Tuesday, December 18, 2012

132. Private Devotions: CRISTO REDENTOR of Familia Llacer-Teotico


A rarely-seen representation of Christ the Redeemer (Cristo Redentor) in a standing position, holding a cross, owned by the Llacer-Teotico family. It is possible that the Teotico side of the family is related to the acclaimed multi-awarded sculptor from Sta. Cruz, Manila, Domingo Teotico. He had a religious statuary shop along Palma St. in Quiapo.

Christ the Redeemer is carved in the round, and stands on a magnificent cloud base adorned with 4 cherubs. The plain cross he holds in His left hand stands out from the classically-carved image dressed in white robes wth decorative gilding on the edges. The other hand is raised in benediction. Normally, the exposed heart is not part of the iconography of Christ the Redeemer, but the sculptor probably took creative license and carved the sacred heart in relief.The most iconic image of Christ as the redeemer of the world is the giant marble statue in Brazil, which today is recognized as one of the world's seven wonders.

Christ is the world’s Redeemer, 
The lover of the pure, 
The font of heavenly wisdom, 
Our trust and hope secure, 
The armor of his soldiers 
The Lord of earth and sky, 
Our health while we are living, 
Our life when we shall die.

(--attributed to St. Columba)

Tuesday, December 4, 2012


Before a Filipino santo online dealer fell from the good graces of ebay (he failed to honor legitimate winning bids of buyers, myself included, resulting in 18 negative feedbacks in one month), I was able to get this antique, 8-inch Niño of heavy wood—bald, with peeling paint and glass eyes blackened with age, making him appear pupil-less and eerily blind. The Child Jesus, in a semi-standing position with legs slightly bent at the knees, has his right hand raised in blessing. This arm was threatening to separate from the rest of his body, but other than that, all parts were intact, including his fingers.

 At first, I thought this must have been detached from either a Virgin Mary or a St. Anthony figure—except that the position of the legs, which are almost upright, does not indicate that he was seated. The back showed no hole from where a peg is often placed to secure it to the main image; instead, the Niño’s bottom has a small hole where a peg could be inserted to make Him stand. In fact, it came to me mounted this way.

I have seen standing Niños atop the book held by San Antonio, but this image is too heavy to be put in such a precarious position. It could not also be a Dormido--a sleeping Jesus-- for its eyes are wide open. I could only surmise that this is a small Salvador del Mundo in a lying down position. Besides, the soles of the feet were not carved flat, so he could not have possibly stood on a peaña; the hole in his bottom could have been used to hold him upright during the painting process.

 Done with my conjectures, I brought the Niño to Nick Lugue as a ‘finish-when-you-can-minor project’ alongside my more important commissions. It took awhile to have the small image repaired and repainted, but I was in no real rush, as I haven’t figured out what to do with it.

In the meanwhile, I found an embroidered strip of cloth from an old Dominican santo vestment, so I saved that for the Niño as I thought it would make a perfect tapiz. Putting my limited sewing skills to use, I managed to make the strip into a decent wrap-around for the Niño. Then it went into storage in a cardboard box for a months, as I was kept busy with my Mother’s lingering illness.

A week ago, I decided to skip lunch and check out Manila’s antique shops. Antique-hunting has a way of lifting me out of my depression, even if the effect is just temporary. It was at Padre Faura, at the shop of Floy Quintos, that I found this small, antique tiara encrusted with paste jewels, and engraved with the name of its previous owner, “Maria Purtran Hermana, Enero 6, 1924-1925”. I thought of my Niño, momentarily forgotten in a cardboard box stowed inside my book cabinet. I bought the tiara, vowing to complete my Niño project this weekend.

Saturday afternoon, I took out the Niño and started putting things together, outfitting it with a wig, a leftover from another project, and a necklace made from tiny old beads. The antique tiara was a bit big for his head, but a slight adjustment solved the problem. This was the result:

The last step was finding the right size urna for my restored Salvador del Mundo—or whatever Child was this-- and thank God, I had one in stock. You’ll never know when you need one.

So, there. Maybe I’ll put mother-of-pearl flowers when I find some, but in the meanwhile, you can consider this project successfully done and finished!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012


Sunday is not exactly the ideal day to go antique-hunting in Ermita---most shops are closed—but since I have not gone to Manila in ages, I decided to go there one hot weekend afternoon, just to take in the sights and sounds of its streets that I have come to miss.

