Sunday, October 16, 2011


About three years ago, I purchased this head of Christ from ebay posted by a Cebu-based dealer. It is an Agony in the Garden Christ, and it bears its original encarna, miraculously spared from termite attack which has eaten part of the paint.

As was the practice of many santo sellers who want to maximize their profits, the santo parts (head, right and left hand) had been broken up for sale separately. After several listings, only the left hand found a willing buyer; the Agony Christ and his right had went unsold.

When the price was further reduced and still remained bid-less, I contacted the dealer who agreed to sell the head and the right hand to me. I had planned to convert it into a Paciencia, the solitary figure of a seated Christ with bound hands, crowned and holding a reed scepter. I once had a processional santo of the Paciencia which many found too dark, gory and scary (it was kept in my living room); so, with a tinge of regret, I traded it for an antique Dolorosa. Now I want to have another one—and this Agony Christ is a perfect alternative.

The wooden head is medium size, just about 7 inches--under 10 inches including the neck. The head is finely carved, the nose long and lean, the parted beard not so detailed. The well-shaped lips frame the slit-like mouth that is slightly open and carved deeply.

The Agony Christ is outfitted with glass eyes that are looking up, with much of the white of the eye showing. The encarna reveals several paint layers, but the outermost shows a pale white skin cast. What I though to be a streak of blood emanating from one eye turned out to be discoloration caused by termite infestation. Fortunately, the heavy wood seemed impervious to insect damage.

I was already planning for the conversion of the Agony head into a Paciencia when, on ebay, I chanced upon this beautiful and expressive bust of Christ. I’ve never seen anything so sad and soulful, capturing Christ’s lonely pain and anguish, even without showing his battered body.

“Cristo Busto”, was how this representation of Christ was known, and I would see a similar ones again offered online. But the best-looking example that I ever saw was in the home of Pampanga’s eminent restorer, Mr. Thomas Joven. In his home, he kept an exquisite antique “Cristo Busto” in a glass case, rescued from the home of the old Malig Family during the height of the Pinatubo devastation of Bacolor.

Here, Christ meekly submits to his fate, his head tilted down, but with his pain-stricken eyes looking upward. Silver potencias crown his head, and likewise, a silver chain is strapped around his bruised neck. Circular drops of blood mark his face, dripping all the way down to his beaten body. It is a dramatic, compelling figure—and at that point, I decided to have a “Cristo Busto” instead.

To put a half-body on my Agony Christ head (Goodbye, right hand!), I, of course, went to the Apalit master santero -- Nick Lugue, no less. It’s a no-brainer work actually, but I was still interested in following up his work on the busto. He also fashioned a simple base on which the bust would be affixed. After a few weeks, it looked like this:

Then, he applied the initial gesso on the body, and the busto took on a more complete form. I was excited about the outcome that I simulated the final product by fitting a previously ordered kapok wig on the head and even placed borrowed potencias. My plan then was just to have Nick paint the Christ and proceed to give it a simple encarna, keeping the whitish complexion of the santo---that’s it, project finished.

But the image of the “Cristo Busto” I saw at Tom’s place kept haunting me. After some thought, I decided to bring the unfinished image to Tom and see if he could recreate it into something like the Malig busto. That was pretty much my job order, and Tom started fiddling with the image, a tedious process that took many months.

First, he decided to detach the busto from the plain base and then had the shoulders contoured so they won’t slope that much. Next, came the meticulous and time-consuming removal of encarna layers on the antique image. Day after day, Tom flaked off layers and layers of paint until the head was stripped all the way down to the wood:

Next, came the re-encarna, another critical process, which starts with priming the image with a coat of gesso, and then painting the head with oils. This is where the expertise of the encarnador comes in, as this entails precision (mixing of the proper desired flesh color and tint), control and personal style.

In this particular project, Tom painted the complexion of Christ with a delicate, muted pinkish tone, which I also prefer. Two large bruises cover his chest, accentuated in crimson. Christ is sweating deep red blood droplets, painted distinctively like dots with fine bloody trails. The overall result was amazing!

