Sunday, March 25, 2018

308. A Padre de Familia, Reworked: SAN JOSE

Talking about devotional images for the home, it is surprising that, growing up,  I never saw heirloom santos in our family altar. Not even one. What we had were plaster cast saints from the 1950s,  a handful of which survived—Virgen de los Remedios, Fatima,  Lourdes, and a headless escayola figure of a Sacred Heart of Jesus. But old, wooden tabletop santos? Never. The only thing close was a small Nazareno that  my Apung Tiri bought after the war, perhaps from one of those stalls in Quiapo church, and which is now in the possession of my 95 year old aunt.

Perhaps that’s what excites me when I visit my other distant Castro relatives and discover antique family santos in their home altar. In one such visit to my second cousins, I saw a couple of folk santos on a table, not so finely carved, but antique nevertheless. Of course, my cousins—who knew of my penchant for collecting them—would tell me stories behind the santos—how this particular San Isidro Labrador was often beseeched for good rice harvest by their Apu. Or how this San Jose was prized by the mother, until termites gobbled him up. These santos, however, would be stored for good, when, one by one, my cousins left for the U.S., and I thought I would never see them again.

But  a day before the last of my cousins departed for the U.S., I was in for a big surprise. When I got home from work, I found this San Jose with a Child Jesus on my living room table, brought there by my cousin in the hope that I can adopt it and have it restored for my collection. I was grateful and thrilled at the same time, and I promised to take care of their San Jose, no matter what shape he was in.

I have seen similar santos of this make, possibly one of the earliest,--and cheapest-- types of commercial, mass produced wooden figures, all with uniformed sizes, same manikin body construction, same bases, and even same facial features. 

The same goes true for the globe-holding  generic Niño, made to be held by these generic santos and santas,  then clothed with different vestments and outfitted with accessories, to finally define them  and their titles. 

True, there may be nothing remarkable about this San Jose, but its special-ness comes from the fact that it once was the center of a family devotion, sharing home and hearth with my Castro forebears.

The wooden head of San Jose was in a terribly bad shape. The wood had been eaten by termites, with half of the head gone—just a thin shell---no nose, right cheek gone, the base, ridden with holes.

Surprisingly, the wooden body was in good condition, the hands complete; even San Jose’s original rattan staff was intact. He was wearing well-worn robes on his shapeless body, most likely sewn by another cousin, an expert sastre (tailor), as well as an old abaca wig.

The Niño was in better shape, as it was carved in one piece. Its paint has long faded and it came to me clothed in a white eyelet tunic, several sizes bigger.

My biggest problem was San Jose’s heavily damaged head. My first impulse  was to discard the head, have a new one made, and that would have solved my problem. It also means destroying the integrity of the image, no matter how plain and folksy it looks. I decided to see if I could restore it myself , and so, armed with perseverance and prayer, I embarked on this restoration project.

To fill the gaping hole on San Jose’s head, I had to buy a can of plastic filler, some sort of a wood putty, that sets in an hour, then dries in a day or two. My patience was tested when I started filling the hole, as I had to do put the filler in one layer at a time, wait for it to set until it achieves a clay-like consistency.

Then you build on this layer, poured more filler, wait for half a day or so, and begin the process again until you build up the filler all the way to the surface are of the santo’s skin.  Only then can I mold and shape facial features—like the nose, nostrils,  the beard, the missing cheek and forehead--using all sorts of spatulas, ice cream sticks and even my hands. Sometimes, I was always in a rush; I would begin molding, only to realize that the putty had not fully settled yet. After a day, the cheek and forehead would cave in as the putty seeped through the crevices of the hole-ridden head.

Meanwhile, I tried replacing the missing eye with a glass eye I cut from a broken bulb. When that did not fit, I made another eye using clear plastic, from an empty mineral water bottle. The fit was better! Finally, after two week of filling, shaping, sculpting and sanding--- I declared my finished santo head a success.

The next step was painting both the San Jose head and the Nino. I was just too lazy to do this, so I just brought it to an art gallery in Angeles and convinced the artist-owner to paint them, even though he paint only on flat canvasses.

When I put the San Jose head on the cleaned-up manikin body, I was pleased with the result, although it could have been better. I could still detect a dent on one side of the head—the result of my impatience, of not waiting longer for the putty to set. I could also have done a better job with sanding the piece, as, despite the paint job,  I could still see areas where the wood and the putty meet.

For San Jose’s vestments, I retained the original green tunic and had a full velvet cape made so that his clothes would have more volume and body. I also spruced up the undershirt with lace. 

The Niño had to contend with His old clothes, which I altered to make it smaller. I smooched a wig from one of my old santas, and had his metal halo re-wired (it is still with the latero, so you don’t see him wearing it here).

The final results of my San Jose restoration project are on this page. I have signified my intention to donate this image to our chapel—on behalf of my generous cousins-- as soon as I have a glass-fronted urna or cabinet made. 

When I told my cousins of this plan, they were elated and touched, of course, at the thought that their San Jose—once their padre de familia—would now be a Great Father to a whole barangay who would only be happy to have him in their midst.

Saturday, March 17, 2018



A decade ago, in one of my visits to a local antique dealer, I picked up this photo postcard of what seemed to be a family before an heirloom wooden statue of Sta. Salome, on a small wooden carroza. The people are dressed in modest clothes, in their Sunday’s best—nothing expensive or flashy. The women on the left looked like they were in mourning clothes, indicating a death in the family, maybe the pater familia. The grove of slender bamboos in the background gives the scene a real, rustic feel. It would appear that they are about to leave for a procession.  I liked how this 1920s photo evoked the spirit of bygone days in the province, —simple, unhurried, when people’s devotion to their faith was deeper, more unwavering.

