wider than the Madonna’s skirt.

Many Immaculadas in the Murillo tradition find provenance in Franciscan towns; those in stiff farthingales with equally rigid cloaks pushed behind Mary’s shoulders or at least baring her forearms appear to be from Augustinian and Recollect areas. Bicol folk immaculadas may be in farthingales but their cloaks drape languildly and they retain the serpent and globe of Franciscan tradition that are usually missing from Visayan versions.

Religious art was strictly controlled by the Orders until in May 1785, Carlos abolished their censorship and hoped to encourage a migration of European artisans with free passage to the Colony. Advancements in ecclesiastic plastic arts were naturally obvious among church and elite, and more so after the Island’s art academy opened in 1855; sculpture was added to the original drawing and painting curriculum before the 1900s. Nevertheless, the parish priests’ preferences continued affecting community styles.

Popular santos retained a sculptural childlikeness as religion continued its permeating force. The Spaniards came, conquered, Christianized and were replaced by new orders.

Yet the saints prevailed and with them, an exemplary cultural confluence that neatly tied up the tropical Indo-Malay world with the profound age of Christianity, equality, and perhaps even more significantly, with the great civilizations that came before. For early Roman converts were unable to withdraw from their polytheistic habits and carried home venerable images thinly disguised at first as saints; and, unable to detach from the security of their artistic traditions, these reverent Christian-elects depicted their Messiah as a handsome youth resembling beloved Orpheus and Apollo, and even retained the latter’s most popular attribute as Sun God—the halo!

*Felice Sta. Maria’s works appear in periodicals like Archipelago, Contempo and Times Journal, as well as books like Filipino Heritage, Culinary Culture of the Philippines and Turn of the Century. Her title on antiques and heirlooms in the Philippine household will be released next year by GCF Publishing.


Santos were gifted by Spaniards and Filipinos alike with farmland, jewelry, costly clothes, churches, magnificently adorned carriages, vows of loyalty and promises to propagate their cults. There seemed to be magic in the miracles of saints; into the 18th century, churchmen worried about convincing their followers that sculptured images were but inanimate representations.

Somehow, a saint—or its santo—located lost objects, produced offspring in childless couples, kept sweethearts faithful and staid off lightning, locusts, famine, earthquakes, plague and pirates. It is no wonder anthropologist Sir James Frazer shocked his peers by generalizing that magic is the first rung in developing religion.

It is difficult now to fathom forefathers who were but several generations removed from paganism. Over four centuries, the syncretization is total; and separating the ethnic from Hispanic is confusing. But French writer Andre Malraux explains the intimacy shared by early devotees with their santos:

That (to quote a famous definition) a religious picture “before being a Virgin, is a flat surface covered with colors arranged in a certain order” holds good for us, but anyone who had spoken thus to the men who made the statuary of St. Denis would have been laughed out of court. For them…what was being made was a Virgin; and only in a secondary sense of arrangement of colors. The colors were arranged in a certain order not so as to be a statue but so as to be the Virgin. Not to represent a lady having Our Lady’s attributes, but to be; to win a place in that otherworld of holiness which alone sponsored its quality.

Nations, regions and religious orders maintained at various ages, special devotions to particular saints, martyrs as well as manifestations of Mary and Christ on the Roman Catholic calendar.

Many santos of San Nicolas de la Penitencia, Sto. Tomas de Villanueva and San Agustin come from territories of the latter’s Order. This group of friars who arrived with Adelantado Miguel Legazpi in 1565 ministered in Cebu, Iloilo, Masbate, Camarines, Batangas, Laguna, Pampanga, Pangasinan, Ilocos, Cagayan and later Leyte. It is through their efforts that cults like Sta. Lucia (beginning in 1592), Sta. Monica (starting 1756) and Sta. Rita de Cassia were established locally.