There's still much work to be done on this Cristo Busto, whose incredible transformation began almost a year ago. Christ will be given a new cape, and a chain with bambalinas for his neck. The base will be decorated with carved trims and painted.

When my Cristo Busto is finished, it will be placed inside a simple, front opening glass panelled antique urna which I have been saving for this project. When done, it will certainly be a bust to behold.


By Oscar A. Macanan Jr. 2bU! Correspondent
(This article was originally published on PDI)

It’s true that most of us look forward to Holy Week spent under the sun in a beach resort somewhere. But if I were given the option on how and where to spend my vacation, it would be always to recharge my spirituality by attending a traditional Filipino prusisyon, and, of course, to spend it with my family.

Unlike your regular urbanite who’s out for a good time on a religious weekend, this party person heads out to his mom’s hometown of Calumpit, located just a few kilometers from Bulacan’s capital of Malolos. Each visit to this quiet, rural town by the river brings out memories of pure nostalgia. In short, nothing but good memories that have left me with a happy and contented childhood to remember: delicious foods like garlic-laden pork longganisa; loud and spirited family get-togethers at my lola’s house; and of course, the traditional Good Friday procession that has been part of the town’s proud history.

The prusisyon is an annual event that brings together several karosa that display scenes from the Passion and Death of Christ. While majority of the townsfolk are reduced to mere observers during the event itself, our family has played the active role of preparing a karosa that will take part in the procession.

The tie that binds.
The whole can usually spends a good part of the weekend preparing for Prusisyon. The “Poon”, an antique statue showing Christ after He had been taken down from the Cross and prepared for burial, is removed from its wooden shrine. This priceless heirloom has been with my mom’s family for generations. An equally antique, glass-paned wooden shrine has served as the statue’s keeping place and the carriage’s main body.

It’s one of the few occasions that my lola’s home would come alive with so much activity. Every year, my cousins take out and sort the artificial flowers to be used for decorations. After a year of spending time stored in boxes, the flowers are cleaned and inspected for defects, then hanged in wires placed in the middle of the house’s great living area.

I would always help my dad placing the lamps that would light the carriage carrying the Poon. I would check out the electrical wiring that runs along the shrine’s crevices. After making sure everything is in order, my cousins and my tito would usually help place the other lights.

The family affair doesn’t end in the busy living room, though. The kitchen plays witness to the family’s chef extraordinaire (mom and all my titas), whipping up huge batches of homecooked cuisine that would put my self-respecting restaurant to shame.

I would always indulge myself in hefty servings of rellenong bangus, lapu-lapu and pancit that are on the table. If I’m lucky enough though, maybe my cousins have left me some puto, kutsinta or sapin-sapin. I would wash them down with fresh fruit juice for dessert. Sometimes, I would find out that there’s still room for a cup or two of refreshing halo-halo.

The Friday rush.
Spending overnight out of the city seems to nudge everyone to be up and awake for anther busy Good Friday. A hearty breakfast courtesy of the family’s culinary masters perks everyone up for the big day ahead. It’s about 6 a.m. right now, and everyone has until noon to finish the carriage in time for the afternoon procession.

Good Friday morning here starts like this every year. Every able-bodied male in the family and the surrounding neighborhood would come and help lift the carriage’s body in the living room, carefully moving it through the second-floor window, and then carry the thing on top of the carriage’s under belly which houses the wheels. Everyone, including some friends and neighbors, get into this proud moment of the classic bayanihan spirit we Filipinos are well known for.

From that moment on , the seemingly frantic activity of fixing up the karosa spills out from the living room and into the streets.

Most of the work involves cutting up bamboo into thin sticks. This would later be nailed and formed into the undercarriage to form a frame holding the multi-layered mantle that serves as its cover.

Most of my titos would use nails and industrial staples to arrange the flowers along the carriage’s narra body. The theme behind the decoration was formed the night before, after much brainstorming among the elders of the family. Plastic strings secure the bamboo.

