Monday, June 28, 2010

19. RETRO-SANTO: Sto. Niño de Romblon

If Cebuanos have their revered Sto. Niño de Cebu who is honored through a rambunctious celebration called Sinulog, the people of Romblon province also have an ancient image of the Holy Child—the Sto. Niño de Romblon—which has been an object of veneration for many generations.

Tradition has it that the small Niño image was commissioned by an Augustinian fraile, who had the figure carved in the Philippines, based on the original Sto. Niño de Cebu. This particular Cebuano Niño was carved by a Flemish artist, brought to our Islands in 1521 by Ferdinand Magellan. The replica image was meant to be shipped to Madrid, but when the galleon carrying the image stopped over at Romblon, a typhoon stopped the ship from leaving. The Sto. Niño was thus taken down from the vessel and brought to the local church where a Holy Mass was offered. After the rites, the Sto. Niño could not be moved from its place, and so the galleon left the image behind.

For over 4 centuries, the Sto. Niño de Romblon resided at the Cathedral of San Jose, until it was stolen in 1991. Today, the precious image of the Holy Child remains missing, and the one venerated in the church is just a decade-old replica. Nevertheless, the religious fervor of the people of Romblon continues to burn brighter every year, fuelled by the unabashed pageantry of the Biniray Festival, which serves as a tribute to their beloved patron.

Held in the capital town of Romblon every 2nd week of January, the Biniray Festival is marked with dancing, music and street revelry—echoing the same carnival spirit of Cebu’s Sinulog. The festival re-enacts the attempt to remove the image from the church with the highlight of the fiesta happening on the Bay of Romblon. Here, a flotilla of boats is launched to circle the bay seven times. A land parade follows, with costume revelers accompanying the Sto. Niño de Romblon throughout the streets of the town, carried on a bamboo-supported palanquin.

The Biniray Festival is but one of the many fiestas that not only pays homage to the Christ Child but also the people of Romblon to express their faith and folk piety to the full.

Friday, June 18, 2010


Don Angel Pantaleon de Miranda (ca. 1765) , together with his wife, Dña Rosalia de Jesus, founded the town of Culiat in the year 1829. Culiat was renamed Angeles, dedicated to the Los Santos Angeles Custodios (The Holy Guardian Angels, or its singular Holy Guardian Angel or Holy Angel). Thus, Holy Angel became the titular patron saint of the new town while Our Lady of the Holy Rosary (La Naval) was declared as the patron saint.

Both images were commissioned and finished in the year 1830. After the death of Don Angel, the image of the Holy Angel was taken by his son-in-law, Don Mariano Henson (ca. 1798-1848, Doctor of Laws, married to Juana Ildefonsa de Miranda), who later passed it on to Maria Agustina Henson (1828-1905), who later married Pio Rafael Nepomuceno (1817-1858 ).

The image was handed down to son Juan Gualberto Nepomuceno (1852-1923), who, in turn passed it on to son Juan D. Nepomuceno (1892-1973), founder of Holy Angel University.

It is said that it was this image that inspired Don Juan to name the school that would become the biggest university of Central Luzon. Don Juan’s daughter, Teresita N. Wilkerson (1929-)took care of the image after his father’s death.

Today, it is the Holy Angel University that is the designated caretaker of this treasured image. The Holy Angel, about 48 inches tall, stands side by side with the two-foot Child he is protecting. His antique silver accoutrements include a flowered tiara, beaten wings and a cloud base in the shape of a half-orb, made during the time of Augustinian Fr. Guillermo Masnou, parish priest of Angeles.

It was last restored in 2006 by Apalit carver, Nicolas Lugue under the supervision of Mr. PJ Nepomuceno, grandson of Don Juan Nepomuceno and an antique santo collector of note. He also had a new set of vestments made for the tableau, using recovered gold embroidery from an antique santo cape, ably put together on velvet fabrics by Sasmuan bordadero and vestment maker, Ely Mangalindan. The image stayed in a small chapel housed in one of the school buildings.