San Antonio is a universal saint highly ranked throughout island households. His patronage is due largely to Franciscan efforts. It declined when Our Lady of Perpetual Help, a late 19th century devotion brought by Redemptorists to the Philippines in 1906, took hold after World War II. The Franciscan order also spread the use of Christmas belens, devotion to the Way of the Cross and Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament; Sta. Clara, patroness of good weather is their most popular female object of dulia.

Jesuits served from 1581 to their expulsion in 1843 (*blogger's note: the correct date of explusion is 1767) and returned in 1859. They established towns in Cavite, Bohol, Samar, Leyte, Panay and Zamboanga. Santos of San Ignacio de Loyola, San Francisco Javier and San Roberto Belarmino are usually from their province.

The Order of Preachers administered in the Chinese Parian and Binondo, Bataan, Pangasinan, northern Tarlac, Cagayan Valley and Batanes starting in 1587. Dominican preacher San Vicente Ferrer is considered the Order’s direct rival of San Antonio de Padua; Sto. Domingo de Guzman (founder), Sta. Rita de Lima and Pius V are their special patrons.

When the Augustinian Recollects landed in 1606, they encouraged San Guillermo, San Nicolas de Tolentino and San Sebastian as devotions. They were charged with administration of churches scattered throughout eastern Mindanao, Romblon, Palawan as well as a few missions in Luzon and Visayas.

(MANY THANKS, to Robby V. de la Vega, for his flickr pictures of San Ignacio de Loyola)

Thursday, April 22, 2010

5. AN AGE OF ALTARS: The Personification of Popular Philippine Santos, part I

By Felice Sta. Maria

In Dupax, Nueva Vizcaya, when San Isidro Labrador fails to bring rain during drought, his sculptured image is left to the elements; household statues of other uncooperative patrons are made to stand in a corner. Punishment ends and the santos are restored both their altars and their dignity only after devotees get what they pray for.

In Philippine culture, such sulking is proof of a cultivated intimacy akin to the frequently risqué piropes uttered to the Virgins of Seville: “You make other Virgins look like whores”, proclaim the faithful in a show of endearment to their confraternity’s statue!

As early as 1592, a Roman Catholic synod fixed 600 as the maximum number of persons a priest could, in due conscience, service. Upon the outset of Spanish-American hostilities in 1898, the ratio of priests to souls in the Archipelago approximated 1 to 4,000. The flock needed accessible inspiration and consolation. Religious images—including carved santos that are highly collectible today as art pieces—provided the solution.

The age of household altars signified a triumph in missionary efforts. Formation of the initial native gentry began with the profits from exporting indigo, rice, sappan wood, sugar and cotton from 1820 to 1835; subsequent booms commenced immediately after in abaca, coffee then later, copra (from 1880) as well as tobacco (no longer a state monopoly from 1881). In typical nouveau riche fashion, gentlemen farmers chose religion and its accoutrements as a respectable outlet for displaying their hard-earned status.

The growth of island parishes paralleled economic ascendancy. A saintly display no matter how limited and naïve grew commonplace. In the 1850s, Buzeta’s double volume Diccionario geographico, estadistico, historico de las Islas Filipinas included an image of the Virgin Mary and crucifix among such native necessarires as a mortar for grinding rice, clay oil lamps, betelnut chew and coconut shell cups.

There was a profound disparity between Hispanic-Roman Catholic and Philippines-animist-Islamic cultures. Fortunately, Rome had encouraged reinterpretation as early as 2 A.D. when Pope Clement of Alexandria urged that ineradicable pagan symbols be reinvested with Christian meanings. This lenient adaptability not only allowed a Christianization of Filipinos but also Filipinization of Christianity noticeable—from santo iconography to celebration rites in the local church.

Equally effectual was the well-devised schedule of Christian activities that prescribed daily matins and vespers as well as a yearlong saint-a-day calendar. As Catholicism gained headway , Filipinos reckoned time not solely by planting routines but by saints’ and holy days.