After the elaborate flora has been placed around the carriage, metal wires would be used to hold the electrical tubing gripping the outer lamps. The lighting itself has been designed to be both decorative and practical: the bulbs are covered by black velvet shades that symbolize the tragedy that was Christ’s death. The golden lining that serves as the lampshade’s lone design, on the other hand, tells of Christ’s victory over death on Easter Sunday. Snack would be bought down at regular intervals for the hungry laborers. After all, it takes hundreds of flowers, more than a dozen technical lightings, and hearts of gold to make this year’s karo special.

A full moon night.
Later in the afternoon, the local townsfolk would head to Calumpit’s lone parish church. They would attend the 3 p.m. Mass. About that time, too, everyone will dress up for the procession.

At this time, every carriage that’s going to join the procession would be ready. Like our family ‘s karosa, they would be adorned with fresh flowers and lamps lighted by gasoline-fed electric generators.

The church bells are rung to signal the end of the Mass. That’s when 12 of the town’s men, symbolizing the Apostles, are given the task of pulling the carriage that contains Christ’s body. The procession itself would start from the parish grounds, with carriages from other household leaving at regular intervals.

Every carriage has its own act to follow, a piece of the story depicting Christ’s suffering and death. Familiar scenes like Jesus carrying the Cross on His way to Calvary, one of the wailing women of Jerusalem holding up the cloth bearing the image of the suffering Christ, and the Crucifixion animate the darkness of night.

The procession itself goes on without a hitch. Everybody in this town has come out wearing his or her Sunday best to join the procession. Those who have chosen to stay in their homes the whole town isn’t left out either. Houses that line the procession’s path are dotted with people holding up lighted candles. Laity unite with the religious in reciting the rosary. Men, women and children cling to each carriage’s side to help it move along.

Imposing sight
In streets where electrical lighting is impossible, the faithful on both sides of the path provide observers a wave of flowing, living fire with their candles—an imposing sight with the numerous balete trees in the background. And did I mention a full moon that’s made even brighter by the absence of glaring city lights?

Sad to say, the serenity of the whole thing breaks up just as when the procession nears the church again. Toward the end, a mob has started to form around the carriages containing the fresh flowers. People would push to gain position to reach and grab the flowers that adorn the carriages.

We would try to protect the carriage from the wave of humanity that tries to push the karo. Under a temporary blanket of protection given by local police acting as security, I would help my cousins remove lamps and light bulbs that may be damaged during the foray.

People hold on to the flowers as a souvenir of the procession. Local folks say the flowers hold healing powers and protect the owners from harm, like some kind of an amulet.

With the crowd thinning, everyone in the family helps carry the Poon to the church’s altar. It’s inside the church that Christ would spend the night. In here, devotees from near and far would come and pay their respects, if not relive sacred history.

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Tuesday, October 11, 2011


Every last Sunday of January, nowhere is the devotion of the Sto. Nino more felt than in Malolos, the capital city of Bulacan Province in Central Philippines. The nationally-renown festivities start with a grand exhibit of "Santo Niño" (Holy Child) and ends in an evening procession of titled Santo Niños, antique and new, led by the Santo Niño de Malolos, the patron saint of the city. The central Niño figure is made of precious antique ivory and is a heirloom piece of the Tantoco Family (Dr. Angel and Leonor Tantoco).

The Santo Niño celebration of Malolos started in the 70s with a handful of devotees who processioned their images of the Christ Child to honor His feast day. Since then, it has grown into a national event, with the Santo Niño Exhibit at the historic Barasoain Church as one of the main highlights. The Grand Procession of Sto. Niños, for instance, drew a record number of about 130 carrozas (decorative floats) in the 2009 edition. The Sto. Nino de Malolos Foundation Inc., now organizes and runs the event while implementing their noteworthy charity and advocacy projects.

Featured here is a selection of Niños that participated in the early years of the annual Santo Niño Fiesta of Malolos, Bulacan.

Sunday, October 9, 2011


by Marc E. Gaba (From "Town and Country", Dec. 2006 issue)

Like Orpheus, the walled City of Intramuros was, after her time, a torn body. For three centuries after it was built in 1571, the 160-acre, 51-block fortress housed the powers of political and military acumen, secured fortunes, and with more than 10 churches tolling their bells at defined hours, the seat of religious persuasion.

