Tuesday, October 30, 2018



One of the grandest churches in the Philippines is also one of the most visited in Manila—the San Agustin Church,  founded by the pioneering Augustinian order and the third structure built on the site. It was completed in 1607, based on the design of Juan Macias, and originally named Iglesia de San Pablo. Over the years, the colonial church suffered from the Bristish sack of Manila in 1762, and a series of destructive earthquakes that toppled one tower in 1880. It was turned into a concentration camp during the 2nd World War by the Japanese and sustained major damages, leaving the monastery in ruins. It was rebuilt after the war and the monastery was restored as a museum in the 1970s, which houses some of the most incredible ecclesiastical artifacts. The museum grounds are regularly utilized for exhibits of religious art, including the anique santo collection of noted collector Don Gregorio Araneta. 



ST. PETER, a copy of the bronze statue in the Vatican

ECCE HOMO, from Cebu, on exhibit


















Wednesday, October 10, 2018


The venerable San Guillermo Church, in the former capital of the Philippines, Bacolor, is a beautiful legacy of the Agustinos who built the church in 1576 on land donated by Don Guillermo Manabat, town founder. Completely destroyed by an earthquake, it was rebuilt in 1897 by Fray Manuel Diaz.

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The gilded retablo mayor, and the side retablos are intact—despite being half-buried in the lahar inundation of 1995 triggered by the Pinatubo eruption. They are profusely carved with baroque and rococo designs, and the richness of the details are better seen now that they have been beautifully restored. Inside the nichos are various antique  Augustinian santos from the colonial period. These, too, have been restored, repainted, and regilded under the supervision of the late Thom Joven, Pampanga’s most eminent ecclesiastical artist.

Now a tourist attraction, the San Guillermo Church continues to be a place of worship, a witness to the history and old glory of Bacolor, acclaimed for its arts and artists, hence the sobriquet—“Atenas ning Pampanga”-- the Athens of Greece.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018


By Fred J. Reyes / Philippine Panorama, 15 April 1984
Photography: Joey de Vera


How “Tatang” Brought Peace and Prosperity to a Family in Nueva Ecija
In Guimba, Nueva Ecija, enshrined in a chapel beside a rice mill, is a life-size crucifix that has drawn throngs of devotees the past 6 years. People reverently refer to the fgure on the Cross as “Tatang”.

“Tatang” is no ordinary version of the Crucifixion. Unlike most other representations of the Holy Cross, Christ here is nailed on both wrists and feet. A block of wood juts out between the thighs, serving as a seat and propping up the upper portions of the body.

The most common crucifix shows Christ nailed on His palms and His feet, and His body pressed flat against the cross.


Some Biblical researchers say that this could not have been the way Christ was crucified. His nailed palms, they say, could not have been sufficient to carry the rest of His six-foot frame and would surely have been torn loose after a short time on the cross. Thus, the seat-like projection between His thighs, which the Roman soldiers as an afterthought, both to prevent the palms from being torn apart and to prolong Christ’s agony.

These researchers further say that the French sculptor who made the first such depiction claimed he had seen it in a dream. This crucifix is said to be known in many parts of Europe as “the seated Christ”.

“Tatang”, as the seated Christ in Guilba is beter known among residents and visitors, was sculpted by a Filipino—Rey Estonatoc, who has a studio in Pag-asa, Quezon City. The wooden image shows so profound a suffering that many first-timer to the place, including wizened old men, have been seen crying unashamedly before it.

Rosario Divino Sta. Inez vda. De Santos, matriarch of the family which owns the chapel, says Tatang has brought peace and prosperity to her household and perhaps to hundreds of other people since His arrival there in 1978. She is particularly thankful for the change in the life of the youngest of her four sons, Fred, who she says was once a black sheep of the family.

Fred, she says, used to be unemployed but also was invoLved in some michief or other. “He used to bring nothing into the house but trouble, all kinds of trouble”.

At the height of Fred’s youthful escapades in early 1977, well-meaning friends succeeded in making him enter a cursillo. They had unsuccessfully tried to make him do so twice before.

