Tuesday, May 31, 2011


By Carmen A. Navarro (originally published in The Chronicle Magazine, 29 June 1963, pp. 44)

Paete is a little town nestled at the foot of Sierra Madre ranges and locked by Laguna de Bay. It has no wide plains, not topographical greatness. Rather, it is a town by the road between highland and water. Its history is the unraveling of a way of life rendered starkly simple by a lack of physical grandeur. Crowded in by mountain and bay, Paeteños looked within themselves and found there, their greatness.

Thus, to know Paete, a town founded in 1580, fifty nine years after the historic date of the rediscovery of the Philippines in 1521, is to know a past that belongs to the present. For the accumulation of that deep human experience of a people steeped in self-awareness is tradition.

It is they who have kept the heritage of a unique custom of a “living saints” procession every Holy Thursday for the last two hundred fifty years by passing it to their younger kin with an unwritten will that the observance shall be without dichotomy between ceremony and belief.

In the past, Eugenio Quesada, a Paeteño who has written his memoirs in the form of a narrative of the town says:

“Holy Thursday was the biggest day of the week, for on this day, the procession was the largest because the ‘pasion’ or carrying of the cross in the different stages was shown and not only that, the meeting of Jesus and his mother Virgin Mary was re-enacted”.

During this re-enactment, the author notes that the town people who actually cried as though in pain, may have projected their own grief and the tediousness of their own lives in one packed moment of religious compassion.

American and German tourists who visited the town during the celebration remarked that it is perhaps the near realism of the drama that moves the spectators to such an experience. The tender scene of a sorrowful mother who breaks loose from the hold of tough soldiers to embrace her son, faithfully issued by vocal animation from living persons and movements through an intricate mechanism gives semblance of the real. The mechanism found within the statues is as old as the celebration, two hundred fifty years ago.

The second meeting place takes place in the upper portion of the town, in the Ilaya, almost in front of the small church called Ermita. It is the re-enactment of St. Veronica who meets Jesus with a piece of cloth on which our Lord imprints his face. St. Veronica in turn shows the printed face to the Virgin Mary, heightening her grief. The procession goes through all of Paete’s little streets, the menfolk bowed, the women in black, and the children sobered, singing in lamentable tones: “Populo meus quid feci Tibi” (O my people, what have I done to thee?).

A period of mourning marked by both interior and exterior silence trictly observed at the penalty of being called a Jew begins when the procession finally winds up in church for the tenebrae.

To the Paeteños, Holy Thursday celebration is not a ceremony but an element of their identity, just as woodcarving and lanzones tending are.

Woodcarving is the lifeblood of Paeteño culture which started in pre-Spanish times when the first group of Malay inhabitants happened to have a penchant for chiseling figures with a ‘apet’. In 1882, that penchant reached a golden age when Mariano Madriñan received a diploma and a medal of honor from King Alfonso XII of Spain for his Mater Dolorosa, a work of art exhibited at the International Exposition held in Amsterdam, Holland and Paete’s woodcraft found its wayin European palaces of kings and doors of Cathedrals. After a period besieged by idleness and oblivion, Paete woodcarvers in 1960 enjoyed a renaissance when the late Pope John XXIII commissioned them to make the statue of San Martin de Porres for the canonization rites. The Renaissance ay be completed when the Php75,000 worth of Paete woodcarving will be exhibited in the 1964 New York World Fair.

Paete’s economic framework remains inimical to contemporary economic schemes. Peculiar to her modest geography, her people who have remained oddly faithful to social justice. Land which was parceled among their grandfathers remains in the hands of their descendants, with the same size, the same fruits, never coveting, never wanting, year after year, generation after generation.

Like tradition, Paete merely stays.

Monday, May 30, 2011

65. Santos de Marfil: INMACULADA CONCEPCION, from the Lopez Workshop

"The Immaculate Conception" is a belief that Mary was preserved from original sin at the moment of conception, receiving in advance the grace of Baptism that her son would earn for all mankind. Pope Pius IX solemnly defined this as a dogma in his constitution Ineffabilis Deus on 8 December 1854.