But the bombs of World War II turned Intramuros into a dust heap. In time, the fortress city's traditions adjusted to the architectures that rose after its devastation, which also had the effect of marginalizing the centuries-old religious ritual of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception on December 8.

The war put an end to the feast in 1945; but in 1954, President Ramon Magsaysay led the first postwar Marian procession, which assembled some 60 images of the Blessed Virgin. It would, however, take more than 2 decades to restore the splendor of both Intramuros and the elaborate December feast.

When, in 1978, construction began where the palace of the Spanish Governor General on Plaza de Roma once stood, it was clear to watchers that the amnesia of commercialism had taken over the important, palpable absence of the old.

"They had lost the community spirit in Manila", says cultural historian Jaime Laya, who was part of the presidential cabinet of the time. Out of his own sense of alaram and initiative, he was appointed by-then President Ferdinand Marcos to rebuild the city by heading the Intramuros Administration. Its mandate was simple: "To make Intramuros live again".

The simplicity of the mandate belies the delicate intricacy of the task, because reviving Intramuros entailed the revival of its religious traditions--at a time when the country had achieved, at least in principle, the separation of the Church and the State. The new Intramuros would need to resurrect its tradition of religious processions, and it must be true to form.

Says art patron Ado Escudero, who was invited to join the Intramuros Administration at its inception, "in the old days (before the war), the processions included a military contingent. It was a military procession".

Of course, political fortunes had by then shifted. The country was emerging from the tight grip of Martial law, and as Escudero puts it, "Time came when the people had become 'allergic' to the military--both the ordinary people and the clergy". In high biblical fashion, being stoned was a concern. "Eve Archbishop Jaime Cardinal Sin was very suspicious. In the beginning, he didn't want to join the porcession".

Finding a Hermana Mayor-- a distinguished organizer was simple enough: Mrs. Imelda Marcos welcomed the invitation and sent her daughter Irene. A talk with general Romeo Espino solved the problem of military involvement; the army would wear civilian clothes. Then the major obstacle presented itself.

"The walls were almost finished", Escudero says, "and sure, we were rebuilding examples of old houses in Intramuros, but the religious devotion and traditions have already left those walls for elsewhere". The procession, in short, had no image of the Blessed Virgin. "I told Jaime Laya that we should go look for (an image's) head and hands".

Philanthropist Imelda Conjuangco, on the other hand, has been a devotee of the Blessed Virgin since her early childhood-- a devotion Cojuangco believes has kept her safe and given her countless blessings. She recalls, "When I got sick in 2005, she made me feel I was special, that I am special, because I did not suffer. Some doctors predicted that I would never get out of the hospital alive, but I did not feel anything at all. I did not feel I was dying".

In 1980, she was asked to be the Second Hermana of the procession. "That first time", she says, "I fell in love. So when I was asked to be a Hermana Mayor in 1981, I was told it would be nice if we could start a Cofradia., a congregation of devotees to our Lady. So that was exactly what I did".

So began the Cofradia de la Immaculada Concepcion, the moving soirit of the procession. danilo Dolor, businessman and cultural activist, and the Cofradia's current vice chairman, notes that the early members of the Cofradia were the Blue Ladies, the name given to the then-First lady Imelda Marcos's circle of friends. However, Cojuangco says, "the organization is not a social club or a society organization. It is a group of devotees of the Virgin Mary. We have recollections and pilgrimages. It's not a high-society thing".

Each year, the Cofradia visits imprisoned women and sponsors the intriduction of 500 children from depressed areas to the Eucharist, apart from several other charitable--and unsung--activities. "The most important thing", Dolor says of the Cofradia, "is that we are canonically recognized by the archdiocese as a maria organization. It may not be officially sanctioned by the Cathedral, but there's a degree of recognition that we receive from the archdiocese".

Cojuangco names the Cofradia as her dearest cause. Asked where she keeps her Virgin, she says with authority and delight: "In my room".

