Tuesday, July 30, 2013

158. Santo Stories: LA MUERTE DE SAN JOSE of Paete and Pampanga

The dramatic tableau of La Muerte de San Jose (Death of San Jose) belongs to the famed woodcarving Cagandahan Family of Paete, the country's carving capital. Master carvers from this family include the 1952 Art Association of the Philippines awardee, Isaac V. Cagandahan, who created the "Orasyon", and Paete Arts Guild member, Glenn Cagandahan. 

This processional tableau shows the dying San Jose, comforted by Mary and Jesus and attended by a bevy of angels. It dates from the late 19th century.

In the 1900s, a member of the Cagandahan family, Basilisa Cagandahan, became the second wife of a Kapampangan man, Irineo Jose. As a gift to her husband, she had this smaller replica of their Paete's La Muerte de San Jose made. They are exact copies, only done in smaller scale.

This version now is in the care of the Tantingco Family, relatives of the Cagandahan-Jose Family. It is kept in its own storehouse in Mabalacat, Pampanga,  and is still regularly used for procession, especially on his feast days, March 19 and May1.

The twin images now serve as a link to two families, united in marriage, but divided by geographic locations--one in Pampanga, and the other in Paete, which incidentally, are two major carving centers of the Philippines.

(Pictures and info courtesy of Arwin Paul Lingat, Robby Tantingco, Rhea Jose Mateo)

Monday, July 22, 2013

157. Retro-Santo: SAN PASCUAL BAYLON of Obando

The town of Obando in Bulacan is famed for its trio of fertility saints: Our Lady of Salambao, Sta. Clara, and San Pascual Baylon. For centuries, childless couples from all over made pilgrimages to this town to ask for intercession from these saints, so that they may be blesses with children. This they do, in the form of dancing—taken from San Pascual’s last name “Bailon”, purportedly derived from the Spanish verb, “bailar”, meaning “to dance”.

 The devotion to San Pascual, like Sta. Clara, was introduced by Franciscans when they arrived in the country in the 18th century. Born in Aragon in 1540, this pious Spaniard was a shepherd before he became a Franciscan lay brother and mystic known for his devotion to the Eucharist.

Serving his fellow Franciscans with all humility, San Pascual was assigned kitchen duties, hence, he became a popular patron of the kitchen. In religious art he is shown dressed in the brown robes of a Franciscan, kneeling in a kitchen while in rapt contemplation of the Eucharistic host suspended mid-air in a monstrance.

The story of how he came to be invoked against infertility began when a barren couple from Hagonoy met a crab vendor who advised them to go to the church of Obando and participate in the parish’s Maytime dance ritual. Coming face to face with the image of San Pascual enshrined in the church, they quickly realized that the crab vendor shared the same visage, leading them to conclude that they had met a saint. The wife soon conceived and bore a male baby. The cult spread as San Pascual was recognized as the patron saint of childless couples.

 San Pascual Baylon Parish (Diocesan Shrine of Our Lady of Salambao) is under the administration of the Catholic Diocese of Malolos.

Monday, July 15, 2013

156. LA INMACULADA: The Conception of a Beautiful Restoration

IMMACULATE CONCEPTION. The image of the Immaculate Conception, 28" tall (with halo) , as restored by Mr. Thom Joven.

One of my best santo finds of the year began with a search on the country’s leading online buy-and-sell site: sulit.com.ph. There, I found a vintage wooden San Jose with ivory mask and hands, a reasonably-priced piece that I quickly acquired.

It turned out that this was just the tip of the iceberg, for the collector-seller, after making his acquaintance, led me next to his antique santo treasures that he was sadly unloading for deep, personal reasons.

He directed me to his personal online site and I was immediately drawn to an exquisite 24 inch carved Immaculate Conception, a three-dimensional copy of Bartolome Murillo’s famous painting of the Blessed Virgin.

It was an almost accurate rendering of the iconic piece—right down to the tilted head of the Virgin, her crossed hands with delicately carved fingers, standing on a cloud based from which protruded the horns of a crescent moon and three small cherubims.

Amazing too, was the coloring of the figure—the encarna is in good condition as well, retaining its warm, pinkish hue despite scruffs and grime.

The antique Virgin was wonderfully preserved with normal wear associated with age, from its 12 star halo, jusi wig, right down to its satin vestments that were accentuated with simple gold embroidery.
In contrast to the fine carve figure, the vestments were rather plain, using synthetic gold colored thread and plastic sequins.

Overall, however, this Imaculada was a stunning, expressive piece—a museum quality santa—and best of all, it was available! I did not even bother negotiating with the seller, knowing that I would be helping him with his predicament.

At the same time, I was grateful too, for the trust that has been given to me, for having been chosen to continue caring for their family heirloom; after all, there were many interested buyers waiting in the wings.

