Tuesday, February 27, 2018


The church of Tanay, dedicated to San Ildefonso de Toledo, has a long history, but its seeds were planted by Franciscan friars as early as the late 16the century. Tanay itslef—known a Monte Monte Tan-ay in ancient times, was a visita of Pililla, until it became an independent parish in 1606. The town was eventually relocated to a place called San Antonio in 1620.
1.      Pilate condemns Jesus to die
2.      Jesus accepts his cross
The church of Tanay, was we know it today, evolved from a series of structures—at first, from a bamboo and cogon structure,  to a stone church erected in 1678, under the initiative of Fray Pedro de Espallargas. The stone church was completed in 1680. But subsequent damages wrought by nature necessitated the construction of a new, sturdier church—and this is the present-day church that was built from 1773-1783.
3.      Jesus falls for the first time
4.      Jesus meets his mother, Mary
The impressive church is a fine showcase of baroque architecture, evident in its profusely-decorated retablo mayor or main altar (finished in 1785), naïve relleves folksy (relief carvings) and retablos. Spaniards took note of the excellent woodcarving skills of natives and employed them in creating decorations and religious articles for the church.
5.      Simon helps carry the cross
6.      Veronica wipes the face of Jesus
The most well-known examples are the 14 Stations of the Cross rendered in wood reliefs. The Stations of the Cross are a 14-step Catholic devotion that commemorates Jesus Christ's last day on Earth as a man. The 14 devotions, or stations, focus on specific events of His last day, beginning with His condemnation.
7.      Jesus falls for the second time 
Note Caiaphas, holding a pince-nez with dark lenses.

The works are not dated nor do they appear in church record, but it is believed that the first twelve stations were carved by a local artist from Tanay. This can be gleaned from the folksy features of the characters, flaws in proportions and perspectives.  They also look Malayan, with dark features, and some characters carry native objects like the carabao horn “tambuli” and the native bolo, instead of the metal trumpets, lances and swords of the original Biblical figures.

8.      Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem
9.      Jesus falls for the third time
Another often-noticed anachronism can be found on the 7th Station (“Jesus falls for the 2nd time). If one looks closely, behind the crossbar is the High Priest Caiaphas, who seem to be holding a pair of dark glasses, that look like a pince-nez.  
10.  Jesus is stripped of his clothes
11.  Jesus is nailed to the cross
The last two stations (Jesus is taken down from the cross, Jesus is placed in the tomb) have marked Caucasian features. The carvings are more proportioned,  refined and detailed—from the facial features to the musculature of Jesus. These are clearly the works of a trained artisan.
12.  Jesus dies on the cross
 13.  Jesus is taken down from the cross (no photo)
14.  Jesus is placed in the tomb
Note the Caucasian features of the characters. This
indicates that a different carver made the last 2 stations.
The 14 Stations of the Cross, reputed to be the most beautiful in Asia,  are prized treasures of the Tanay Church, which in itself is a historic masterpiece, declared a National Cultural Treasure by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts on July 31, 2001.

From the Feliciano Album Collection at the Center for Kapampangan Studies.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

304. SAN PEREGRINO, The Cancer Patron Saint

The saint who would be invoke for the dreaded disease, cancer, was born to  wealthy family in Forli, Italy. In his youth, Peregrine (San Peregrino)  was anti-pope; in one encounter with a fit of anger St. Philip Benizi, an envoy of the pope who was sent over to mediate in an uprising, Peregrine struck him in the face. Philip, thereafter, offered his other check. Overcome with shame and guilt, Peregrine became a Catholic convert and joined the Servites.

Legend has it that he observed silence all his life, and never sat down as part of his discipline.  He was afflicted with cancer of the foot, and an amputation was ordered. But after praying the whole night, Peregrine woke up with a healed foot, and the operation was called off. He died at age 85 in 1345, and was elevated to sainthood by Pope Benedict XIII in 1726.

He is represented as an oldish man wearing his habit, clutching a cross, and lifting the hem of his habit to show his cancerous left foot.

In the Philippines, St. Peregrine was known primarily due to TV evangelist Frank M. Jimenez, who was regularly seen in thanksgiving masses aired on  RPN 9 and on his radio morning program over DWAD.

Saturday, February 10, 2018


Santo Tomas de Villanueva, bas-relief 18” x 24”.

Miguel Lopez de Legazpi officially established the colonial city of manila on June 24, 1571. He organized the local government and laid down the plans of what later would be known as Intramuros, the Walled City.