Images that celebrate this doctrine represent Mary as the woman of Revelation 12:1, "And a great sign appeared in heaven: A woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars."

Traditional representations of the Immaculate shows her wearing a crown of twelve stars and represents the sun as a modified mandorla outline with flame-like "rays." At the base is a snake who assails the woman in Revelation 12 .

Two-dimensional images represent the "heaven" in which the woman is seen by surrounding her with angels and often by including clouds and a sky-like background.

Dr. Raffy Lopez of Quezon City, eminent ecclesiastical artist whose forte is restoring old ivories and creating new ivory santos following the colonial tradition, has created many images of the Immaculate Conception for many of his clients, fine examples of which are shown on this page.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

64. RETRO-SANTO: Ntra. Sñra. del Santissimo Rosario de Manaoag

The province of Pangasinan is home to one of the most precious and honored Marian image in the country: Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary of Manaoag. The ivory image was brought to the Philippines by an Augustinian, P. Juan de San Jacinto via the Manila Galleon route, originating from Spain, in the early 1600s.

The title of the Virgin comes from an event in 1610, when a Pangasinense, on his way home, heard a woman’s voice, calling out to him ("taoag” means to call, in the native language). He tracked down the voice to a Lady with a rosary and a child, atop a cloud hovering above a tree. He quickly recognized this beautiful apparition as that of our Blessed Virgin Mary with the Christ Child.

On the spot where our Lady appeared, a chapel was built. Here, devotion grew and wondrous miracles were reported. One of the earliest account was the saving of the church and the people from a fire set by pagan pillagers who swooped down on the town. This miracle was repeated during World War II when the shrine of Our Lady of Manaoag remained unscathed even after bombs were dropped onto the roof of the church by Japanese planes.

The Marian image was canonically crowned on 21 April 1926 by the Papal Nuncio, the official emissary of His Holiness Pope Pius XI.

Both the images of Our Lady and the Christ Child have ivory heads and hands which are now lined with age. The Virgin herself owns gem-encrusted crowns donated by mostly Filipino devotees living here and abroad. It is enshrined on the altar behind bullet-proof glass. Pilgrims and devotees can venerate the Virgin by ascending a second-floor landing that allows them to touch the her holy vestments from the back.

The Shrine of Our Lady of Manaoag continues to be one of the most popular pilgrimage destinations. It also houses a shrine museum and a souvenir religious shop. Regular dawn processions are held every first Saturday of the month. Her feast day is on the 3rd Wednesday after Easter while its universal feast day (as Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary) is observed on the first Sunday of October.


I first learned about the image of Sta. Salome from my sister-in-law, Lulu Castro (nee Segovia), who, upon seeing my growing collection of processional santos, told me of their own special image that had been with their family for generations. It is that of Sta. Maria Salome, one of the holy women who were present at the Crucifixion of Jesus, and who later came to clean His tomb.

There are many versions of Salome’s history. It is said that she may have either been the younger sister or a cousin of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It can be said with greater certainty that she is the wife of Zebedee and the mother of the two apostles, John and James the Greater.

Traditionally, Sta. Salome holds a whisk broom. But in many places in the Philippines, she is also identified with Sta. Maria Cleofas, wife of Cleophas and mother of James the Less—who is depicted as swinging a censer. To complicate the situation even more, another Mary—Sta. Maria Jacobe—appears in Holy Week processions holding an incense boat. This has resulted in the transpositions of the three Marys’ attributes, and it is not uncommon to see a Salome image holding a censer and a Jacobe wielding a broom.

Which is why, when my sister-in-law recalled that their image once held a silver broom, I unknowingly corrected her—that what they have all along was, in fact, a Sta. Maria Cleofas, not a Salome. Of course, now that I know more, I also know better.