In 2010, a magnificent chapel for the University was completed, and there, inside the main niche of a gothic altar carved by Spanish-trained carver Willy Layug, the Holy Angel now reposes, a grand and permanent home for a historic icon, one of the most beautiful and most important relics of the city of Angeles.

My Good Angel, God has sent you to take care of me. Shelter me under your wings, lighten my path and direct my steps. Do not leave me, stay near and defend me against the spirit of evil. But above all, come to my help in the last struggle of my life. Deliver my soul so that with you, it may praise, love and contemplate the goodness of God, forever and ever. Amen.

Angel of God My Guardian dear
To whom God’s Love

Entrusts me here

Ever this day
Be at my side
To light and guard

To rule and guide

Wednesday, June 16, 2010


A pictorial spread of santos and sacred art from Art & Architecture Magazine, ca, early 1980.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010


By Fray Francis Musni

(Source: Originally published in "Singsing", the official magazine of the Center for Kapampangan Studies, Holy Angel University, Angeles City. Adapted and abridged for this blog.)

The image of the dead Christ is a very popular icon in the Philippines. It seems that the Filipinos identify with the suffering of the dead Christ because of poverty and other socio-economic difficulties they experience. Angeles City, in Pampanga has its own, widely revered patron under the advocation of Apung Mamacalulu (The Lord of Mercy).

It appears that sometime between 1828-1838, P. Macario Paras, parish priest of Angeles, had this venerated image sculpted by a well-known sculptor of that day, named Buenaventura. It was first installed in the sanctuary built by P. Paras on his own premises, located possibly in the Paras-Dizon estates of today’s Brgy. Lourdes Sur. Aside from the image, it had a carriage and other adornments donated by the good father to the church.

The image and its carriage were transferred to the church in 1872, remaining there until 1896-97, when, owing to the Revolution in the country, the image and carriage were transported for safekeeping either in San Fernando or Mabalacat. Then it was kept for the duration of the war in Sapangbato, until it was taken back to the church in 1904. The image was put out in procession on Good Friday and during the October fiesta of Angeles town.

When the image was carried out in procession on Good Friday of 1928, its camarero (caretaker) Eriberto Navarro, acting for his aunt Alvara Fajarda, an heiress to the Paras estate, and with assistance from policemen and the town mayor, forcibly took the image from the church when the procession ended. The santo-snatching resulted not only from an ownership dispute but also from a long-standing political quarrel between the then Nacionalistas and Democratas. The incident gave rise to a 1929 suit between the Catholic Archbishop of Manila vs. Alvara Fajardo and Eriberto Navarro.

Alvara Fajardo claimed that after P. Paras’s death in 1876, the image was inherited by heir Mariano V. Henson, who transferred his ownership to Fernanda Sanchez, who willed it to her son –and Alvara’s husband, Crispulo Bundoc. But church records show that before his death, P. Paras had given the image to the church as a gift.

Moreover, the transfer of property from Henson to Sanchez was not proved. What was proved was that, after the priest’s death, Fernanda Sanchez took it upon herself to exercise the office of recamadera, which was passed on to Alvara. Being a recamadera however, did not carry with it the ownership of the image, and so the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Church and ordered the Fajardos to return the Apung Mamacalulu image.

While the original image was apparently returned to the church, an identical image surfaced at the chapel of the Dayrit estate about the same time. The issue of the two images became the source of friction between the Dayrits and the Angeles parish priests for many years. Devotees remained with the Dayrits’ image , in fact, increasing in number until the shrine’s popularity reached cult proportions. The two images were taken out in separate processions, and on two occasions, even simultaneously. But the Dayrit’s processions enjoyed more following.

Requests for masses by Don Clemente Dayrit in the Apu chapel were always denied by the Archbishop of Manila. Later, it was the matter of accounting the donations to Apu that became the major issue. The persistent talk then was that the Church was interested in Apu because it was drawing a big crowd on Fridays and that the chapel was receiving huge amount of alms. The money issue became more serious when the Dayrits began leasing their lands to transient vendors who started making good business on the Apu premises in the 1970s.

