Tuesday, September 24, 2013

165. Holy Week Santos: STA. MARIA MAGDALENA

STA. MARIA MAGDALENA (St. Mary Magdalene) is one of the principal figures of Holy Week processions in the Philippines,  and an image of her is almost mandatory in Lenten rites. That's because she was present at the two most significant events in Christ's life--his Crucifixion and Resurrection.

Beside these, Magdalene's presence was noted many times during Christ's ministry and was well-known to His apostles, which spoke well of her courage and support.

Her name--Magdalene--was derived from her town of residence called Magdala, in northern Galilee, and her culture and manners were those of a Gentile. She had an early reputation as a sinner and has been called a harlot and adulteress.

After meeting Jesus, she felt deep remorse for her life of decadence. At the home of Simon where Jesus was invited to sup, Mary came to weep at his feet, which she wiped with rich unguents using her long, luxuriant hair.

Addressing the people who were shocked at the sight of a sinner touching Him, Jesus said: "Many sins are forgiven her, because she has loved very much." To Mary, He said:  "Your faith has made you safe; go in peace."

Thus, Mary became a follower of Jesus from that moment on, never leaving him during His Passion. She was at the foot of the cross when Jesus expired, and was there that fateful Easter Sunday morning when she discovered His missing body which she had prepared to anoint with spices. The weeping Mary was called by name by a man, whom she instantly recognized as the Risen Jesus.

In Christian art, where she was the most commonly depicted female figure after the Virgin Mary, she shown wearing lavish fashions. In the Philippines, the liturgical colors assigned to her are pink and yellow.

Her hair is long and unbound, either blonde or reddish-blonde. She is shown holding a vial of perfume and a handkerchief, which she used to wipe the feet of Jesus. One hand holds her long, unveiled tresses.

Other representations include her being a desert hermit, shown naked, holding a skull and covered only with her long hair--which could have been confused in the West with the 4th century hermit, St. Mary of Egypt.

There are also depictions of Mary Magdalene kneeling at the foot of the Cross, sometimes clutching the Cross itself. When shown standing, she is placed at the left and behind Mary and John, in a gesture of grief.

Until recently, the Roman Catholic Church identified Sta. Maria Magdalena as Sta. Maria Betania (sister of San Lazaro and Sta. Marta) , a notion abandoned in the early 1990s. St. Mary Magdalene is the patroness of penitents and perfumers. She is the titular patron of the revolutionary town of Kawit, Cavite where she is endearingly called "Santa Nena". Her Feast Day is July 22.

CREDITS: All photographs taken by Dr. Raymund Feliciano.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013


 Sometime in 2006, my Makati santero, Mr. Francisco “Kiko” Vecin called me up to ask if I was interested in acquiring a vintage San Pedro Apostol that someone had brought to his shop. Carvers, collectors, dealers and sellers often bring all sorts of santo stuff to his Makati talyer—most to fix, others to just dispose, as Mang Kiko, too, was a formidable collector of antique santos. 

At that time, I had already taken an interest in Holy Week santos, so after work, I decided to drop by his shop to see the santo. I was a bit disappointed that San Pedro was just 44 inches high, its body a bit stiff and crude. The arms were not even articulated. It came with a carved rooster—St. Peter’s attribute -- that had incorrect proportions—it was squat and stout, and stood on a solomonic-like pole, attached to a plain, rectangular base. I didn’t even think that the santo was a perfect match for such a poorly-carved, featureless rooster.

When I inspected the head, the name of the carver, which I had now forgotten, was inscribed on the neck. Mang Kiko told me that the carver made the piece in the early 70s, which, to me, was too recent as I favor only antique pieces. The thing that was going for this particular image was its high degree of craftsmanship; its carved details, following classical tradition, were outstanding. San Pedro’s facial expression was uncannily hyper-realistic. I made an offer, which Mang Kiko communicated to the seller. The moment I left his shop, however, I was becoming lukewarm about San Pedro.

Would I also deny this santo, who, in turn, denied Christ not once, but three times in His time of Passion? But too late-- the next day, Mang Kiko called to say that the Seller had agreed to my offer. I mustered enough gumption to ask Mang Kiko, if he could renegotiate with the seller to lower further his price, given the santo’s less-than-desirable size, age and condition. I could sense Mang Kiko’s growing frustration—but, bless him, he made one more attempt to talk to the seller with my second, lower offer.

