Wednesday, February 27, 2013

140. A Miraculous Makeover: VIRGEN DE LA MEDALLA MILAGROSA

THE RESTORED IMAGE OF OUR LADY OF GRACE. Found in a Bulacan antique shop in a sorry state, this rare 24 in. wooden image was restored and redressed by Dr. Raffy Lopez. Perosnal Collection.

When my favourite antique dealer sent me a photo by phone of a newly-arrived 2-foot santa for my consideration, I really got excited. For here is a very rare image of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal, or known by its other title--Our Lady of Grace, the titular patron of our town, Mabalacat. 

Though I already have a 16 in. image, it is a reconstruction, fashioned from an Immaculate Conception santa. But clearly, this larger image is an original Milagrosa, with metal parts unbelievably complete—from the brass rays that emanate from her hands, to her crown and 12-star halo. She still had her sky blue cape in velvet, plus her sparsely embroidered tunic in shabby but stable condition.

Though her encarna had started to flake, one could discern her fine facial details, that can only be described as serenely beautiful.

The santo stood on a base of wood, but the clouds were made from composition or paper mache, reinforced with gauze, which have started to show. A snake lay coiled underfoot, which fortunately was undamaged, right down to the apple in its jaws.

 This was the way that St. Catherine Laboure saw Our Lady in a vision at Rue-de-Bac, France in 1830. She stood with a downcast glance, and was dressed in a blue cape, white mantle and tunic. Rays emanated from her hands, both outstretched at her side. Beneath her feet, a serpent lay crushed and around her were the words ”O, Mary conceived without sin, pray fpr us who have recourse to thee”.

A medal was struck based on this vision, and miracles were soon being wrought. The devotion to Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal was introduced by the Vincentian fathers with their arrival in the Philippines in 1860, catching on in popularity in no time at all. Recollects propagated the devotion in our town as early as the 1860s under the title, Ntra. Sra. De la Gracia.

As late as the 1930s, an image of La Virgen Milagrosa had stood on the main altar with her signature rays radiating from her hands, to be replaced in the 1950s with a seated image of a Madonna and Child.

Of course, the restoration of this santo became a top priority project; I immediately brought it to Dr. Raffy Lopez, who lost no time in fixing the image, starting with the base, the body and the repainting of the image.

Dr. Lopez copied the pattern of the existing vestments but did away with the use of heavy velvet; instead, blue and white satin fabrics were used.

 He employed simple but elegant embroidery on Our Lady’s tunic, of mostly floral patterns.

 Outfitted with a new wig and with metal parts polished, La Virgen Milagrosa emerged miraculously beautiful after more than 2 months of restoration, radiant than ever, ready to work her wonders to those who believe, just as she promised St. Catherine Laboure over a hundred years ago.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

139. ANGELS OF GOD: From Wingless to Wonderful!

ANGELS OF GOD, MY GUARDIANS DEAR. Two santo angels found in an out-of-the-way antique shop, transformed into San Rafael and San Gabriel, respectively. Personal Collection.

It has happened countless of times: an antique dealer would call to say that that he has unique items just arrived, so if I could rush right over to look at some of them. More often than not, I would be shown commonplace trifles and vintage junk, and I would come away disappointed.

In one such visit to an Apalit dealer, I was once again shown some supposedly “heirloom” antiques—but all I found was an assortment of costume jewelry, new ivory santo heads, damages silver and rosaries with missing beads. Oh yes, there was also a Dolorosa santo that I had seen beforeand some ‘bagong luma’ salakots (native hats).

I thought I would again go home again empty-handed until the dealer brought out two small wooden angels that she had almost forgotten. Small in size, wingless and armless, they were, nonetheless, real antique pieces. They were neatly carved from soft wood, and they had all the classic attributes of a typical angel—right down to their helmetted heads, boots, knee-revealing slit tunics and the cloud bases that served as their peañas.

Examining the two angels made featureless by age, I could only surmise what use they had before. Could they have once graced an old carroza? Or could they have been part of a set of 7 Archangels? Whatever, I thought the two were charming pieces worth collecting—I rarely see such kinds for sale in Manila shops.

For a reasonable amount, I acquired these two angels with a view to have them restored in the future. But impatient that I was, I hurriedly took them to santo restorer, Dr. Raffy Lopez, two weeks after I purchased them. I had two spare gilded bases, so I brought those as well, intending them to be used for their restoration. I had no other instructions except that I requested for plated metal wings for the two.

I pretty much forgot all about the two angels in the next 6 weeks; after all, my mind was on my impending vacation in Australia. But I was kept updated with mms photos sent through my phone. When the call came for me to pick up my two angel santos, I was pleasantly surprised with the results. I was wowed, to say the least!