He was following the orders of the Real Audiencia in Spain during the reign of Philip II. “Highest among the design of His Majesty is the spreading of the Catholic faith”. Going into details, the royal ordinance instructed: “Alongsie the fortress, you should have a church built where Mss shall be held and nearby should be a house for the religious..”

Cherubs serving as column support for the lectern, carving 8” x 19”
Fires burned down the church and the two others that took its place. In 1599, the cornerstone of the actual church hich stands today was laid by the Mexican bishop, Pedro Gurto. The original plan was laid by Juan Macias, but he died before the church and the monastery were finally finished in 1607. Antonio Herera, an Augustinian lay brother who was supposedly a relative of the architect lf Escorial, took over and finished the work.

The present church is fully 371 years old an d has withstood earthquakes and invasions during the colonial era, profanation and bombings during World War II. In the final dys of the battle for the liberationof Manila in 1946, the church and the monastery became a refugee camp for nearly seven thousand people. When the entire Intramuros was razed by nearly 300 bombs that were dropped each day by American fighter planes, only San Agustin remained intact—a true miracle. A visible prayer, it stood alone amid a devastated city that once held as many as twenty equally old and beautiful churches.

Cherubs and dragons serving as column support for the base of the lectern, carving 12” x 9”
The façade of San Agustin Church is classic. Four twin columns support the gable with its rose window. A cross tops the central pediment. The beautifully carved main door depicts St. Augustine, patron of the church and of the order. Four granite lions, carved in the Chinese manner, guard the bases of the columns. They match the two granite lions at the entrance to the patio.

An odd note about the facade: one tower is notbly missing. It was taken down after it cracked during the earthquake of 1880. Which is a pity. From the tower hanged a most historic bell which rang only to announce good news—and very bad news, such as big fires which often engulfed the Walled City.

Purgatory, bas relief, 2 x 5”
The central nave is long and high, punctuated with circular windows through which the light streams in. Two side aisles led to ten chapels which were donated by the leading clans and families of Manila. One of these chapels is dedicated to Miguel Lopez de Legazpi,who died in 1572, only a year after he founded the city. He was buried in the church he provided first for and his remains have been kept in San Agustin ever since.

Beside the church is the monastery whose lower cloisters are now a museum housing a collection of colonial Philippine art. Among the pintings are huge oils that commemorate the life of St. Augustine, his mother St. Monico and other scholars and holy men who belonged to the Augustinian order.

Close up view of the pulpit’s panel.
The large refectory, with seventeenth-century frescoes on the ceiling, contains religious statuary and paintings as well as mission furniture from three centuries of the Spanish colonial era. The library contains books and documents of the once extensive San Agustin archives. Among those on display is a handpainted 17th century Missal, opened to the page of the Christmas Mass. From the windows of the library may be seen the botanical garden of father Manuel Blanco whose book (published in the 19th century) on tropical plants and flowers is a much cherished volume.

The finest examples of woodcarvings may be found in San Agustin; within the church and throughout the cloisters. Stunning is the choir—fro the carvings on its woodwork and on its furniture. The choir seats, done in the Renaissance style, are often enthusiastically called “jewels of art”. They are in hardwood with bone inlay. Consisting of 68 seats supported by colossal arches, it dates back to the 17th century, the work of artisans from Canton.

 Full-length view of the pulpit with canopy, bas relief
San Agustin is a witness to Philippine colonial history. The very first school in the country ws opened in its premises; it housed the first printing press; later it opened the first sanitarium. During the calamities, it was always a  refuge. But it was not spared from damage, sacking and looting. During the British Occupation of Manila in 1762, sacred vessels, religious art treasures and the library of more than 3,000 volumes with manuscripts and incunabula were stolen.

In San Agustin was held the first national synod in 1581 which is of utmost significance for it compelled the colonial government to abolish slavery. In San Agustin, too, was signed the capitulation of Manila from the Spaniards to the Americans in 1898. There is a particular irony here—from it was in San Agustin in 1581 that the legal bsis for the colony was calrified. It may truly be said that the most outstanding carving on San Agustin is the inscription of history itself on its very walls.

Monday, February 5, 2018


In the course of my over three decades of antique santo collecting, I wish I could say I have seen everything, been there, done that. But as they say, collecting takes a lifetime, and you never really stop looking around. That's collector's instinct!

