Tuesday, May 29, 2012

110. RETRO-SANTO: Nstra. Sñra de Salambao

VIRGEN DE SALAMBAO. Our Lady of Salambao, One of Obando's fertility divinities, and patroness of fishermen, as she appears in 1954.

One of the more unusual Marian images in the Philippines can be found in the fishing town of Obando, Bulacan—Our Lady of Salambao, or Our Lady of Salambao.

The Virgin’s iconography includes a fishing net (salambaw), which figures in her unusual discovery in 1793.

 Legends tells of three fishermen named Juna, Julian and Diego de La Cruz, who were out fishing in Tambobong (now Malabon), specifically at Hulingduon, Binwangan. As they pulled in their catch, they were astounded to see an image of the Virgin trapped in their salambao, a fishing net supported by crossed bamboo framework that was mounted on their raft. 

They sailed to Navotas, but inexplicably, they couldn’t bring down the image; their fishing vessel had become heavy and had stalled. They proceeded to Obando, where their boat suddenly became lighter and easier to sail, which everyone took as a sign of that Obando was Our Lady’s chosen place of repose. It now resides in the Church of Obando, together with the other patron saints of the town—San Pascual Baylon and Sta. Clara.

 The three patrons are the central characters in Fertility Rites that are held on their feast days—May 17, 18 and 19. Every 19th of May, the image of Our Lady of Salambao is taken out for procession, shrouded in the fishing net that has become her most recognized attribute—the salambaw (fishing net). As the patron of fishermen, she is invoked for a bountiful catch and for water safety.

Feast Day: 19 May
Church of Obando, Brgy. Pag-asa, Bulacan

Wednesday, May 23, 2012


Since my younger days, the antique figure of our town’s Sta. Veronica had always been an object of my interest and fascination every time Holy Week came along. Owned by the heirs of Jose Siopongco, it was exquisitely carved, a lonely but lovely figure, with a face conveying restrained sorrow and delicate hands holding a banner with the 3 imprints of the face of Christ.

Sta. Veronica was on top of my want-list of Semana Santa figures, notwithstanding the fact that the town already had one. But antique Veronicas are hard to come by in the market; I have only seen one or two available—one was too short for my taste, and the other, too expensive.

One day, a newly-met dealer called to tell me that he had a number of santo heads just arrived. Would I care to take a look? Now, this dealer lives in the hinterlands of Fairview and, on that particular day, there was a typhoon brewing. I was a bit hesitant to go, so I asked him to send photos of the santos through his cellphone. Unfortunately, his Jurassic age phone did not have an image-sending feature, so I had no choice but to go there. This better be worth it, I remember telling myself.

I t was raining cats and dogs when I got to his warehouse. As soon as I got in, dripping wet and cold, he showed me the santo heads from a Tercera Caida tableau and I was not disappointed. But then he pulled out one more box, and out came this small santa head, which I assumed was another Magdalena as it came with a long brunette abaca wig. My first impression was that it was a newly-made image, even suspecting that it came from the Vecin workshop as it was stylistically similar to his creations. But this dealer told me it came from Unisan, Quezon, and the box, which had been shipped to the dealer, confirmed this. What was even more intriguing was the fact that this head also came with what looked like a set of ‘Veronica’ hands.

And so, for a reasonable price, this ‘Magdalena’ head with ‘Veronica’ hands was added to my Fairview loot. That same week, I brought the image to Mr. Vecin for restoration. I asked him also about the provenance of the image--if this had, perhaps, been a commissioned work for some clients in Quezon. He told me that this was not from his shop, but he was certain that this image was vintage, made in the last 40 years, judging from the wood which had smoothened out with age. He also concluded that the hands were not original to the piece—not only where they small for the image but the finish also did not match the facial painting. This, therefore, must have originally been a Magdalena that had been converted into some other santa.

 Nevertheless, I decided to keep the mismatched hands with the Magdalena head and asked Mr. Vecin to make a body for it. My own Sta. Veronica, this image shall be. After a month of on-and-off work, the head and hands were assembled on the finished body.

I requested for some minor adjustment in the arms of the half-finished santa, as I found them a bit long and disproportional. This was immediately done, and so the image was primed for painting, work that would take another two and a half weeks.

A few weeks later, the body and the base were painted. The original encarna of the head was still in excellent condition, so no retouches were necessary.

 I tried on the original abaca wig, which was in fairly good condition, and it instantly gave some degree of completeness to the Veronica-in-the-making.

The smallish hands did not look small at all. This slight flaw will further be hidden with the long-sleeved tunic which will be part of Veronica’s wardrobe.

 The vestments were ordered from Ramon Gutierrez, and my instructions were to copy the garment styling of the 19th c. Hidalgo Veronica, complete with a turban and one shoulder-drape. We agreed on a light pink tunic and navy blue cape. But when I went to check and bring it home, alas, it was attired in traditional vestments. Mr. Vecin reassured me that it was easy to follow the draping of the Hidalgo Veronica. He already had a ready turban--but which I forgot to bring in my haste, plus the silver antique 'payong' halo that he needed for the Veronica head.