To my amazement, the Seller, who must have been in dire financial fix, agreed! So that’s how I came to bring home San Pedro where it languished in a room in my house for months, then years. I saw no need to have it restored as our town already had a Holy Week San Pedro.

Over three years later, I was at the place of Pampanga's best-known master restorer, Tom Joven, discussing a project when the subject of this particular San Pedro came up. Apparently, Tom had seen a photo of it posted online and thought it was good enough to be completely restored. I took up his offer and brought San Pedro to him, with no particular timetable in mind.

My only requirement was that the santo’s arm be made articulated and that the rooster be separated from the santo. I also asked that the column on where the rooster rested be changed into a pillar.

 I happened to find a silver-plated rooster on ebay which was sized better to match San Pedro, so I asked Tom to replace the image’s original wooden rooster with this metal figurine.

San Pedro was left with Tom at around June of 2008; I was hoping it would be finished in time for my January 2009 birthday, but when that day came and went, I just completely forgot about it.

So many things have happened since then—I went away on a month-long trip, my mother got sick and then passed away. I was not able to track the progress of the work, as I had more pressing things in mind.

Eventually, I received a text from Tom: San Pedro is done, at last. My first glimpses of the apostle-saint was through these photos sent on facebook.

 I was completely stunned by the transformation. The swarthy, gritty face of San Pedro has been replaced by an encarna done in the Italian religious painting tradition, marked by a pale complexion and highlighted with a pinkish blush. The carved hair and beard, once dark, were lightened.

The arms have also been articulated; the rooster replaced by my metal figurine on a new, more streamlined, yet graceful column.

Metal accessories have also been prepared by Tom—from the small beaten silver-plated halo and two keys—iconographic attrbutes of the saint, one key to open the gates of heaven, and the other, for the gates of hell.

 I didn’t have vestments made yet for San Pedro, but I scrounged around and borrowed pieces here and there from my other santos, so that I could visualize how he would look like, robed and dressed.

The results are in the next few pictures:

The santo that I nearly passed up turned out to be quite a handsome work of sacred art, ready to inspire devotion to those who look up to this apostle-saint who eventually became our first Pope.

I am glad I had the santo restored, even if it felt like it took forever. Like the selection of a new Pope, it was worth the wait. Viva il Papa! Viva Apung Iru! 

Wednesday, September 11, 2013


SAN GUILLERMO, the antique processional santo of Laoag on his decorated carroza, on the occasion of  his feast day in 1932, which coincided with a Marian Congress. Dated 14 February 1932.

San Guillermo Ermitaño ( St. William the Hermit), founded the Williamites (Gulielmites) branch of St. Augustine. He was born in France but led a life of immorality even while he was married. His conversion started when he was said to have an audience with Pope Eugene III who advised him to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem as an act of penance for his sins. After 2 years, he returned to Italy and became a hermit in the woods near Pisa, before moving on to Monte Prumo and in 1155, in the desert of Maleval. He is often confused with San Guillermo de Aquitania (St. William, Duke of Aquitaine).

San Guillermo is often depicted holding a skull to symbolize man's mortality, and a crucifix, upon which he reflected on Christ's passion as a hermit in the desert. Sometimes, he is shown holding a penitent's whip. He died on 10 February 1157 (his feast day) and was beatified in 1202.

He is the patron saint of several Philippine towns including Laoag City (Ilocos Norte), Magsingal (Ilocos Sur), Talisay (Batangas), and Passi City (Iloilo).

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

162, Find of the Year: SAN ANTONIO DE PADUA from the Taller of Irineo M. Cristobal

In one of my recent antiquing weekends last June, I decided to drive to Apalit and check out the stuff of a dealer there, fairly new in town. I had not realize that it was the town’s fiesta week, and I was caught in a massive traffic jam that resulted in a trip of more than an hour! Of course, upon arriving, I chided the dealer for not warning me of Apu Iro’s (St. Peter, the town patron) fiesta, and she retorted that had she done, I wouldn’t have come. What a clever ruse!