Through the years, the Dayrits managed to have Masses said in the santuario without permit, by priests from faraway stations and even by non-Catholic priests. Angeles parish priest Fr. Aquilino Ordonez tried to remedy the situation by asking the Dayrits to sell the their Chapel to the Church so that it may be canonically recognized, but talks failed and no agreement was reached.

Long after the sensational Supreme Court case. The story about the second image refused to die. The authenticity of the image surrendered to the Angeles Church began to be doubted when rumors spread that, right after the 1929 decision, the image was sent to Paete, Laguna, presumably to have a copy made. Many believe that neither the image in the big church nor the one in the Dayrit chapel is the original Apu.

If so, where is the real image snatched by Navarro and company way back in 1928? This remains a mystery. The only extant pre-1928 picture is an old print of the Apu lying in the altar in the church’s side chapel, taken from the old house of the recamadero, Eriberto Navarro, who died in the 1950s without any offspring.

His descendants relate several stories about the Apu and its miraculous powers. There were times, they said, that it refused to be carried, that even six men could not move it. But when Eriberto came, he could carry the image by himself. Before his death, he passed on the office of recamadero to nephew Santiago Julian who performed his duties until his death in the late 1970s.

Other stories abound about the original image being kept in an underground room of the old Dayrit mansion. A witness reports that the image kept there was much darker than the one in the Dayrit chapel. Some also maintain that the image had already been spirited away to the U.S. by one of the Dayrit daughters.

Apu today is known by Angelenos as more of a bargain shopping place than as a miraculous, controversial image. Over the years, Apu has acquired the hustle and bustle of Quiapo with its own motley crowd of hawkers, bargain hunters and petty thieves. It has evolved from a shrine for the pious and desperate to a mecca for mad shoppers, wheelers and dealers.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

15. The Saintmakers: RAMON GUTIERREZ, Designing for Divinities

This exclusive interview series first appeared as SSF Personalan on Semana Santa Filipinas, the biggest online group of santo owners and enthusiasts. It features personalities directly involved in the “santo trade”: ecclesiastical artists, carvers, artisans, encarnadors, painters, lateros, bordadors, costureras, cultural activists and avid santo fans. It is also aimed at recognizing the unsung contemporary talents behind our religious arts—how they started, how they honed their skills, and how it is like to run a santo business today.

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A designer and maker of santo garments who has been silently making a name for himself in the last few years with his unique and practical creations is our subject for this feature on ecclesiastical artists. MR. RAMON GUTIERREZ has put his marketing background to good use by positioning himself as a maker of fine-quality, yet affordably-priced santo clothes, thus finding a special niche in the specialized, yet competitive, religious vestment industry. Quiet and soft-spoken, Ramon, through an afternoon phone chat, shared with us his beginnings and the attendant challenges of running a santo garments shop.


RAMON: I took up Marketing in college, but even back then, I had always loved drawing and designing. So, back in 1989, my business partner and I decided to open a shop, a mainstream fashion business, where we supplied made-to-order clothes.


I had an image that participated in the Grand Marian Procession in IntramurosMater Amabilis. It’s a vintage piece that I found almost forgotten in an antique shop. I even remember how much I paid for it — it was about PhP400. I had it dressed in traditional embroidered clothes, the prevailing style then.

My friends who were fellow santo aficionados then asked me if I could create “daily use” clothes for their santos. As a personal favor, I made them these simple everyday clothes and that’s how I got started in santo dressing.

The major turning point however, was meeting Mr. Francisco Vecin, who took note of my work and who further encouraged me to explore the possibility of dressing santos on a more regular basis. Pretty soon, I was contracted by Mang Kiko to provide designs and to execute the garments for his carved santos. You can say that my love for fashion and for religious art has spawned a business that combines both interests, which I continue to do to this day.


RAMON: Oh, most definitely! Designing for living, breathing, moving people is different from designing for static images. An image has a fixed posture, so you must study the lines of the body so that you will know where to place the trims or the focal point of the vestments, for instance.