When he finally attended one, he noticed, after a few sessions, a crucifix of the Seated Christ that had been brought into the cursillo house by a certain Delfin Cruz.

A wooden image of profound suffering.

It was the first time that Fred saw such a crucifix and his curiosity was aroused.When he asked around, one cursillista, Jose Dijamco, told him that as far as he was concerned that was the faithful reproduction of the Crucifixion. Impressed, Fred made a vow to have a replica of the crucifix someday.

Two weeks after the cursillo, Fred became a changed man he ceased to be the troublemaker that his family used to know and now went all over the barrios of Guimba doing apostolate work. In one of his sorties, a friend came up to him to offer a wo-and-a-half acre farm for cultivation. “It was my very first job offer,” says Fred,”and I readily accepted.”

He had just finished planting the farm to rice when a kumpadre offered him 4more hectares for cultivation. Again, he accepted. “Kaya, eto, umitim na ako, kakatrabaho sa bukid”., he now says, calling attention to his deep tan.

The harvest in both farms was bountiful. He reaped 105 cavans to a hectare , which set him off to a good start in the rice business.For the first time in his life, Fred says, he found fulfillment: “So this is how it feels to sweat and get rewarded for your own labor”, he recalls saying to himself.

Still, something seemed lacking in his life. Often thinking about it, he soon began to have dreams about the crucifix, sometimes with the Virgin Mary floating with it in the clouds. When he recounted his dreams to Dijamco, who by then had become his spiritual adviser, the latter reminded him of his promise to acquire a replica of the Seated Christ. N Fred’s request, Dijamco eventually found a sculptor to make one for him.

The crucifix was finished in October 1978, and Fred, along with Dijamco and a close friend, Cris Ang, drove in a van from Guimba to estonactoc’s studio in Quezon City to get it.“A storm was raging then”, recalls Ang. “But on our way back, it seemed to have calmed down.”

He also remembers that the crucifix they brought back with them attracted lots of curious (and awed) onlookers along the way, so that they had to stop a number of times to enable people to take a close look. As a result, it took them 8 hours, instead of the usual 3, to get back to Guimba.

The crucifix also seemed to have grown heavier, according to Ang. Only 4 people were needed to load it into the van in Quezon City but when they arrived in Guimba, 12 pairs of hands had to bring it inside the chapel owned by Fred’s family.

Photo: Joey de Vera

Fred says his dream about the crucifix has never recurred since its arrival and he now feels completely at peace with the world. “I used to attend mass only 5 or 10 times a year and I stayed outside the church at that. Now I remember God through Tatang every day of the year.”

And instead of scaring people away during his days of mischief, Fred now seems to draw people to him—people in need of help, especially. But Fred doesn’t mind giving them help. “When you give to the poor, you’re fulfilling the tithe required by the Church.”

His mother, Rosario, who tends a small sari-sari store besides managing the family rice mill, says she is the happiest about the things that Tatang has done fro her sons and the rest of her family.

“We used to have every kind of problem, financial and other wise,” she says. “Now all these problems seem to have vanished. We’ve paid all our debts and sent our children to the best schools and have something lef to buy lands and other properties.”

Here 3 other sons—Renato, Oscar and Albert, who had their own “youthful flings” have also grown prosperous, apart from being law-abiding and God-fearing men. Oscar, a town councilman and military officer, assists at Mass every Sunday. A son of Fred and a son of Roberto are in the seminary, studying for the priesthood.

Matriarch Rosario vda. De Santos, with
granddaughters. Peace with the coming of Tatang.

Tatang, for his part, has become something of an institution in Guimba. Every now and then, people attribute “little miracles” to him. Sometime, in 1979, when a rift divided the town’s cursillistas, the statue,  made of hard ipil,  reportedly developed a crack on the face, from the forehead to the bridge of the nose. The crack was said to have closed only after the cursillistas had settled their differences.

The chapel, while privately owned,  is open to everyone, and Fred says, that like him, countless other people may have been moved by the seated Christ to change their ways.

He attributes to tatang all the good things that have happened to him and his family. “He is as powerful as the man-God he represents.”