My aimless wandering took me to Mabini, Manila’s once-upon-a-time antique strip, that now only has a few crappy art galleries and curio shops to show. Surprisingly, Sieva’s Antique Shop past Padre Faura was open, and other than a hideous ivory santa masquerading as an antique on his front window, the crumbling shop yielded nothing. This premiere dealer of the 70s and 80s sure has really fallen on hard times—I peeked inside while he was deep in negotiation with a runner who was showing him some commonplace ceramic plates. On his near-empty shelf, I could see Coke collectibles, kitsch figurines, coins,postcards, pieces of jewelry, and that’s it.

Across the street, Nelly Enriquez’s shop has also been wiped clean due to the renovation of the building. There used to be a next door art gallery that had a stock of vintage paintings   that I often checked out; now that’s gone too.

At Padre Faura Shopping Mall, I had more luck. The shop of this Englishman dealer who has made Manila his home was open, so I snuck in to check the gazillion items there, arranged haphazardly, new, old, vintage, ethnic, moderne, etc. etc. In the end, I picked a strand of old colored beads. Floy Quintos’ Deus was closed but thank God for glass panelling! I peered through and I could make out some ivory images, a San Roque, I think. It was really sweltering so I headed next to M. H. del Pilar.

Arquiza Trade Center is on this street; it used to have  quite a number of antique shops upstairs, now all gone. I peeked at the shop of my suki, Ate Baby Urbano of Ruth-Cel Antiques, but it seemed her stock had not moved or changed one bit since my last visit.

I went farther down the road where I found a row of “antique shops“ fronting a seedy hotel. All the shops were closed, so I could only do window shopping. The shops carried mostly Orientalia--plates, jars, figurines, vases—all screaming 21st century. Others had ethnic stuff, obviously made just yesterday.

When I looked through the glass window of “Maynila Arts & Antiques”, I saw on a table,  a naked santo in a virina—it seemed like it was a San Jose, but I could not be sure if it was either ivory or bone. My heart skipped a bit, but all I could do was to get the shop’s contact number posted on the door, take a cab home and wait for Monday.

The next day, I called up the shop and a pleasant-voiced woman answered my questions regarding the santo. She said it was of ivory and that the price tag was so-and-so thousand, inclusive of the virina. Well, I said, I can’t be too sure about that, I really have to see the piece. The next day, on our lunch break, I made a quick trip back to the M.H. Del Pilar shop to see the santo up close.

It was a San Jose alright, but the carving was a bit folksy--still fine with me. The body, too, looked original to the piece. This is a low-end ivory piece, further evidenced by the base which was carved with shallow details. The face was a mask, and it was stained with some red gunk—hence it was hard to figure out the material. I was convinced that I could do better with this ivory and made an offer. She immediately renegotiated , but since I was so good in playing hard to get, I put her on a cliffhanger and took my leave.

Usually, I would let myself simmer for a few hours and see if my initial enthusiasm and interest would wane. It did not. Besides, after doing some pencil pushing, I though the price tag was fair enough. Why, even an antique dealer friend I consulted put an estimated value of about 35-40K for the whole ensemble. 

I made a final attempt to renegotiate, but the dealer was firm. So I tried again  for a value-added service: can she make a FREE delivery to my office? The answer was a resounding yes. A deal was struck and in two hours, she had my moolah, and I had my San Jose—complete with a base, a virina and a bonus—his tattered embroidered vestments wrapped in plastic. 

When I got home, the first thing I did was to clean the defaced santo’s head that was heavily stained. I used everything from cotton buds to a scraping knife, Windex and dishwashing liquid to clean the head, which revealed the material to be—ivory! And the face wasn’t as folk-looking as I expected it to be.

I did some minor touch-ups to the santo body, even painting on sandals on the wooden feet. I had some old santo vestments left over from my projects, so I thought of dressing up my San Jose. The violet robe was from an old tabletop Dolorosa and the yellow cape was from a San Juan, so the result was not exactly pleasing (the vestment was too short). The santo was thus immediately whisked off to my restorer, Dr. Raffy Lopez.


Raffy confirmed that the piece was indeed, ivory, and that I was lucky to get this santo that, though not perfect, was relatively complete. After choosing the colors of the vestments, I left the santo with him, twiddled my thumbs and waited for two and a half weeks. Then, it was time to go pick up my San Jose, and the final outcome looked like this:

My budget-friendly, newly restored ivory santo looked more expensive and presentable indeed. Everything was retained--from the base that had been given a new gilt, the metal halo, to the vestment embroidery that faithfully copied the original design. A few embroidery patches were salvaged for re-use. A flowered staff and a wig were the only other additions to complete this San Jose.