Into my car went my Sta. Veronica. The original wig was askew, the vestments were rumpled, and it was rather difficult to appreciate the image in a reclining position. On that day, I was also in a mad rush, so I had no time to really look at the restored image up close. I even forgot to take pictures of the santa standing up.

Two days after the image got home to Pampanga, I finally had a chance to scrutinize it. In place of a payong, I had an antique French diadem, an ebay find, to place temporarily on her pretty head.

I was satisfied with the way the restoration turned out to be, considering that this was just a reconstituted image--not really an antique--but with an old, traditional look that's enough to evoke memories of our Semana Santa past.

To give my Sta. Veronica sense of completeness, I even taped a scanned paper copy of the Holy Face for her to hold. Oh, you get the idea.

So here is my newest Santa-- lo and behold--Sta. Veronica, finally unveiled!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012


Last 18 April, our family-owned image of Mater Dolorosa (Sorrowful Virgin) joined the Biernes Santo procession of the San Rafael Parish in Mabiga, Mabalacat for the very first time, a significant day for us. It had always been our plan to procession our santo in my hometown, but then, the parish of Our Lady of Grace already had its own Dolorosa. Now, an opportune time had finally come.

I had no idea that in the days leading to the scheduled procession, the people spearheading the religious festivities of San Rafael were frantically looking for a Dolorosa image to accompany the life-size Santo Entierro (the dead Christ) of the Briones family. The comparatively new parish had previously carried out very simple Semana Santa processions with just the Sto. Entierro image in attendance.

This year however, Msgr. Florentino “Ninoy” Canlas, the recently installed parish priest, was determined to have a better, more complete procession, which, at a minimum, should have images of Christ and the Blessed Virgin. Having come from Sasmuan known for its deep religious traditions, Fr. Ninoy urged his parish council to look far and wide for a suitable Dolorosa by contacting families who may have in their private homes such an image.

It so happened that Arwin Lingat, an active member of the Our Lady of Grace youth group and an aide at Holy Angel’s Center for Kapampangan Studies where I am a consultant, knew of my santo. He immediately told Arnel Tapang, the indefatigable president of the San Rafael Parish Youth Ministry, who in turn, contacted me. And so, on that last week-end before Holy Thursday, I entrusted our holy image to Arnel’s care.

Our beautiful Dolorosa, a depiction of the Sorrowful Mother at the time of Christ’s death, was created for us by Mr. Francisco Vecin of Makati City, a famed maker and restorer of santos, bultos and carrozas. The works of Mang Kiko, who employs Paete and Pampanga carvers, can be found in major churches in the Philippines. Just like me, he is also a collector of antique santos, but he specializes in images associated with the Passion.

This is the 4 foot vintage Paciencia that was traded for the Dolorosa of Mr. Vecin. It was made in 1952 and purchased from an antique dealer in Pampanga. It is now kept in a chapel in Bicol.

It was this interest that made me seek out the services of this modern-day santero. Three years ago, an old Paciencia image which needed restoration, came into my possession. This rare representation of the seated Christ, all bloodied and scourged, often scared my pangunakans (nieces and nephews) when they came visiting my house.

Virgen Dolorosa, a work in progress at the talyer of Makati santero, Mr. Kiko Vecin, early 2004.

While in his talyer, I saw an exquisite, century-old Dolorosa head, with a moving, yet dignified expression of grief. All along, Mang Kiko too, was eyeing my Paciencia. Without hesitation, we agreed to swap images, and two months later, I was the proud owner of an almost life-size image of a Mater Dolorosa.

Our antique Dolorosa head is all-original, except for the new oil paint encarna. It is fitted with original glass eyes and new glass tears. The open, anguished mouth is deeply carved, a sign of great age, with individual teeth and tongue showing.

Her lashes are made of doghair, while her wig is of fine jusi fiber. She was carved with such details as pierced ears to accommodate zarcillos (earrings) and neck folds, a Chinese influence. She comes with 2 sets of detachable hands, one, traditionally clasped, and the second, open and outstretched (used in Salubong ritual).

Unlike other Dolorosas with facial aureolas, our santo wears a “pinukpok” brass burst on her head, plated in gold, designed after jewelled fittings of santas in Sevilla, Spain. Her dagger-pierced heart is exposed on her breast (the usual iconography shows 7 daggers, representing her 7 sorrows). She is dressed in a white robe with flowered appliques and caped in black velvet.

On that hot, sweltering Biernes Santo afternoon, our Dolorosa stood in quiet dignity atop her lit and flowered wooden carroza (lent by the Pineda family) behind the image of Sto. Entierro, pulled by church “apostles”. The 2 km.+ prusisyun route wended its way from the church, spilling over to the main highway, until just before Golden Land Subd. and back.

This year was a well-attended affair, with hundreds of candle-bearing devotees joining in the ritual procession. The next day—Holy Saturday--our Dolorosa, this time redressed with a mourning veil, participated in the Salubong rites that lasted till past midnight.

Estampita, or prayer card, made especially for our image's 'primera salida' (first outing), given away to procession participants.