"My Vrgin has a beautiful face", she says. "I talk to her, I thank her for the day, and I walways admire her. When the lights are on, she always seems to be smiling. And when I feel that I have been naughty", she says, "she doesn't smile".

Cojuangco, whose frail health has kept her from watching the entire porcession since 2005, recalls, "The people were just eager to show off their Virgins. They dress her up. You know, during the procession, you would think that our ladu is a (fashion) model. She would be so radiant".

Three-storied or columned, canopied or boat-shaped, the carrozas--floats on which images of the Lady stand--are islands of silver at dusk. From the candles, bulbs, light pools around the emblems carved on the carroza's silver panels, then shines up to touch the Virgin's face. Light falls on the flowers around her, bouquets and garlands of them, flowers chosen to match her brocaded garments. "It's always a beautiful affair every year", Cojuangco says, "I always think that the previous procession is beautiful, but it gets more beautiful as the years go by".

Although nuanced differently, Laya, Escudero and Dolor affirm their insistence on the procession's traditional character. Referring to mechanized images that evoke figures seen at theme park rides, Dolor says, "We want none of those fancy moving objects". "We want the old devotion", Escudero intones.

"The procession," Laya says, "has several implications. It can encourage devotion to family life. In that sense, it helps reinforce traditional values. It's part of our culture. It helps make Filipinos different. I think Filipinos are always looking for something to be proud of.

When its revival began, the procession had eight carrozas; today it includes 80, and attendance to it is constantly rising. Te Laguna town of Pakil shuts down for a day, and with four bands, Pakil enters Intramuros to participate. One group hands out native Filipino delicacies as they go. This unautocartic call to prayer is heeded joyfully.

It's a river of energy, flooding down the cobblestone streets of Intramuros--a living rope of pageantry and prayer. or, perhaps, a necklace for a country gifted with so much history. As the carrozas leave Manila Cathedral. it would seem that the heavens are loosening up as doves, pigeons and airplanes fly above the reconstructed city, and the jewels of 80 images of the Blessed Virgin shine.

"Can you imagine going there and stopping the procession?", asks Escudero. "When it's time to celebrate, you cannot argue with the townspeople".

84. RETRO-SANTO: Our Lady of Atonement, Baguio City

The Cathedral of Our Lady of Atonement (Baguio Cathedral) was built thru the efforts of the CICM
(Congregacio Immaculati Cordis Marriae) missionaries who started it all when they arrived in the resort city on 16 November 1907: Rev. Fr. Oktaaf Vandelwalle, Fr. Serafin Devesse and Fr. Henry Verbeck.

Their first mission was to build a chapel on the house of a retired treasurer along Session Road, and thus, the beginnings of the Baguio Cathedral came to be in 1908.
The chapel was dedicated to St. Patrick.

By 1919, a campaign for the construction of the “Church on top of the hill”, known as Mount Mary, began. An architect-priest, Rev. Fr. Leo Valdemans, drafted the design of Cathedral plan, which were ably executed by
Fr. Adolph Cansse, a civil engineer, with the help of 25 Igorot carpenters.

In 1924, the twin towers of the Cathedral were built and 4 bells from Belgium were installed. The Cathedral has a distinctive rose-colored exterior and served as an evacuation center during the Japanese Occupation of the Philippines in World War II, having survived the carpet-bombing of Baguio in 1945.

The image of Our Lady of Atonement rests in the cathedral. In the beautiful representations of Mary under this title, she wears a red mantle, symbolizing the Precious Blood of which she was the Immaculate source, and by which she was made immaculate. It was by the shedding of this most precious blood that the redemption of the world was accomplished. She wears a blue inner tunic, and she holds the infant Jesus in her arms. The Child Jesus is depicted holding a cross, the symbol of His suffering and glory. Her Feast Day: July 9

Let us pray. O God, who didst deign that we, thy children, should invoke our Mother Mary under the title of Our Lady of the Atonement; grant that through her powerful intercession we may obtain the fullness of thy blessings; through thy Son our Savior Jesus Christ, who liveth and reigneth with thee in the unity of the Holy Ghost ever, one God, world without end. Amen.