Church building began upon conquest; however, the patron saint schema was used with increasing frequency after permanent stone synagogues became feasible around Spain’s second century of occupation. Early friars and their native, Chinese and later Chinese mestizo assistants created awe-inspiring reredos and retables of wood, gilt and silver to house images of the heavenly hierarchy carved locally, in Mexico, China and Europe.

Humanlike santos were teaching aids. Their lovely and poignant faces made dogma believable and comprehensible. Elaborate reliefs like paintings told entire Lenten and Yuletide stories better than many a sermon.

Fearing an overindulgence of ornamentation no matter how educational, Augustinians converged in Lubao, Pampanga in 1627 and limited the number of images a religious could own –no more than one bulky statue and four smaller santos or paintings. Excess was sold to benefit the Order. Superiors inspected parishes bimonthly and warnings were issued against excessive accumulation of inlaid furniture, bracelets, chairs, desks and drawers in the privacy of convents.

Irregardless of these efforts, flamboyant shrines triumphed as the native churcgoers’ novice faith combined with the clerics’ financial stratagems to support ever-expanding Philippine and foreign missions.

Inspired by cathedral magnificence, altars for above-humble homes developed into grand collections of mesmerizing precious ivoryand wooden images set atop altar tables intricately set with bone, highly carved, turned and even pushed out from bedroom seclusion into living room. Processional images were added to altars or stored disassembled and uncostumed in a tiny abandoned room referred to as the cuartito where tots did penance for their pranks. (TO BE CONTINUED..)


Cold and white, hard and heavy, ivory has fascinated man throughout the centuries. It has always been a luxury, and has been reserved only for objects of prestige and ritual. Ivory is obtained from elephant tusks, though in wider sense the term also refers to hippopotamus, walrus, narwhal, and hornbill materials. Filipinos also carved various articles from the tusks, teeth and bones of the duyong or dugong (the sea cow), the wild boar, the crocodile and other animals.

In the Philippines, ivory was known as garing, a vague remembrance of the days when elephants and their cousins, the stegodons roamed the land. Fossil ivory and remains of theses proboscideans, dating to as far back as 500,000 years ago, have been found in the Cagayan Valley, Pangasinan, Manila, Panay, and northeastern Mindanao.

Early Spanish colonizers in the Philippines encountered the last remaining elelphants in Sulu, but these too, must have disappeared about the middle of the 17th century, as there is nor record of them after these period. One specimen was sent as a gift, complete with silk trappings, to the emperor of Japan before the end of the 16th century. According to accounts, it was such a big hit among the Japanese, who had never seen such a creature before.

The conquering Spaniards brought with them their love of saints’ images in ivory, and commissioned the Chinese to do the carving. Though we know that pre-Hispanic Filipinos used ivory for religious images (anitos), jewelry, and dagger hilts, frustratingly little has survived to give us an idea of this early art. Ivory began to be imported from African and Asian sources. The most important extant masterpiece of this early period is the Nuestra Señora del Rosario de la Naval, carved by a Filipino-Chinese artist in 1593, and now venerated in the Santo Domingo Church in Quezon City.

Workshops along the southeastern coast of China and in the Philippines were soon turning out exquisite religious images of ivory for the Spanish and Mexican markets. By the eighteenth century, the Filipinos themselves were warmly praised by the Spaniards for their artistic productions. Their works gracefully combined Asian eyes with Hispanic noses; above all they masterfully displayed the Oriental quality of tranquility.

Through more than 200 years of the Galleon Trade, countless ivory pieces left the Philippine shores for Spain and Mexico, brought out by friars, bureaucrats and merchants as gifts, mementos and even contraband. Because of its value, many ivory pieces were smuggled into these countries, thus hampering research on provenance and dates.

The noted Spanish art historian Margarita Estella has spent several years tracking down what she refers to as “Hispano-Filipino” ivories in Spanish churches and collections. Majority of the earlier and larger ivory santos have thus been identified to be, ironically, outside the country.