But what drew me to the picture was Sta. Salome herself. It is the plain-ness of the carving that makes her remarkable. She projects a sweet expression, a slight smile evident on her face. The santa who cleaned Jesus’ tomb clasps a broom on one hand—a walis tingting—and a hanky on her left hand. Her vestments, though with traces of gold embroidery, have a  homespun quality to the way they were created. The ends of her half-cape are folded over into “palikpik” that extended till her shoulders. She wears a belt that is uniquely trimmed with a ribbon. 

On her head, Sta. Salome  wears a brass diadem, and an umbrella-type halo or paragua. She stands on an ochovado base, outfitted with spindly albortantes, topped with glass floral shades and adorned with paper flowers.


The mystery over this vintage picture, however, had just begun.
Who is the family that owns this beautiful Sta. Salome?
Where was this taken?
More importantly, what fate befell the santa and her carroza?
If she survived, where is it now?


For years, these questions remained unanswered. In the meanwhile, I even used the picture as an illustrative example of Philippine processions in an article I wrote for one of my blogs. Sometime in 2015, one blog reader from Bulacan—Yves Paulino-- saw the picture and noticed some startling similarities with the image of Santa Salome of Caniogan in Malolos.


The overall stance of the image—for instance, in the way her hands were posed, were similar to their Sta. Salome. And so were the diadem and the “payong”. The manner in which she was dressed-- specifically, the upright ‘palikpik’—was very similar too. The most telling, however, was the unique belt. Upon closer scrutiny, Paulino noticed that the santa in the picture was wearing a unique ribbon belt—identical to the original belt on the waist of  the Caniogan image.


Despite these striking similarities, Paulino wanted to be really certain. Since my blog was about Pampanga, he assumed that the picture came from the province, and therefore the image had a Kapampangan provenance. Besides, I had identified the image in the picture was a “Sta. Maria Jacobe”. He then sent me period pictures of their santa so that  could compare the 2 statues myself.


When I saw the picture of their patroness, I could tell right away that this was indeed, the same one as in my picture. I pointed out that I did not identify the image as coming from Pampanga, In the caption, I had written  “….A family from Central Luzon rolls out it heirloom image of Sta. Maria Jacobe”. It is also to be noted that certain provinces interchange the names and attributes (broom and hanky vs. censer) of Maria Jacobe and Salome.  I had no doubt in my mind that the mystery santa in the picture was indeed, the Sta. Salome of Caniogan, Malolos.


The only missing information are the real identities of the people in the picture. No one in Caniogan seem to know, not even the old folks in the neighborhood. They could only tell that “someone long ago, donated the image for the chapel to use”.  


Today, the image of 5 foot  Sta. Salome with her bastidor body has her own chapel in Caniogan, and she remains under the care of “hermanos”, who,  on rotating duties, take care of the image. An assigned hermano gets to take home the statue, her vestments and even her cabinet where she is kept. Nowadays, the younger set takes care of dressing her up for her “fiesta”. All these years, she wears her original ribbon belt and her diadem, but her halo and her broom  have been replaced. She also wears a donated human hair wig.


Not only did the antique image survived too, but even her wooden carroza shown on the picture is still in existence, used by the old Santa Cruz of Caniogan—a slender, holy cross that is also a treasured sacred art of the barangay.


Sta. Salome’s double feast days are observed with festive dancing and celebrations—first, during the Easter Salubong, where she is feted with a procession after her return  from the Sta. Isabel Church, and on Oct. 22, her official Feast Day, where a novena is held in her honor.


The only mystery left are finding the identities of the family members  in the picture. No one in Caniogan seem to know, not even the old folks in the neighborhood. They could only tell that “someone long ago, donated the image for the chapel to use”.  But that is immaterial at this point in time, for in their stead, a whole community of people have come to rally around Sta. Salome, showering her with love and devotion that are sure to last into the next generation and beyond.

Sta. Salome Close Up: flickr via Wenceslao Camigay,
Picture of Sta. Salome with Sta. Cruz: Sta. Salome (Caniogan, Malolos) FB Page,
Sta. Salome Chapel: Wenceslao Camigay,
Photo of Sta. Salome in church altar: Bob Bernabe FB ( posted on Sta. Salome FB page)
Medium shit of Sta. Salome: JehnNel Paulino FB ( posted on Sta. Salome FB page)
Other vintage pictures: Yves Paulino
Photo of Sta. Cruz with Carroza, Jemuel Palacio Paulino

Saturday, March 10, 2018


Adoration of the Shepherds and Adoration of the Magi form part of the series on the Nativity in the collection of Don Luis Araneta. Both are bas reliefs of polychromed molave taken from the old catholic parish church of Candaba, Pampanga, and dated approximately from the 17th century. They represent some of the earliest samples of religious wood work done in the Philippines.

Pampanga is well-known to be one of the centers of image-making during the period. Most pieces coming from here are made of hardwood and the treatment best approaches the classical among all other regions of the Philippines. The artisans of this area are relatively well-versed in the handling of drapes. Although there are deficiencies in anatomical proportions, the quality of craftsmanship is already advanced.

For instance, the Adoration of the Magi was evidently done by the same craftsman as the one who did the front cover but with a more polished effort. The color is even more exciting and vivid due perhaps due to the psychological effect of the subject dealing with kings on the sensibilities of the craftsman. The similarity in the expression of the faces is so characteristic of the images of Pampanga.