She appeased me with fiesta food, all laid out on her table, while she took out her items for me to see, not much really---ceramics, vintage paintings, kitchen collectibles. I bought a few Chinese achara pots, but there was nothing much of interest for me.

With a sigh, I was all set to depart, but then, the dealer suddenly remembered a santo that she had stashed upstairs, plus a few other religious articles. When her helper brought them down, I became excited by what I saw. It was a 36 in, San Antonio on a 5 inch base, classically carved, complete with a bald Niño, similarly carved in the same refined style.

Saint Anthony of Padua, Italy was a popular saint in the country, introduced early by Franciscan missionaries. It was said that the Child Jesus appeared to him, hence the representation. Only 36 tears old when he died, he was canonized a year just after his death. Today, he is commonly referred as a "finder of lost articles".

San Antonio was in a bad state, with one arm missing and without hands. At one time, the saint must have held a sprig of lilies—symbols of purity--perhaps carved separately to be held by his right hand. The Niño’s condition was much better, its joints intact, with just a few broken fingers. The images had been repainted several times in the past, and when I got them, their bodies were painted pink, their faces, in ashen flesh color.

San Antonio was missing his halo, while the Child Jesus had lost his wig. There were no indications in the head that he wore potencias. Both heads, however, were handsomely carved, and I estimated to be anywhere from 60-70 years old, early post-war pieces, perhaps.

I have missed out on a few large images of San Antonio in the past, so I made sure that this one goes home with me. Because of the flaws of the carvings, I managed to wrangle a big discount from my dealer. Not only did I got to take these santos home, but also an 8 in. antique wooden sleeping Nativity Niño!

 I was so eager to have these images restored that I didn’t even bother checking the schedule of santo restorer, Dr. Raffy Lopez. He was in the midst of moving things into his new house, but I brought the santos to him anyway, barely a week after purchasing them. Knowing I will never take “no”for an answer, he went ahead and accepted this restoration project.

Initially, my project brief included giving San Antonio a swarthy complexion, complete with 5 o’clock shadow, but thank God I changed my mind. Since I was on a shoestring budget, I asked Dr. Lopez to outfit him in an austere dark brown hooded habit, with simple gold trims on the hems and sleeves. I had no idea what the Niño would wear, so I pretty much left this to the good doctor to decide. The restoration process began almost immediately.

Lopez brought the santo to his contracted carver who made new hands and attached new arms for San Antonio. Niño’s fingers were mended in no time at all. The encarna painting itself was done in several stages but I was pretty much kept in the loop with regular phone messaging updates.

 It was during this stage of the restoration that we made a stunning discovery about this santo’s provenance. When the painter finished stripping the old paint done on the base, a small brass plaque appeared on the upper right hand corner. The plaque was just the size of a small postage stamp, but when it was further cleaned, the letters in relief became more apparent, revealing the name and address of the original maker: TALLER DE IRINEO M. CRISTOBAL. Evangelista, Manila, P.I.

 This then is the handiwork of the famed santero from Quiapo who was active in the creation of religious statuaries from the 20s to the 50s. Irineo M. Cristobal, one of the more popular commercial santeros who followed Maximo Vicente, established his own talyer in the santo carving district of Manila—along Evangelista Street in Quiapo.

 A month after, I was ready to bring San Antonio home. He now wears a beautiful habit complete with the trademark Franciscan cord. The Child Jesus, in appropriate ”goldilocks” wig is vested in a plain vintage satin tunic, also corded at the waist.

I was pleased with the way he was restored, but even happier knowing that I have a treasure in my hand—a Cristobal creation, no less—just the second image in my collection with known and proven provenance.

 Dr. Lopez managed to find a vintage 8 inch halo, which fitted him perfectly—this, after my own fruitless search in thrift shops and antique shops. He did better than that by finding a set of potencias of the right size, in the last minute!

 To give a sense of completeness, I let the santo hold a stem of antique flowers made from mother of pearl (lagang), and then made these photographs.

But on the day I was to take the santo home, a friend gifted me with this handcrafted spray of lilies—an attribute of the saint—made also from mother-of-pearl shells!! Will wonders never cease??

 So this then is the finished San Antonio de Padua with Niño Jesus by Irineo M. Cristobal—an affordable find that has become my find of the year! Now this calls for my own fiesta celebration!!