With a recent find like this, you bet I will never say "Never on Sunday" again.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

129. Long Live the King: EL CRISTO REY

One of the more unusual santos I have seen is this 30 inch, wooden articulated figure representing Christ as King (“El Cristo Rey”). In the Philippines, Christ the King is commonly shown seated on a throne, wearing and holding the attributes of royalty—a tiered crown on his head, an orb on his palm and a scepter.

This Cristo Rey however, which probably dates from the early 60s, was carved in a standing position. One leg stood on the main base, while another is shown stepping forward, mounted on the lower level of the stand. One hand is raised in benediction, the other holds a blue orb. Overall, the santo was in good condition, saved for some facial nicks and dirt, which could be painted over. Missing was the wig and the crown. Surprisingly, the small orb held by the Cristo was carved in wood. The flaming heart was intact as well.

The Cristo, with its glass eyes, has a downcast gaze and quite an amiable expression. I have seen a similar standing statue of Christ the King in Vigan, documented in an old photo:

This became the basis for my santo restoration project, which I assigned to the prodigious Dr. Raffy Lopez. Metalworks were ordered from the workshop of Dodong Azares. It included a 3-tiered brass crown topped with a cross and a scepter.

 I had a deadline to beat—the image was scheduled for shipping to the U.S. as a devotional gift to a nephew, so the restorer and I agreed on a simple vestment consisting of red cape and a white tunic trimmed with simple embroidery on the hems of the sleeves, collar and the tunic itself.

 After 2 and a half weeks, the standing Christ was transformed from ragged to royal -- and was shipped in time to my nephew studying priesthood at the Catholic University of America.

Viva El Cristo Rey!

Tuesday, November 6, 2012


Perhaps, one of the most intriguing and unusual representations of the Virgin Mary is that of Our Lady of the Light. It is an advocation that is very popular in Italy, Portugal and Mexico, under the name “La Madre Santisima de la Luz”. In the Philippines, Nuestra Snra. De la Luz is venerated as the patron of Cainta, Rizal ("Ina ng Kaliwanagan"). But in this depiction, she is more popularly known as “Salvacion”.

What is so extraordinary about this iconography is the fact that it was inspired by a vision of a holy woman in Palermo, Italy in 1722. When my antique dealer called me, he had a hard time describing the image to me. First, the elements of the tableaux have become separated. But once he went on with his description, it became clear that what he had was a rare Salvacion tableaux—which had about 6 separate components. (Think of buying 6 santos for the price of one!)

The main image is that of the Virgin with a blue mantle, carrying Child Jesus in Her arms..

 Overhead, Two Flying Angels hold a crown aloft, ready to be placed on the Virgin’s head. The winged duo were ingeniously stuck into the top of the Virgin’s head with a wire.

To the left, a Kneeling Angel holds a basket of flaming hearts (now missing), as an offering to the Virgin..

To the left, a Man or a Soul is shown, being snatched away by the Virgin…

..from the jaws of Satan, (looking very much like a Garuda's face here) thus giving meaning to her role and title.

The Virgin stands on a horned base (tips of the crescent moon), and on a typical ensaymada cloud base, on which a Cherub rests.

When the tin plaque was found, there was no doubt about the identity of this fine ensemble from Bohol, but bought in Bulacan for a most reasonable price.

 In my entire collecting life, I have only seen possibly less than a dozen Salvacions. I have only 2 in my modest collection, but not as complete as this. The hardwood image, I confirmed later, was of heavy molave. Some week-end whittling and a few hours with wood glue, nails, pegs and paint---and the Salvacion was saved!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

127. Visualizing Sanctity: SAN PEDRO CALUNGSOD by Thom Joven

The country is thrilled to see the courageous teen "beato" raised to the rank of a saint--San Pedro Calungsod--only the second Filipino saint after San Lorenzo Ruiz. San Pedro Calungsod (b.1654 – d. 2 April 1672) was  a young sacristan who worked alongside San Diego Luis de San Vitores and who was martyred  in Guam for preaching Christianity to the Chamorros through catechism.