Fred says, however, he never asked Tatang directly for the material things that he has now. “Ask him for anything, except material things.”

All that he prayed for, Fred recalls, was faith, fortitude and endurance in the “rat  race” of this world.

Monday, September 24, 2018

325. A Folksy Warehouse Find: SAN JOSE AND NINO JESUS

Oh, the things you find in a warehouse! Yes, this San Jose with his little Niño—carved from a single piece of wood—was found in a dusty warehouse of demolished house parts and old lumberyard materials. It was such in a sorry state—with paint peeling, base cracked, and features that are hardly recognizable.

But I thought the 15.5 inch santo looked promising underneath that layer of dust and grime. It had all the characteristics of a true primitive--carved with shallow features, painted with bright colors to cover up the stiffness of the figure. 

There are little details that added much to the appeal of this peace which I got next to nothing. The fact that it was totally fashioned from one piece of softwood wood, including the base, was remarkable, as the symmetry of the piece was almost perfect. Why, the silhouette looks almost like an awards trophy for some contest!

San Jose, himself, looks younger, what with his very sharp, pointed beard and straight black hair. His tunic features a collar while a bow knot is neatly tied high above his waist, as opposed to a simple cord. His robes are painted yellow (which has become grrenish with age) with chicken feet-like prints, typical of Visayan santos. The santo tapers down to the simple, squarish base, with corners lopped off.

Child Jesus on the other hand, looks like an afterthought, ramrod-straight in the arm of San Jose. It almost looks like standing, not seated in a cuddle.

All this San Jose needed was a thorough cleaning and a quick trip to a neighborhood painter to make it more presentable. A light coat of varnish to fix the paint was the final touch to this folksy warehouse San Jose and his little Niño—now fit to be displayed in my house!

Monday, September 3, 2018

324. Mother and Child of Ancient History: STO. ROSARIO

One of the most important and popular devotions in the Philippines  is centered on Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary –or simply, Virgen del Rosario or Sto. Rosario, patroness of countless far-flung barrios, towns, cities and parishes in the country. It is a Dominican devotion that dates back to th 13th century and propagated throughout the world. It is no wonder that many home altars feature images of Sto. Rosario, showing the rosary-holding Virgin with her Child Jesus.

This century-old Sto. Rosario is one such example, carved by an artisan of extraordinary skill, in the classical style. The image was found in Bulacan, in a house demolition-cum-antique shop, part of a lot of antiques that the proprietor was trying to dispose. 

One look and you can tell that this is not the work of a folk santero, for it is exceptionally carved in classical 19th century style, with many wonderful details. It is surprising that this Sto Rosario was carved from softwood, given its quality. But then again, the soft, easy-to-carve material may have inspired and allowed the artist to put in more details.

This Sto. Rosario stands 16 inches tall, inclusive of the  plain,  squarish base with 2 frontal corners lopped off. The image alone is about 13 inches tall. Both Mother and Child are crowned with small parts missing, including their hands.  A small, hand-made rosary fashioned from coconut beads, could have been held in the Virgin’s right hand.

But that do not detract from the beauty and antiquity of this religious statue, which is heavily patinated and darkened with age.

The Virgin cuts a matronly figure, with a plumpish face and built. She stands with a bit of a hunch, her head in a frontal gaze, with facial features well-defined: from her full cheeks,  deep-set eyes, lips ending in a slight curl,  and neck rings. The Niño’s features are hidden in the thick patina, but it is also well-executed, with the Virgen  supporting Him precariously  with her left hand on His knee.

Wearing a cope-like cape that is buttoned on the neck, then draped and gathered on her waist, the Sto. Rosario stands on a cloud-like peana with feet showing, borne by a curly-haired cherub with downcast eyes. The paint has peeled off in her lower extremities, with the primer (gesso) showing, but with traces of gilt still visible.

Most of her back is covered by her lush, flowing hair that reaches down her knees. Hair strands are defined by shallow carving, more detailed on the side.  Whoever carved this work of devotional art should be happy to know that his Sto. Rosario-- a product of his skill and passion-- has survived all these years, cared for and loved by an antique collector.