Philippine ivories were valued even in Christian China. Manuel Texeira, the distinguished Jesuit historian, has pointed out that the image of Macau’s patroness, the Immaculate Conception, was commissioned from the Philippines. The image, consisting of an ivory head and hands on a polychromed wooden body, is now enshrined in the Chapel of the Leal Senado in that city. Other Marian images in Macau, of a style attributed here as Goanese work, are referred to there as Philippine instead, “and therefore of great age”. Clearly, much more artistic sleuthing is needed to clarify influences and attributions.

In the Philippines, ivory santos today are not easily accessible given their rarity and value. They are a popular target of church thieves who sell dismembered heads and hands to unscrupulous buyers. A sizeable collection of them has been assembled by the Intramuros Administration in Manila, thus keeping a number of important pieces in the public domain.

Major collections abroad are the Museo Oriental in Valladolid, Spain and the Museo Nacional del Virreinato in Tepotzotlan, Mexico. International awareness of Philippine art in ivory was highlighted by a special exhibit held in 1990-1991 at the Pacific Asia Museum in Pasadena, California. Another exposition was recently held at the Ayala Museum in Makati, where these photographs were taken.

Today, as elephants fall to the greed of the “white gold” hunters, the trade in ivory is banned in most parts of the world. Although we continue to pay tribute to Filipino’s artistry in ivory, we also bid goodbye to an era of despoliation in the name of art.

(Text: Regalado Trota Jose / Photography: Kathleen Palasi,
Reprinted from Design & Architecture, Vol. 1, No. 2, 1992. pp. 92-95)


Saintly images, or santos, make up the unique art form of colonial Philippines—from a period (1565-1898) that imprinted Catholicism and its cultural heritage on the Filipinos, In the 16th century, the Spaniards came to the Philippines with, the historian tell us, “a sword in one hand and the Cross in the other”. They made one of their first tasks the destruction of the ‘strange gods’ the slanders were venerating, in their place raising up the imagery of Catholicism.

*This 3-headed image in hardwood is a literal depiction of the Trinity by an artist of the early 1800s.

Soon the Filipino craftsman was fashioning not pagan idols and amulets but the religious artifacts of the new faith. By the 17th century, the works of the native carvers had become distinctly “Filipino”. It was not until the Spaniards were supplanted by the country’s second colonizers—the Americans—that relaigious art in the Philippines declined.

*Images of the Immaculate Conception, a highly venerated deity in the Philippines, whose worship in colonial times fused into animistic rituals from earlier times.

Now a resurgent cultural nationalism, expressed partly in a new appreciation of the past, seeks to revive interest in Philippine religious art. Connoisseurs, both at home and abroad, vie for the small, carved images of Catholic saints—relics of the Spanish period—which are the finest examples of his heritage.

*Popular Philippine patron, San Miguel (St. Michael), subdues a realistically carved devil in carving of 1800s while an 18th c. version reflects influence of Chinese artisans on colonial woodcarving in composition.

The materials most often used in making the images was wood—hard, medium, soft: the choice of wood depended on the artist’s intention: whether he preferred permanence, a smooth finish, or ease of execution. The Spanish painter, Fernando Zobel, classifies santos into three styles: popular, classical and ornate.

*The cherub on the cloud on which the third Virgin stands has a Chinese face. Hands were generally made separately and then inserted into sockets.

Images in the popular style tend to be small and meant for the home. They are generally characterized by Oriental features and proportions, Spanish iconography, a naïve approach, and strikingly original color to produce a unique and surprisingly powerful art form.

The classical style in Philippine imagery, says Zobel, is essentially derivative. It consists of three elements harmoniously combined: Spanish and Latin American models, which range in style from the late Renaissance to the rococo; a strong Chinese influence, particularly in the image’s cast of features, anatomical proportions, use of drapery and human stance, and a Filipino style that is distinctive in its use of color.

“Ornate statues”, says Zobel, “seem more like expensive dolls rather than religious images”.

Collecting santos has become so popular that one Manila collector—a millionaire whose collection by itself constitutes a fortune—admits that the value of each object in his possession has tripled in two years.