The story behind the Sta. Salome image of the Segovia family began in far-away Cadiz, in the island of Negros. The current owner of the image, Federico "Papang" Segovia Jr., had a great grandmother, whose name had long ago been forgotten, who bore a son who turned out to be very sickly. As a panata (vow), Papang’s lola promised to sweep the churchyard clean if her son got well from his many maladies. He did, and so the old lady not only kept her promise, but also had an image carved in the likeness of Sta. Salome, who kept Jesus’ tomb clean with a broom. She had this image processioned for many years, in gratitude for her answered prayers. The sickly son grew up to become a priest--Fr. Roman Segovia.

The image stands 51 inches tall, and was meant to be born on an anda. The face is lean and narrow, expressing quiet sadness with its half-opened mouth showing teeth and large sorrowful eyes. The nose is straight and long, with deeply-carved nostrils, while the neck had rings—minute details that are a sign of a carver’s remarkable skill.

The manikin-type body, while not as finely finished, is interestingly carved. There are portions in the back and lower torso where the wood was hollowed out—to keep the image light and easy to carry. The image stands on a simple , flat base with serrated trims, to be attached to the top of a presumably, more ornate anda. A silver broom, now lost, and a plain, stick-in halo (payong) were the only accessories of this family santa.

The image stayed in Cadiz, until the two old maid sisters of Papang's father, Federico Segovia Sr., took the image and brought it to Guimaras, Iloilo, where some family members relocated. Federico Sr. bequeathed the image to his son, Papang, and stayed in his care.The family image stayed in Iloilo, until it was retired when the processions ceased.

How Sta. Salome came to Pampanga was another fascinating story. When Papang Segovia joined the military, he rose to become a sergeant and was given provincial assignments and Angeles, Pampanga became his destination in the late 1950s. Fearing that with his absence, no one in the family could take care of Sta. Salome anymore, he decided to bring the image with him to Angeles. He dismantled the image and stowed the pieces in different suitcases, sailing to Manila with his dismembered family treasure in tow. From Manila, the image traveled with him to Angeles.

Angeles was one of the hot seats of the Huk movement then, a honky-tonk town with a reputation for terror and violence. But with the family protector with him, Papang felt safe in a strange new place. He would eventually meet and marry Imang Liling, a photographic model, and settled permanently in the city to raise a family of two boys and one girl—Lulu, my sister-in-law.

For over forty years, Sta. Salome was stored in its own urna in the utility room of the Segovia village residence in Angeles. Though hidden, it was never forgotten; people from Iloilo who made occasional visits to Angeles would ask every now and then about the santa’s whereabouts, not knowing it was safe and secure with the Segovias.

It was only a few years ago that I managed to see Sta. Salome up close. Her beauty was still discernible under thick layers of encarna and sloppy paint work which rendered her face, a chalky white. A finger had broken and some of the trims on the base had fallen off. Her frayed old abaca wig and tattered vestments were also in danger of disintegrating, and a replacement tin halo was not appropriate to this incredible, antique piece. I knew it was time for Sta. Salome to have a major and complete make-over.

It was easy convincing Lulu to have their family heirloom restored. After all, she was next in line to inherit the image. In Dec. 2007, she secured the image, and I turned it over to Pampanga’s leading ecclesiastical artist, Tom Joven, for restoration. It was a project that would take many months of painstaking restoration, beginning with the tedious process of stripping the layers of paint accumulated through the years--all by hand. In Salome’s case, she had over 3 layers of paint, and as each layer was removed, the finer details of the carving appeared.

Suddenly, the contour of her nose (which I initially thought was rather big), took on a more natural, refined line. Her facial features—her cheekbones, jowl lines, lips and teeth—became more clearly defined. Tom opted to use lightened natural skin tone for the face, as opposed to the whitish encarna of before. He likewise changed the arch of the brows to give it a sadder, more expressive look.

Here’s a before-and-after look of the Sta. Salome:

Bewigged with long, deep-brown colored curls and adorned with an antique rhinestone tiara, the restored Sta. Salome looked very lovely indeed. The pale, creamy colored complexion that is true to the period, suits her very well.