But I certainly have seen a lot, and this article is all about that—the things my eyes have seen through all these years—beautiful santos, ugly santos, folk santos, elaborate tableaus. Then there are the  antique shop pieces that I could not afford, pictures of ivories e-mailed to me for my consideration, heirlooms for sale by families, tabletop images peddled by middlemen. And what about those santos that got away? I have since retired from santo collecting, but whenever I see these pictures, I still get a tinge of regret, leading me to ask myself—now, why didn’t I get that? I don’t even know what happened to these santos—most of them, I presumed must have been sold, re-sold or in still on somebody’s shelves, as these were taken many years ago.

SANTO NINO DE TONDO PRINT. This is just a vintage print, but I thought this Sto. Nino of Tondo. Manila vintage illustration on paper is a nice piece. Maybe this was a souvenir print sold during the fiesta of Sto.Nino. The original frame is so 1950s. But then, my walls are already crowded with paintings and framed artworks.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE SAINT. A friend sent this photo of a chapel-sized santo of a male saint for identification. I thought it looked like either St. John Berchman or St. Gerard Majella. But the habit is all wrong for either of the two. For once, I was stumped.

SAGRADA FAMILIA, ANTIQUE BONE. I got all excited when a dealer showed me this picture of the Holy Family, which looked like they have ivory parts. but I am convinced they're of bone. Just look at where they are...are they being kept in the pantry? Well, the owner of thes eimages supposedly changed his mine, so goodbye Jesus, Maria y Jose!

CALVARIO. I was snooping around Cubao, when I chanced upon this very large figure of a crucfied Christ. Looks very 50s to me, and well made. I made an even startling discovery when I found two companion pieces--a San Juan and a Dolorosa--lying close by. So, this was a Calvario tableau after all!  But too expensive--I think the dealer read my reaction.  besides, the tableau is humongous, I can't put it on my dining table!

SAN ISIDRO LABRADOR. I was invited by  dealer to see some pieces in her Angeles warehouse, but I ended up eyeing this 40 inch San Isidro de Labrador--with a chopped nose. There it stood on her dresser, along with new Santo Ninos for contrast. The 3 foot image is exquisitely carved and has a nice patina--surely, this is century old! I wanted it--despite the fact that it had no cows, angel and the kneeling landlord. I made an offer that was soundly rejected, and I came home empty-handed.

SAN ANTONIO, ANTIQUE IVORY.  A dealer apparently got my e-mail address from a friend, and introduced herself to me. ong with her mail came a pai of santo pictures---they are for sale, she said. The first piece is an all-ivory San Antonio with beautiful estofado painting on his vestments still intact, thanks to its virina. The santo wears a silevr halo, and stands 8 inches tall.
CRISTO CRUCIFICADO. The second ivory image looks to be much older--as the all-ivory corpus of the crucified  Christ has mellowed to an earthly orange-brown color. All the silver accessories are intact, which makes the oiece more appealing to me. The dealer promised to get bck to me for the prices, but she never did. Well, just form the looks of these pieces, I don't think I can afford them anyway!

ANTIQUE CALVARIO, IVORY AND WOOD. How can I forget this piece?? A Guiguinto dealer sent this picture by phone which I got while I was in transit--riding a car. It is surprising that the figure of the crucified Christ is the only one in wood, not ivory. But the manikin figures that surround Him--Mary. Magdalene and John--are incredible pieces. The problem was--I dilly-dallied and deferred my visit to the shop--and so it went to to a collector with more conviction, and with more money, for sure.

SAN PEDRO FOLK SANTO. My opinion is always solicited by  few friends before they buy a santo, so that's how I got my reputation as the go-to person when it comes to santo evaluation and pricing. I am flattered, but I don't consider myself an expert, I guess I am more exposed becuase I go out a lot, even with 20 pesos in my pocket. This charming folksy, younger-looking San Pedro, around 2 foot tall, was being considered by my friend. It even has  his "bulik" rooster by his side. The colors are strong and vibrant. And that santo face!!! Doesn't the saint look like Bruno Punzalan? So, what better advice to give my friend than to tell him--"get it, get it!"

SAN JUAN BAUTISTA. I ws alerted by a Bulacan dealer about this museum quality San Juan Bautista that looks so ancient, by all standards, Just look at the facial carving, the details of the hair and the belted camel-hair garment. As expected, the colonial santo carried hefty  6-digit price tag. I just looked and sadly turned away. I heard that the piece went dealer-hopping before it found a buyer in Manila.

