Friday, September 18, 2015


A rarely-seen tableau showing the archangel with Tobias,
  whom he helped in catching a fish. Once home, the angel
prepared a salve from parts of the fish that was
then used to heal Tobias' blind father. This 17 in.
primitive piece was found in a Manila online shop.

Indeed, antique santos can come from the most unexpected places. The advent of the internet has changed the way we shop--antiques, included. Where before, sneaking out to the antique enclave of Manila from my Makati office meant braving jeepney rides and lunch-hour traffic just to check out  new santo arrivals, now, santos are available on demand--thanks to good old ebay, rubylane, or etsy.

A century-old santa of heavy wood, with characteristic
bell-shaped skirt, typical of Bohol santos. The image,
with very sparse carving, except for the very detailed hair,
is polychromed. It was found on the Philippine selling site,, which has since become,

Suddenly, these online shops and auction sites provided a convenient and alternative way to acquiring santos. With just a click, you can be an armchair shopper and check on the antique through pictures provided by the dealer, and read through the descriptions, price points and shipping preferences. Sure there are risks involved in sourcing santos in this manner-- especially with international transactions--but by and large, my online buying experience has generally been pleasant.

This 13 inch santo was found on a Facebook Group that sold
antiques and collectibles. When I first saw it, it was encrusted
with thick grime, but the octagonal base was interesting.
Deep cleaning revealed painted details like stars on the santo's
habit and colors on the base.

Eventually, local selling sites like, started adding "antiques" as part of their product categories, and if one were patient enough to check the items regularly, one could spot a great santo find.

A large and hefty San Pedro, 28 inches high, found on It went unsold after several re-posts, so I
eventually bought it at a discounted price. The santo is
carvedin one piece, saved for the head and hands. 

But what really made santo collecting more exciting was when social media sites became immensely popular. Facebook, for instance, attracted like-minded people who formed groups to share common interests. The sharing eventually progressed into buying and selling, and today, there are perhaps, more than a dozen facebook groups involved in the lively trade.

This looks like an angel fragment from a large San Isidro
de Labrador tableaux, based on the hand position of the
figure who appears like he is manning a plow. The base is a
replacement. It was obtained from a facebook group, and was
shipped all the way from the Visayas to Pampanga!

The santos featured here were all purchased online, from different sites. The deal is based on mutual trust, and I would like to think that the groups of which I am a member are strict in the enforcement of house rules, that mandates inclusion of a description and a price, plus a lot of caveats!

I was drawn to the vibrant color of this very common
preacher saint, a vintage piece that is at once simple,
yet powerfully attractive with its bright hues and tones.
Most of all, it was very affordable! At just 11 inches tall,
it was also cute! It was found being  sold in a facebook group. 

Negotiations and deals are sealed through private messaging and phone calls. Meet-ups and delivery by a courier are the most popular modes of transferring ownership of the item.You would agree that the santos that I have acquired online are a charming lot, with prices no different from antique shops, and in most cases, even cheaper. It takes a discerning eye and an inquisitive mind to spot a santo that's right for you and your budget, and a fast finger to click on the button to type in your final decision--MINE!

One of my favorite online purchase, this heavy folk santo was
emailed to me for consideration, before it was listed online.
It is a beautifully carved piece and has on its original paint.
It stands over 16 inches tall including the base of turned wood.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

230. Santo Stories: VIRGEN DE BALINTAWAK of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente

VIRGEN DE BALINTAWAK of the Philippine Independent Church as it appeared in the early 1900s. The carver is unknown. Source: Sunburst Magazine, 1978.

One of the most unusual religious images ever to emerge from the years of the Philippine revolution is the so-called Virgen de Balintawak. It is an image that was based on a dream that allegedly saved several heroes of the Revolution, and which was recounted by the militant writer, Aurelio Tolentino. It was said that when Bonifacio, wife Gregoria, Jacinto and other katipuneros sought refuge for the night in the house of Tandang Sora in Balintawak, one of them had a dream. It was a vision of a Mother with Western features, curiously attired in a balintawak dress, sinamay blouse and butterfly sleeves, next to his bolo-wielding Child, in red short pants and Katipunero hat, shouting “Kalayaan!” (Liberty!).

 The Mother figure then whispered a warning to the dreamer,”Mag-ingat kayo!”(Be careful!). The shaken katipunero woke up and narrated his strange dream which they took as a serious warning. They cancelled their plan to return to Manila and decided to stay put in Balintawak. Shortly, the group learned that Spanish soldiers had raided the Diario de Manila and found incriminating evidence that led to the discovery of the Katipunan.

Bishop Gregorio Aglipay, the rebel priest of the Catholic Church and a member of the Malolos Congress. Founder of the Iglesia Filipina Indepndiente, which proclaimed its independence from the Spanish hierarchy, in 1902.

To mark this miraculous moment, the first Obispo Maximo of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente (Philippine Independent Church), Bishop Gregorio L. Aglipay (b.1860/d.1940), caused an image to be carved following the description of the katipunero’s dream. The Mother and Child image were housed in the old Aglipayan cathedral along Azcarraga St,, (now Recto) around 1905, but which was razed to the ground during the American retaking of Manila in 1945.

The old Aglipayan Cathedral in 1905, where the Virgen de Balintawak was first enshrined. It was burn during the battle of Manila in 1945.

A 1925 novena ,“Pagsisiyam ng Birhen sa Balintawak”, was also printed for the Aglipayan faithful—whose rituals and practices, like the veneration of images, closely copied those of the Roman Catholic Church. According to the obispo, the Mother of Balintawak is a symbol of the Philippines , and the child katipunero represents Filipinos who aspire for liberty. The figures serve as reminders of the great sacrifices reminds us of the tremendous sacrifices of the liberators of our Country and of our sacred and inescapable duty to follow them, also making all possible sacrifices of Rizal, Mabini, Bonifacio, and other heroes, whom Aglipay recognized as teachers, prophets and evangelists. 

Virgen de Balintawak today. There was a time when the PIC stopped dressing the images in Filipiniana costumes, but that has since resumed.

The Virgen de Balintawak is an example of how Filipinos have successfully indigenized the Catholic faith to make it an ownable religion, at a time in our history when Filipinos became an oppressed people of God.