There are so many considerations in dressing up santos. There are certain limitations in cutting. Kitang-kita ang fit. You have to give special focus to details. A bastidor body is always difficult to execute, because there is always the probability na laging masikip ang skirt when it is not correctly measured or done. That’s why I always make a padron na tela (cloth pattern) to avoid errors.

You learn a lot of things along the way. You also learn to be inventive. Dressing a single standing santo looks easy, what with its simple A-line and a half-moon cape that you simply drape. But in my designs, I also introduced variations like a rectangular cape, a rectangular cape with half moon, etc.

You study certain draping techniques so that you will know the placement of embroidery to make the dress more pleasing to the eye. Even thread sizes have to be taken into consideration because they have a particular effect on the overall look of your creation.


RAMON: It was a conscious decision, because I wanted to offer a more affordable alternative to embroidered garments, whose prices, as we all know, are way beyond the reach of ordinary santo owners. I believe that there is a market for the type of product that I offer, with that kind of style, practically priced for everyone.

When Mang Kiko asked me to give santo dressing a try, I had to study how a traditional garment is constructed. As you know, it usually comes in separate, “putol-putol” parts. Assembling these can be laborious and time-consuming. Now, I have come up with clothes that can be easily put on and styled with just a few nips, tucks and drapes — that even a santo owner can do by himself. Fool-proof. That can only be possible with the kinds of designs that I create.


RAMON: The Last Supper done by Mr. Vecin for a Cavite client was one particular dressing challenge, because it required studying the layout and blocking of the different figures, therefore each had to be draped separately and differently! And if you see the presentation, the figures are seated facing each other, thus exposing their backs, so now I also have to pay attention to the back draping as well. It took a whole day to dress them up!

It’s the same principle I observed for the Transfiguration tableau in Paete. The figures are different but yet they must remain cohesive as they are part of a group. A linear motif unique to each vestment was what held the look together.


RAMON: I go for upholstery fabrics. My favorite is brocade because it’s got body, and it has a stiffness that grows softer over time. I source these fabrics locally, in Divisoria, mostly imported from China. The cords and trims I also get from there, made mostly in China, Korea and Japan. It is quicker to sew trims on vestments rather than cordings, which have to be handsewn.

For my designs, I find inspiration in the architectural details of churches. I then sketch the initial designs until I get them right. I also follow a “one person, one design“ policy, so that no two santo owners will have the same garment design.


RAMON: My creations are highly washable and more hardy than traditional vestments, which can be cleaned by dry-cleaning only. My garments can just be soaked in warm water, then quickly washed in soap. Tapos, pwedeng plantsahin with the fabric turned inside out.


RAMON: The challenge is in making the business viable by ensuring job orders year-round. As it is now, may seasonality ang pag-gawa ng santo clothes. Usually, orders come in December or January. Which is in synch naman with my mainstream made-to-order fashion business, which starts to peak from October, all the way to the holiday season. So I am assured of constant business over this time period. It would be better though if santo owners can place their orders earlier so that the load is evenly spread out the whole year through.

Recently, a friend of mine put up a business that specializes in ecclesiastical vestments. He’s been wanting me to join him. Of course, this is a new discipline altogether. It will be a whole new ballgame for me, so once again, I need to study the challenges of this more exacting art, as one is required to strictly adhere to certain liturgical guidelines.

Finally, I also want people to have a heightened awareness about the work that I do, as part of their education process — that I offer an alternative that’s easier and more affordable for every one.


Source: The Chronicle Magazine, 6 January 1962 p. 6- 8

Epiphany, better known as the Feast of the Three Kings, marks the end of the Christmas season in the Philippines.

The religious observance which falls on January 6, commemorates the long journey of the Magi or Three Wise Men from the East in search of the Child Jesus. They traveled days and nights through deserts, mountains and dales, guided only by a heavenly star. Finally, they found the Holy Infant in His lowly birthplace in a Bethlehem stable as the angel had announced to the shepherds.