SANTO NINO, POLYCHROMED SANTO. I got all excited when my suki from Bangkal, Makati sent two Bohol santo images that she said were on their way to her thrifts shop. I coul not believe my eyes--one was a Sto. Nino with a tin crown, brilliantly painted and stnding on a four-cornered rococo base. The other hitch was that---they have no prices yet. Hmmm..Red flag alert! And then I saw the next piece...

INMACULADA CONCEPCION, POLYCHROMED SANTO. A small Bohol Virgen with a trademark cherub at her foot!! She wears a tin crown, and  robe full of wavy folds and drapes. Her coloring was superb!!! But then, when they finally arrived, the santos had sustained some damage. The crown of the Sto. Nino and the facial aureole of the Inmaculada were crushed and ruined. Worse, the owner threw them away!! The price for the two could have been reasonable, but I asked for a discount considering the loss of the metal accessories. But the owner was firm, and I lost interest. Next!

SAN ANTONIO VINTAGE SANTO. While still in Bangkal, Evangelista, Makati, I saw this vintage San Antonio painted in house paint. Not exactly my cup of tea, but I was struck by the square-jawed saint who sort of reminded me of Dick Tracy.

LA PIEDAD. This Holy Week processional santo showing the Mary cradling her Son, the dead Christ, though carved in the classical tradition, lack the flowing lines of other La Piedad images I have seen. The poses are a bit rigidd, almost stiff. But that does not retract from the value of this old image. The owner was vacillating whether to sell it or not--so I thought it was better to give him more time to think about it. I never saw the images again.

STA. VERONICA. This small processional image of La Veronica was offered to me sometime in the mid 1990s by a San Fernando dealer. Though old, I really din't like it because it was so expressionless (missing glass eyes), and was carved without flair. See how ramrod straight she stands?  Sometime in early 2000s, it resurfaced in the house of another dealer in Sta. Rita. Is she following me after her rejection? Well, I rejected the image again.

MATER DOLOROSA, ANTIQUE IVORY. There was this dealer I met who kept cajoling me to check out his stock. I actually did and found nothing of interest. When he sked me what I was looking for, I said I was looking for an ivory Dolorosa. He got my number and promised to get back to me. Months later, I had a call from him--he wanted to check a Dolorosa that was with him. nd it was for sale. I rushed to his shop and found this lovely piece! I wanted it! Problem was, he said he has to confer with the seller for the price. Disappointed, I left his place.When I called him again, he said that the price has been sold, better luck, next time. Nope...there will be no next time.

SAN ROQUE. This is a tall image of San Roque--and it is complete. As you can see, the best carved figure is the saint himself; the angel and the dog are mediocre works, maybe done by a separate carver.Though complete and not too expensive, I was not sold on this image. That's maybe how other collectors may have felt, too, as the piece went from one shop to another and went unsold for many month

SAGRADA FAMILIA FOLK SANTOS IN A VIRINA. When i was still working in Makati, I would take the train from Ayala station so I could have lunch at Shangrila Mall. There was also an an antique shop there, and this folk grouping of the Holy Family caught my eye--only because the oval virina and its original base was more appealing to me than the images. Alas, the seller said I have to buy the whole assemblage, which does not make sense as the wooden folk santos are better off displayed in a folk urna. I had heavy dessert instead.
STA. RITA DE CASCIA. When I chanced upon this spectacular church-size santa carved in the round, I stood stupefied. It was beautiful!!! It had this imploring look on her face that semm ot say--"buy me! buy me!". I wasn' sure as to her identity, but my instinct tells me she is Sta. Rita, despite the absence of her trdemark stigmata (or perhaps, I didn't check her forehead due to extreme excitement. I wasn't too sure of her age either. But most of all, I wasn't sure if this was stolen and carted off by unscrupulous thieves for sale to Bulacan dealers. So I held off--I remember it was priced at 70 thousand. I just took a picture and never came back.

INMACULADA CONCEPCION ANTIQUE IVORY. Well, I came back for this ivory Maria many times--at the shop of the late Ramon Villegas at La O center. For some reason, I was fascinated by this piece, which stood almost 16 inches tall (see how her head is touching the tip of the virina). I guess it's the simplicity of the carving, thiugh not as finely carved, the face exudes an expression of serenity, with a calming gaze. Mon even told me about the image's provenance; he said it came from cfrom an old Quiapo family. I think I visited the shop 4 times, but never got around to making a decision to take her home. When I last visited his shop, his ivory angels were all snapped up, but this Inmaculada remained. When Mon died, I regretted not getting this, even more. Sigh,