One had been transformed into a San Gabriel, bearer of divine messages--represented by a scroll in one hand and a flower in the other.

Another had become San Rafael, holding a staff from which a silver fish dangled. Both have been repainted and outfitted with silver wings.

Once I brought them home, I placed them on a special shelf in my shoebox house. 

So there they stand guard, flanking an old metal crucifix I found in a yard sale, these two angels of God, once nearly ignored and forgotten, now fully restored succesfully--with flying colors!

Thursday, February 14, 2013


SWEET SAINTLY JAMES. A fine processional statue of Santiago Matamoros (St. James, the MoorSlayer), depicting the saint trampling on the Moors as he fought in the battle of Clavijo in Spain. Photo dates from 1928.

St. James the Greater, (Santiago) was the son of Zebedee and Salome who became one of disciples of Jesus. He figures in many ancient traditional stories and one of the more popular is his engagement in battle at  Clavijo (Spain, 844) against Muslims, symbol of Reconquista. Saint James, it was said, appeared as a warrior-knight on his white steed holding aloft a white banner as he helped the Christian armies of King Ramiro I in attacks against the Moors. As a result of their victory, St. James has come to be known as "Matamoros".

Santiago is Spain's patron saint, and in the Philippines, he is also the titular patron of such towns as Plaridel (Bulacan), Bolinao (Pangasinan), Betis (Pampanga), Libon (Albay), Ibaan (Batangas) and Dapitan. The famed Fort Santiago in Manila features the wooden relief of the saint is carved on a gateway arch.

The beautiful processional santo of Philippine origin shown above represents the saint vanquishing the Moors. At least three decapitated heads are at the feet of his white horse, excellently carved and outfitted with glass eyes and perhaps, abaca hair for its mane and tail. Santiago is of the articulated manikin type of santo; he wears a human hair wig. On his head is a knight's helmet, decorated with a feathered plume. He brandishes a sword and an embroidered shield in his hands. He wears an elaborated set of gold-embroidered vestments.

Martyred by Herod Agrippa in AD 44, his remainswere transferred to Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, Spain. Santiago is the patron of veterinarians, equestrians,  pharmacists, tanners and furriers. His Feast Day is December 30.


O Glorious Saint James, because of your fervor and generosity
Jesus chose you to witness his glory on the Mount
and his agony in the Garden.
Obtain for us strength and consolation in the unending struggles of this life.
Help us to follow Christ constantly and generously,
to be victors over all our difficulties,
and to receive the crown of glory in heaven. Amen.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013


An afternoon scrounging at the antique shops at Philtrade lead me to this small statue of the Risen Christ (aka Cristo Resuscitado, Resurrecion). It was such in a sorry state—one arm lost, another lopped off, its body caked with grime and dirt from years of disuse.

There was nothing spectacular about the softwood carving—the facial features were commonplace, the musculature, not very defined.

Yet, this figure of the Risen Christ—done perhaps in the 50s, or early 60s—aroused my interest: it was only 10 inches tall, excluding the cloud base.

Despite the lost wig, it retained tow of its miniscule brass potencias and a crude estandarte fashioned from a brass sheet and wire. I knew immediately that this was going to be restoration challenge.

The only thing holding me back was its price; for such a damaged condition, the price was rather steep. So I left the santo and thought about it for a week.

When I called the dealer, the santo was still available, and happily, the price had been slashed off to almost 50%. That same weekend, I took home the figure of the Risen Christ and figured how to go about restoring it. The first thing I did was to give it a thorough cleaning, and at once, Christ's distinctive features showed.

For this project, I decided to ask the help of Mang Kiko Vecin, who had a ready team of carvers and painters working in his Makati workshop.  He readily accepted the assignment and my wait lasted all of 3 weeks.

When I picked it up, the missing parts have been carved, attached and repainted. I wasn't too sure about one restored arm--it looked too thick to me, but I guess the carver just matched the style with the simple carving of the body.

Now came the finishing which I attempted to do myself. I had pre-ordered the jusi wig, so outfitting the hair was easy.  I was lucky to come across 3 mini-potencias at the Greenhills Antique Fair early this year, so that went to the head of the Risen Christ.

For the tapiz, I tore apart a vintage santa cape I had been keeping for years. A few snips and stitches, and I had the wrap done in a jiffy. As a final touch, I secured the tapiz with a small maroon tassel. The results are on this page for you to see. What I thought to be a challenging restoration proved to be easy and hassle-free. "He is risen...just as He said!" Thanks be to God (and to Mang Kiko Vecin!).