Indeed, the first-time participation of our treasured image did not only mark the beginning of a family panata, but also—as my friend and cultural activist Robby Tantingco aptly put it-- the start of a lifelong vocation, which is to keep our cherished religious traditions alive and to be one with the community in sharing the spirit of the Lenten season.

Our Mater Dolorosa, as she looked in 2010 and 2012, in embroidered robes which replaced the simpler ones first worn in 2004. The vestments were done by Sasmuan vestment maker, Ely Mangalindan.

(This article was first published in the book, "Views from the Pampang and Other Scenes", 2006)

Wednesday, May 9, 2012


by Yolanda Sotelo
(originally published on the Philippine Daily Inquirer, 3 April 2012)

BANI, Pangasinan—In a cramped room inside a shack at the back of the Catholic church in Bani, Pangasinan, lies a religious treasure for the town—a life-size ivory statue of “Santo Bangkay” (Dead Jesus Christ). The Santo Bangkay is a detailed rendition of Jesus Christ when he was taken down from the cross, complete with blood oozing from his face down to his chest, with holes in the hands and feet where the nails were driven, and wounds in his knees.

“It has been with our parents when they got married in 1932,” Norma Optinario, 76, says. Norma and her sister, Herlyn, 64, are the keepers of the statue.

The sisters say the statue was given to their father by the family of a military official. They do not know from what country the icon came from, or how old it is, only saying it has been with their family for a very long time.

The Optinarios’ house was burned in 1942, but the fire stopped before it reached the area where the icon was being kept, they say.

Religious procession

Days before Good Friday, the sisters’ house comes alive with preparations of the Santo Bangkay for the religious procession along the streets of this agricultural town. Already, a white garment adored with sequins and silver thread is waiting to clothe the statue.

“Every year, we prepare a new garment for what they lovingly call Apo Santo Bangkay. This year, it will be outfitted with white, but mostly, it is garbed in maroon. We also decorate the ‘karo’ (coach where the icon is laid),” Norma says. The icon’s long, curly hair, is changed every five years.

In another part of the town, at the front yard of a house destroyed by a typhoon, a steel carriage is set to be painted and adorned with different flowers for the Good Friday procession. This replaced an old wooden carriage in 1981, Dennis Orilla, 44, says. Orilla inherited the carriage, along with the responsibility to prepare it for the procession, from his parents.

Every Maundy Thursday, the houses of the Optinario and Orilla families are full with family members and friends to prepare the Santo Bangkay, the coach and the carriage. All expenses are contributed by relatives and residents.

“It is an affair where our families and residents join hands in staging. Church and local officials are not meddling with this religious activity,” Herlyn says.

At noon on Good Friday, the carriage, with the Santo Bangkay on top, is pulled around the streets of Barangay Poblacion.

“The religious fervor is similar to that shown in the procession of Quiapo’s Black Nazarene, although in the case of Bani, only residents join the activity,” says Marietchu Natividad, head of Poblacion village.

“The devotees would try to go up the carriage or hold on to the rope that pulls it,” Orilla says.

At 3 p.m., the Santo Bangkay is taken to the Catholic Church for a Mass. It is left near the altar for a vigil and “agep,” a customary kissing of the icon by devotees, until midnight.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

106. BUENVIAJE: Our Lady's Restoration Voyage

The Antiques section of the local ebay Philippines is a misnomer, because 90 percent of the items listed there are not really antiques; in fact, a lot are reproductions purporting to be old and valuable. Most items featured are horrid house décor and trashy second-hand discards—books, bottles, paper documents, old records. The remaining 10 percent are real antiques alright, but the quality is often suspect—you have defective santos, broken house parts and collectibles in poor condition.

So it was a pleasant surprise that I saw this tabletop bastidor santo of the Buenviaje Virgin (complete title: Nstra. Snra. de la Paz y Buenviaje, Our Lady of Peace and Good Voyage of Antipolo) for sale by an ebay dealer based in Parañaque. You can see from the quality of the carving that it is a fairly good piece, despite the loss of a base. 

Although a bit scruffy in some parts, the two-foot santo bears its original paint as well as its silver-plated metal accessories: crown, halo, scepter. The bidding hours came to an end and this santo went unsold. I lost no time in contacting the dealer who agreed to let go of the santo to me at a discounted price. 

After securing a photo of a similar image posted on a friend’s online album, I hied off to my restorer to begin work on my Buenviaje. The only major re-work was the addition of a base, the design of which was worked on by Raffy’s carver, using the photo as a reference.

The face of the morena Virgin was easily retouched, but the bastidor body was left, as is, as it was still in good condition. After a wig of long, dark, wavy hair was placed on the image’s head, the Virgin was ready to be redressed. 

When it comes to vestment designs, I really leave everything to the experts. Raffy showed me the design inspiration for the embroidery, from an antique cape.

The pattern showed interlocking gothic designs that were then filled with leaves and flowers. The Virgin’s tunic was to be in light pink while the cape, in blue. 

A few weeks after, it was time to bring the Virgin home. And here is the beautiful result of that journey that began with the discovery of our Lady of Peace and Good Voyage on ebay and ended with Her enthronement in our home altar.