(Source: Orientations, December 1970 issue. Pp. 67-73)

Wednesday, April 21, 2010


The founding of a new town necessitated the creation of a parish church, which was placed under the titular patronage of a specific saint. Today, barangays and sitios have their own chapels in which their pintakasis (patron saint) are housed. Catholic tradition associates certain saints with specific tasks, and so they were invoked in appropriate instances. Sometimes, iconographic elements determine their special “powers”, subject to folk interpretation. A few examples:

San Pedro Apostol, patron of cockfighters, as the rooster is included as part of his iconography. (Apalit, Pampanga)

San Jose, patron of fathers, families and carpenters. Emblems: Flowering staff, carpentry tools (Navotas/ Las Pinas)

San Miguel Arcangel, patron saint of guards, grocers and supermarket workers
(one of his emblems is a weighing scale). (Masantol, Pampanga/ Hagonoy, Bulacan/ Rizal/ Bacnotan, La Union/ Argao, Cebu)

San Pascual Baylon, patron saints of dancers and cooks. His last name “baylon” is phonetically similar to the Spanish verb “bailar” , to dance. (Obando, Bulacan)

Sta. Lucia, invoked against eye sicknesses, as her eyes were plucked out during her martyrdom. (Sta. Lucia, Ilocos Sur/ Sasmuan, Pampanga)

San Isidro Labrador, patron of farmers and laborers, Attributes: plow, angel, oxen, kneeling Man (Angono, Rizal/ Pulilan, Bulacan/ Tayabas, Quezon. Talavera, N.E./ San Pablo City)

San Vicente Ferrer, patron of builders and preachers. Emblems: wings, trumpet, book. (Sampaloc/ Leganes, Iloilo

San Roque, invoked against pestilence and epidemics. Attributes: Pilgrim staff, dog, angel with a scroll. (Pateros/ Limay, Bataan)

San Fernando Rey, patron of engineers, POWs, paupers and rulers. Emblems: crown, greyhound ( San Fernando, Pampanga/ Lucena City)

Sta. Ana, invoked for safe pregnancies. Attribute: book. (Taguig City,/Sta. Ana, Pampanga)

Sta. Maria Magdalena, patron of repentant sinners and the contemplative life. Attributes: skull, perfume bottle. (Pillila, Laguna/ Magdalena)

San Juan Bautista, patrons of those in the monastic life, Emeblems: slender cross, lamb, sheepskin (Dinalupihan, Bataan/ Taytay, Rizal/ San Juan, Rizal)

Sta. Catalina de Alejandria, patron saint of young girls, millers, old maids, knife sharpeners. Emblem : Spiked wheel, (Porac, Arayat, Pampanga/ Santa, Ilocos Sur/ Sta. Catalina, Ilocos Sur/ Bagac, Bataan/ Carcar, Cebu)

San Antonio de Padua, patron of pregnant women and those who lost something. Emblems: lily, child Jesus, book (Pila, Laguna/ Rosales, Pangasinan/ Marcos, Ilocos Norte)

San Sebastian, patron saint of soldiers and archers. Emblems: arrows, tree. (Tarlac, Tarlac/Famy, Laguna/ Lumban, Laguna/ Bacolod)

Sta. Monica, patron of wives and mothers. Emblems; girdle, tears, handkerchief, cross. (Mexico, Minalin, Pampanga)

San Nicolas de Tolentino, patron of infants, dying people, souls in purgatory. Emblems: patridge on a plate (the bird was revived upon feeding on his plate) ( Mariveles, Bataan/ Cabatuan, Iloilo/ Cabanatuan, Nueva Ecija)

San Andres Apostol, patron of fishermen and fish dealers. Emblem: X-shaped cross. (Paranaque/Candaba, Pampanga )

San Bartolome, patron of tanners, shoe makers (he was martyred by having his skin flayed). Attribute: knife, skin. (Magalang, Pampanga/Catbalogan, Samar)