The new vestments, commissioned from Plumaria of Jerome de Jesus were another work of art in themselves. The mix of colors are very contemporary—sky blue for the cape, maroon for the skirt, cream for the bodice, gold for the edgings—but provide a contrast to the traditional styling that included even the mandatory embroidery, all done by machine.

Now all Sta. Salome needs is a broom and a halo—and she’s on her way to joining a Holy Week procession, perhaps next year! In the meanwhile, the Segovia Family are happy to have their heirloom family image back, in her restored glory.

I, too, was totally surprised at her incredible transformation-- Sta. Salome looked like a different Santa altogether. When I finally came to see and fetch her after months of anxious waiting, you could say the all-new Sta. Salome really swept my breath away!

Credits: Restoration/Encarna/Woodwork by Thom Joven, Vestments by Jerome de Jesus of Plumaria, Wig by Bella Francisco, Brassworks by Jeric.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011


Featured on this page are heirloom images of prominent families from the city of Zamboanga, many of which are still being processioned during the annual Semana Santa rites, following age-old colonial traditions.

(PHOTO CREDITS: All photos from "ZAMBOANGA HERMOSA: Memories of the Old Town" by Antonio E. Orendain II ed., Manila: Vera Reyes, 1984. Edited for this blog)

Sunday, May 8, 2011


by John Michael V. Santos

The Virgin Mary, under the nomenclature "La Virgen del Pilar", appeared to Saint James the Greater on the year 40 beside the River Ebro in Zaragoza, Spain. The Virgin, who was then living in the Holy Land, was transported by angels to console the apostle in his hour of distress. The apostle was gravely saddened by the results of his labors in evangelizing the locals to the Church of Christ. The Mother of God appeared to him atop a jasper pillar which was carried by Angels. She ordered James to construct a Church in her honor which will house the Pillar.

Then and there, the Virgin promised the apostle that "The Pillar will stand from this moment until the end of time in order that God may work miracles and wonders through my intercession for all those who place themselves under my patronage". She then left leaving an image of herself atop the jasper pillar. Saint James constructed a church which was and still is under the patronage of Santa Maria del Pilar. The church was then built and Our Lady remained true to her words because the people started to believe the apostle and the good news of salvation that he brought with him.

The Virgin of the Pillar is hailed as the Reina y Madre de la Hispanidad (Queen and Mother of Spanish Culture) because on the 12th of October, 1492 (The Virgin's feast) Christopher Columbus discovered the New World to which the faith of Christ as well as the Spanish language would spread. Spain brought the devotion to its colonies, including the Philippines, and today, Our Lady of the Pillar has important shrines at the Sta. Cruz Church in Manila as well as in Zamboanga City.

In 2007, I finally decided to fulfill my dream, the dream of having our family’s own virgin, I did not foresee that realizing this dream would not be an easy road, that the seemingly simple decision to commission an image would also be a test of my faith in God and my devotion to His Mother. I chose the title Nuestra Senora del Pilar for it is the First Catholic Marian advocation and my grandmother's namesake whose birthday falls on the 11th of October, a day before the Virgin's feast.

I then commissioned the Virgen del Pilar from a famous sculptor in the Metropolis. Months and months passed but the Virgin's condition improvement was not as it was planned. I got broke by going to their atelier almost every week just to make sure that the Virgin will be finished in the soonest possible time. After a year, I decided to cancel the project for I could no longer afford to incur more losses.

I then sought the help of Philippines' leading Ecclesiastical Art Restorer, Thomas Joven for the continuation of the project which i thought, at that time, was a broken dream. Fortunately, my mentor and friend gladly accepted the job.

After a few months of conceptualization and careful execution, the Virgen came out vibrant and triumphant in an ensemble by Jerome de Jesus and his dynamic team from Plumaria Sacred Vestments.

Our family image, of hardy gemelina wood, is all of two feet, and stands on a cloud base 10 cm. tall and, which in turn, rests on a pillar 40 cm. high.

The image was solemnly blessed by Rev. Fr. Cesar Macariola, Parochial Vicar of San Juan Nepomuceno Parish in Malibay, on the 29th of May 2011 in the Valenzuela Residence.