The Three Wise Men—themselves kings of earthly kingdoms---recognized even then the Infant Jesus as the King of Kings. They worshipped Him, offering gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. These gifts, according to Catholic beliefs, signified three things: gold for Christ’s kingship; the incense, for His divinity; and myrrh, for His humanity.

And so it was that the Magi started the centuries-old tradition of gift-giving on Christmas. From the obscure little town of Bethlehem, the practice has spread throughout the world, like the Faith which was born there.

Different localities in the country celebrate Three Kings Day in their own way. But the essence is the same: gift-giving and revelry. Also, it is a feast exclusively for the children.

The local Spanish community observes the feast with gift-giving to children in Manila and the suburbs. The gifts are distributed at the Casiño Español by three men personifying the Three Kings.

In Gapan, Nueva Ecija, the Feast of the Three Kings is also the town fiesta. Legend has it that once bandit-ridden, the town was freed from such a scourge by three young men who appeared from nowhere and routed the bandits. These three mysterious men, the townspeople believed, were the Three Kings.

Hence, the annual celebration in Gapan with the the images of the Three Kings as the center of the festivities. According to the townsfolk , the images, all carved out of hardwood, have been there for centuries. The images were originally owned by one family, but now Gaspar is under the care of Marcela Baison, Melchor belongs to Conchita Manikis and Balthazar is owned by Consuelo Cabañez.

The Three Kings of Gapan are considered protectors of the town rather than as gift givers. Hence, the absence of gift-giving during the traditional feast day.

13. RETRO-SANTO: Nstra. Sñra. Del Rosario de La Naval

Nuestra Senora del Santissimo Rosario de la Naval de Manila (Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary) or simply called Virgen de la Naval is certainly one of the most historied Marian image venerated in the country today. The image dates back to the year 1593, and was carved by a Chinese sculptor commissioned by Gov. Luis Perez de Dasmariñas after his Moluccan expedition.

The making of the ivory image was attended with many miraculous happenings. While it was being carved by the Chinese non-Catholic artist, he supposedly heard a mild protest in Spanish: “no me des tan fuerte!” (don’t chisel me too hard). Subsequently, the Chinese converted to the Catholic faith. The image was then donated to the Sto. Domingo Church in Manila.

The Del Rosario image stands all of 56 inches, with head and hands in ivory. The face bears a distinct and delicate Oriental features. She is vested as a royal lady of the court of the Felipes, holding the Niño Jesus in her left hand and her scepter of authority in her right had.

Over a period of more than 4 centuries, the Virgen del Rosario has been lavished with precious jewelries, and the most famoust one rests in brilliance on her forehead. A “carbuncle”, old folks call it, which, legends say, was once carried by a serpent in its mouth. He would only remove his hold on the jewel when it would feed on milk, and it was in this manner that he was trapped and killed—while the great jewel was retrieved, to be use as an adornment on the Lady whose feet had once crushed the snake’s head.

But the most incredible story about this well-loved Marian image is woven around a series of 5 naval battles, two ships with 200 Filipino and Spanish sailors, one faith and one rosary. From March to October 1646, La Encarnacion and La Rosario, together with their crew, waged epic battles against the Dutch who always took flight and retreated—until their ultimate defeat. The victories were attributed to Our Lady whose image was ensconced in special niches of the ships, and the recitation of the Rosary before every skirmish.

When “galleons of miracles” returned to the city amidst tumultuous welcome, the crew walked barefooted to Santo Domingo barefooted, to pay homage to the Virgin who heard their prayers.

The country’s celebrated Virgin was canonically-crowned on 5 October 1907 under Pope Pius X, the first Marian image to be accorded the honor in the Philippines and in Asia. The centennial of its coronation, held in 2007, was marked with a grand re-enactment of Her crowning and a publication of the book, "The Saga of La Naval".

The Virgen de La Naval shrine is at the Sto. Domingo Church at Quezon Boulevard Ext., Quezon City. She is recognized as the patron of the capital city as well as the city of Angeles in Pampanga which has a church dedicated to her. Her feast is on October 7 (celebrated on the Sunday nearest the 7th) .