Beatified on 5 March 2000 by Blessed Pope John Paul II, Calungsod was  canonized by Pope Benedict XVI at Saint Peter's Basilica in Vatican City on 21 October 2012 together with 6 others: Jacques Berthieu, a Jesuit martyr-priest ,Giovanni Battista Piamarta, founder of the Congregation of the Holy Family of Nazareth, Maria Carmen Sallés, founder of the Conceptionists Missionary Sisters of Education; Marianne Cope, a religious who worked among lepers, Kateri Tekakwitha, the first Native American Saint and Anna Shaffer from Germany.
San Pedro Calungsod's most well-known representation is based on a portrait modelled by then 17 year old Ronald Tubid, a basketball player from Iloilo. This same portrait became the basis for artist Rafael del Casal's artwork done in 1999 that was used as the official picture for the canonization rites in Rome. Del Casal's portrait is the first to feature a Christogram, the seal of the Society of Jesus with which San Pedro was associated. Sculptors Francisco dela Victoria and Vicente Gulane (Cebu), Felix Baldemor and Justino Cagayat Jr. ( Paete, Laguna), also created statues of Calungsod in 1997,1999 and 2012, respectively. Most images show the saint wearing a white camisa and trousers, with his characteristic palm, a rosary,a crucifix or a Doctrina Christiana book pressed to his breast.
Pampanga's most accomplished ecclesiatical artist, Thom Joven of Bacolor has also been commissioned by Bishop Angel Lagdameo of Iloilo to execute his santo version of the teen martyr, following his approved iconography. Made by a local carver under his stringent supervision and personally painted using traditional encarnacion technique, San Pedro Calungsod stands all of four feet and bears a strikingly young, lifelike and saintly mien. He pensively looks at an open book of Christian doctrine, with another hand holding a palm branch in brass--his official attributes.

It is impeccable in its simplicity, and appropriately so, for the saint lived a life of austerity and hardship while catechizing in the Marianas. Just like San Lorenzo Ruiz, he is similarly attired in a camisa chino-daily wear for most Filipinos-and a pair of loose, hanging pants. Carved in the round, he is shown unshod, unlike other representations where the saint wears sandals.
Thom Joven is well-known in the santo circle as a leading figure in saving and restoring the altars, niches and wooden saints of San Guillermo Church in Bacolor, heavily damaged by the Pinatubo aftermath. He has likewise worked on the San Vicente de Zaragoza Church, also in his hometown. His prized works and restorations are in private collections and have even reached the Vatican--an image of of Nuestra Sra. de Guia, was chosen by then Pres. GMA and given to  Pope Benedict XVI as a "Gift from the Filipino People". His interpretation of the likeness of San Pedro Calungsod is indeed, a most apt artistic tribute to one who now belongs to the pantheon of saints of the Catholic Church.
FEAST DAY: Celebrated every 2nd day of April, the anniversary of his martyrdom. If the date falls within Holy Week or Easter Week, the feast is observed on the Saturday that immediately precedes Passion/Palm Sunday. If April 2 falls on a Sunday of Lent or on a Sunday of Easter, the feast is celebrated on April 1.

Blessed Pedro Calungsod, young migrant, student, catechist, missionary, faithful, friend, and martyr, you inspire us by your fidelity in time of trial and adversity, by your courage in teaching the Faith in the midst of hostility and by your love in shedding your life’s blood for the sake of the Gospel of Jesus. 

We beg you, make our cares and troubles your own [here mention the special intention you are asking him to bring to the Lord] and intercede for us before the throne of Mercy and Grace, so that as we experience the help of Heaven, we may be encouraged and strengthened to proclaim and live the Gospel here on earth. AMEN. 

 (Imprimatur: Ricardo Cardinal J. Vidal) 


Thursday, October 11, 2012

126. SAN JOSE & STA. MARIA: Santo Shopping on Buy and Sell Free Ads

Before ebay, I had long ago been a fan of Buy and Sell Free Ads, that tabloid size magazine full of classified ads, with long listings of services and products for sale, of the wide and wild variety. My toy collection for instance, was expanded by my purchases of vintage Batman figures, Fischer-Price toys, Mattel dolls and tin lunchboxes, all obtained from advertisers on this paper. One man’s junk, is another man’s joy, so they say, and my joy of the moment happens to be antique santos, a quest that has led me to all sorts of places, from Kamuning shops to cyberspace and to the pages of Buy and Sell Free Ads.

While 95 percent of the items are of no consequence to me, I do pay attention to the listings under “Antiques”, “Collection” and “Arts” every now and then. Two and a half weeks ago, I picked up a copy of Buy and Sell from a sidewalk stall and checked out the entries under “Antiques”. Lo and behold, almost lost among the ads selling Rolex and old coins was an ad announcing “4 foot processional santos for sale, P120,000”.

 I learned never to be fazed by exorbitant price tags attached to items for sale; there is no such thing as fixed price especially if the item remains unseen and uninspected. A few years ago, a lifesize Agony in the Garden Cristo together with a Salome and a San Isidro Labrador were being sold as a lot for a six figure sum, but I successfully negotiated for the sale of the Cristo alone for a fraction of the desired price. I just wondered if my magic will work again for this pair.