When it was time for me to have Inmaculada restored, I had only one choice for this project which calls for a meticulous eye, skilled hands and an understanding of period styles: the master ecclesiastical artist, Thom Joven.

True, I wanted to have the image restored, but I also want the image to retain its aura of antiquity s, which to me, is the true test of effective restoration.

Fortunately, Thom shared this valid restoration concept, and he agreed to take on this project which took all of 8 months—long by any standard, but certainly worth the wait as the results show.

Much of the restoration involved cleaning the image, patiently done through cleaning it inch-by-inch with a mild cleaning cream.

Meanwhile, the vestments were recreated using old satin fabric stock, and the embroidery was traced and painstakingly copied too, using real gold thread, sequins and gold trims.

The missing parts of the carved cherubs on the base were replaced and the damaged spots were painted over, using the same marbleized paint effects.

The fragile wig was also replaced, replicating not only the length but also the drop of the curls!

Finally, the metalwork was buffed and replated. By the middle of July, it was time to bring the restored Inmaculada Concepcion home.

When I beheld it, she was such a beautiful sight. The draped vestment was perfect in every aspect—from the accurately copied embroidery, to such details such as the red underfabric lining of the cape.


The Virgin looked authentically antique from top to bottom, remaining true to the original, and to the concept of what true restoration should be.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

155. Holy Week Santos: LA SAMARITANA

An uncommon tableau that joins Lenten processions in the Philippine depicts a scene from the ministry of Jesus, as mentioned in John 4:1-40. It narrates Jesus’s meeting with a Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well in the village of Samaria, while travelling north from Jerusalem.

Breaking tradition, Jesus spoke to the Samaritan woman, a group that Jews never liked. On top of this, Jesus asked her for a drink of water, which took the woman by surprise. Jesus then told the woman he could give her "living water" (referring to the gift of eternal life) so that she would never thirst again.

What’s more, Jesus revealed that he knew she had had five husbands and was now consorting with another who was not her husband. Her curiosity and interest piqued, the woman continued her conversation with Jesus.

Talking about their views on worship, the woman voiced her faith that the Messiah was coming. Jesus answered, "I who speak to you am he." It dawned on the Samaritan who her guest was, so she left behind her jug of water jar, went to the town to invite the people to "Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did."

The Samaritan woman is identified as Santa Photina, according to Greek tradition. Moved by her encounter with Jesus, she took to preaching the Gospel and was jailed for doing so. She was finally martyred at Carthage , while another account tells of her death in the 1st century, in Rome at the hands of Nero, together with her sons Joseph and Victor. Sta. Photina’s feast is on March 20.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013


Whether online or in antique shops, the most common religious antiques one finds for sale are crucifixes. Folk art crosses are fixtures in almost all antique fairs I’ve been to, characterized by plain wooden crosses and misshapen Christ figures. More sought after are the classically done tabletop crucifixes, with finely carved wooden Christs and with crosses trimmed with metal fittings.

Other than ivory crucifixes, the prices of such pieces have remained stable—in the range of about Php 7K- Php 15K. The demand is not as high as for free-standing santo as, maybe, for a collector, one good crucifix is enough.

I, myself, am not much of a crucifix fan, but when I see an outstanding example, I take a second look. Just like this example, recently purchased from my favourite antique dealer.

It came in a rather, shabby condition—dirty, dust-coated, with the corpus about to be detached from its arms. 

The dealer told me that the cross finials were of silver, but I couldn’t be too sure—they were blackened with age. So were the potencias and the crown of Christ too, which remained miraculously intact, all these years.

Despite these flaws, the carving of the figure was superb, right down to the gracefully draped loincloth of Christ, his taut and lean body, the elongated arms and hands (with a few missing fingers)and the fine strands of Jesus’long hair.

But what sold me was the haunting facial, pain-filled expression of Christ, made even more lifelikeby by his glassy stare. His mouth was open in anguish. How the carver managed to put such intense emotion into that small wooden face, I will never know.

For 3 days, I set about cleaning the crucifix, using Wipe Out and lots of cotton buds. More challenging was restoring the shine of the silver finials, which had ingrained dirt all over. At least two hours of metal polishing and dirt-scraping did the trick.

The corpus itself was easy to clean. After Wipe-Out, I lightly coated the body with brown shoe polish, which further deepened the “Nazareno”color of Christ and added a nice sheen to the lines.

The crucifix came with a damaged replacement base, but I had an unused stone base that was more appropriate to the piece. The mound was a bit small though, and not very stable, but it would have to do, in the meantime.

My dealer, by the way, also told me that the original owner of the crucifix claimed that the piece was the handiwork of Maximo Vicente’s talyer. You always take these revelations with a grain of salt, but regardless, this crucifix ranks as another one of my most wonderful finds, you agree?