I called the number and I managed to talk to the Seller, who was from Pasig. I asked him to describe the images and he said they were a Mary and Joseph, both family heirlooms that were once processed before. I asked if there was a Nino and he said, as far as he could recall, the pair never had a Niño, as the standing images had separate bases. I asked if it were possible to send me pictures by mms or by e-mail, but the Seller was not savvy with either both cellphone and computer. Nevertheless, he said he will ask a relative to send the photos via the internet. I gave my e-mail address and waited.

Three days after, I received an e-mail from him with the attached pictures badly taken from a cellphone camera. But even then, the quality of carving was very much evident in the faces, as well as the encarna, moreso on the San Jose image. The only thing that worried me was the size; they did not look at all like 4-footers to me; they looked shorter. I delayed giving him a call for fear that I might sound too enthusiastic, and it was only the next day that I gave him a ring.

 When he answered, the first thing I confirmed were sizes of the images—if they were indeed 4 feet tall. He said they were—but with the bases. It turned out that the images were 38 inches tall, with 10 inch bases. My minimum requirement for a processional image is that it should be at least 42 inches tall, without the base. But the Seller maintained that these are processional images, indeed and the holes on the bases prove that. My guess is that that these may have been oratorio or chapel images, meant to be placed on both sides of a major image. The holes may have been use to bolt the image to the niche. But whatever, I still found the images to be small for my taste.; However, I said that I would drop by to do an ocular check on a Sunday weekend, my only free time. I made sure my sigh was audible for him to hear when I hung up the phone.

So one recent Sunday, on my way back to Makati, I swung over to Pasig to meet the Seller. Thank God for my new driver who was familiar with the area; I don’t think I can locate the address on my own. We parked the car at McDonald’s in front of the Cathedral, and in a few minutes, the Seller came a-knocking at my car.

He looked pleasant enough, not the serial killer that I imagined him to be. He took me on a labyrinthine route that led to his place--a small, overcrowded apartment full of house parts, furniture and other indescribable stuff. In the garage was the half of a big arched carved door, an antique piano, a couple of rundown cabinets and stacks of newspapers and magazines. Inside the living room, I found the other half of the arched door leaning on one wall, a broken altar table before it. A platera with old bottles was next to the window partially covered with a stained glass divider. As it turned out, he related that the lot on which their ancestral house stood was brought by a fast-food chain, so now the contents of their home were crammed into this shoebox apartment.

When I turned to one corner, there were the santos, finally, atop another table overflowing with house décor and houseware. It was bedlam in here, but thank God, I did not have trouble focusing on inspecting the images before me. The images were dirty and in a state of disrepair, the bodies had peeling paints and the bases were missing some border trims. Sta. Maria’s hands had multiple broken fingers, but all the digits were intact. What was most important was that the heads were preserved, and what beautiful heads were they! They were genuine antiques, carved from light wood, with smooth pegs and flaking encarna indicating their age.

 I felt that San Jose was the better image, as the carver had to carve more details like facial hair and beard. It bears its original dark encarna. The Sta. Maria had plumper cheeks, and in fact, looked bigger and heftier than San Jose. It looked like it had been painted over once, which would explain its fuller look. It still had details like pierced ears, which had on a pair of old rhinestone earrings.

I had actually devised a visual test for ascertaining the beauty of santos, and this is to view the heads at a quarter-turn. You not only see the profile, but you also get a better look at their expression, rather than when the santo faces you up front with a blank, pointed stare.

When I did that to the Sta. Maria head, she looked so sweet and amiable while the San Jose had the most perfect nose and chin! I was sold on this pair, but the challenge was how not to show my gung-ho enthusiasm.  “I don’t know, “ I told the Seller, “they’re good pieces, but honestly, your price tag is too steep for such small pieces..”.

 “What you’re saying is, you like them”, he surprised me by saying, “ except the price? Maybe if you could give me an offer, one that would make me and you happy. I really need the money to rehabilitate our Baguio property...” . I put in my offer, and at that point the Seller became jumpy. When a Seller behaves this way, believe me, it means that you are close to the price that is already acceptable to him. He said, “Oh, but if you could add a little more..”. And so I did.

 We sealed the deal with a shake of hands. I paid him and I lugged the two dismantled santos to my car, together with their tattered wigs and replacement brass halos—my purchase of the year! The bodies went home to Pampanga, while I brought the heads with me to my Makati place for me to further ponder on. I can’t wait to have them restored; when repaired, repainted and dressed, they will look perfect in the altar of our Pampanga home. True, the best things in life may not be free, but some are on the FREE Ads of Buy and Sell.