Friday, July 29, 2016


Mabalacat, a Recollect town--and now a city--has but a handful of antique santos to show, owned by a few local families. The most well known--especially for its antiquity--is a medium-sized Sto. Nino under whose gaze, many Mabalaquenos have sought comfort and answers to their prayers for many generations. Apung Nino, they call this figure, owned by the Cunanan Family and their forebears from way, way back, that nobody remembers anymore its origin. and his veneration is open to all who visit His shrine. now weathered and darkened with age, but who continues to shower His people with graces, blessings and--many believe--wondrous  miracles.

In a humble, nondescript home embraced by lush,  flowering plants and trees, the Cunanans have enshrined Apung Nino in their home altar, a home they have opened to devotees who wish to visit and pray before the Holy Child. The house itself is old, but not as old as Apung Nino, a be-wigged, plump-ish figure of the Christ Child on a gilded base, with an orb on one hand, and the other raised in benediction.

Metal 'tres potencias' adorn Apung Nino's head, and that's just about the accessories he owns. Devotees, however, have gifted the revered image with presents through the years--a necklace, a locket, simple pieces of jewelry Even his vestments are austere by present-day standards. At home, Apung Nino wears simple house clothes; on the town fiesta, He dons more special clothes embroidered with gold-colored threads.

The caretaker of the image that everyone remembers was the late Engracia "Apung Asyang" Sengco Castro Cunanan,who tended Apung Nino along with children Yoyong, Roming, Ising, Nanding, Carding, and Fe Cunanan. After Apung Asyang passed away on 24 October 1987, and upon her death, her daughter Fe took over her duties. She thus continues the tradition of being a "camarera" of the family image began by her ancestors many years ago.

Apung Nino's special days are on the Feast of Sto. Nino every January and on the town fiesta of Mabalacat. During the fiesta celebration, Apung Nino gets to wear His special vestments and gets to go out of His Agusu home and, borne on a carroza, joins the festive town procession. And as the Holy Child makes the rounds of the town, one could hear the silent intonation of prayers of the faithful who have come from all over to give thanks and praise....

"O Senor Sto. Nino, You are Our King and Our God. We worship you. You are our strong Defender. We turn to you forever and ever...Amen".

Tuesday, July 19, 2016


 In the Philippines, monastic art is a collective term for the artistic outputs of nuns and novices who pass their cloistered hours doing arts and crafts projects. Later, the same skills were taught by religious teachers to girls in Catholics schools, who learned a bit of the Fine Arts along with the domestic arts.

 Popular at the turn of the 20th century, these artistic creations include tole art, paper quilling, religious embroidery, paper crafts, dried flower and leaf art, artistic patching and sewn figural creations. Since most of the creations were three-dimensional, they could not be contained in regular frames. Instead, they were kept in shadow boxes.

 A shadow box is an enclosed glass-front case that is made to contain objects presented in a thematic grouping with artistic or personal significance. The grouping of the objects and the depth effect created by their relative heights from the backing creates a dramatic visual result.

Most of the shadow boxes seen in local antique shops carry religious subjects as central figures. The most typical examples include using old prints of saints (commercially lithographed or ordinary estampitas). The pictures are then cut-out and decorated. For example, cut-out figures of Jesus or Mary, are “clothed” much like paper dolls,  with satin fabrics that have been crimped and folded to simulate drapes on a real dress.

These are then profusely decorated with paper, fabric or mother-of-pearl (‘lagang” or madreperla) flowers or buds. Sometimes, bird figures made of balsa wood are mounted on branches. Metal parts like halos were fashioned from foil. To create 3-D effects, elements of the picture were sometimes raised using thick cardboard and tole techniques. The frames used are standard period frames with art nouveau or art deco carvings, converted into a shallow box.

 Secular versions of shadow box art also existed, which was a favorite past-time during the Victorian age. Instead of religious themes, nimble fingers crafted art made of human hair—braided, soiled or used as embroidery thread to make memorials of dead loved ones. I have seen shadow boxes with patriotic figures, papier mache fruits and a heritage house in Sta. Rita has 4 rare shadow boxes containing dioramas of the allegorical figures of the Four Seasons.

 Most of the shadow boxes featured here can be seen at the Archdiocese Museum of San Fernando, Pampanga.

Friday, July 8, 2016

258. Guagua's Dolorous Virgins IV: DOLOROSA DE SIETE PALABRAS

By now, one should have noted the pattern that Guagua’s Limsons, Lopezes, Jingcos and Bacanis are all interrelated either by blood or by marriage; they are also owners of major processional images, many of them Dolorosas. The same can be said for the fourth Dolorosa of Guagua, fancifully called Dolorosa of the Siete Palabras.

The Dolorosa is owned by Mrs. Teresita “Tita”  Limson-Songco, whose son Jun, had it made in 2000, originally for home devotion. It was made by Dan Garcia and was last painted in 2002.  When the Holy Wednesday Lopez Dolorosa  ceased to join the Lenten processions of  Guagua in the early 2000s, the Limson-Songco Dolorosa replaced her. 

It has since assumed that role for the last 11 years, as the Lopez ‘Macarena’, has stopped its outings indefinitely. The Dolorosa de Siete Palabras has its own wooden carroza, and is thus the latest to join the long line of Guagua’s celebrated images of the Dolorous Virgins.


Dr. Raymund Feliciano (chevalierfeliciano on flickr)
Jerry P. Sagmit

Friday, July 1, 2016

257. Guagua's Dolorous Virgins III: THE LIMSON DOLOROSA (SOLEDAD)

Photo: Budhi, From Guagua to Quiapo by Jose Ma. Zaragoza.

 Hailed as one of the most beautiful Dolorosas in the country, the antique ivory Dolorosa of the Limson Family of Guagua is an iconic Lenten image of the town, spoken with the same awe and reverence as the Sto. Sepulcro of the Infante-Velez Family.

 The Limsons are an old Chinese family who settled in Guagua and are presumed to have been known by their Chinese name Sonson Lin. The earliest known Limsons were a generation of siblings who lived in the early 1800s—Vicente, Pascuala and another brother whose name has been lost to memory.

 This nameless brother begot Diego Limson (ca. late 1850s-early 1860s) who married Severina Jingco. It was during Diego’s time that the existence of the ivory Dolorosa was recorded through oral history, so the age of 300 years attributed to the santo may not be a realistic estimate.

 In any case, what is correct was that the image was passed on through Diego’s line of descendants; in fact, the image was named Soledad after Diego’s first great-grandchild. The antique ivory figure was inherited by Diego’s only son, Don Guillermo Limson (ca.1880s) who had two sons, and three other children out-of-wedlock. (It is interesting to note that Guillermo’s youngest sister, Jacinta Limson, married Alejandro Lopez, who ordered a Dolorosa from Spain expressedly to replace the Bacani Dolorosa which was withdrawn by the owners from the Holy Wednesday procession).

 The Limsons’ Virgen de Soledad, a titular variant of the dolorous Virgin, has a head and hands of ivory. The head rests on a half-bust, with manikin arms and wooden framework for her lower body. When assembled, the Soledad stands 5 feet 7 inches tall, rostrillo included.

 During the last World War, the image was desecrated by the Japanese, broken in pieces, placed in a sack and stashed away forgotten in a vault. When rediscovered, the pieces were put back together again and the ivory Soledad was fully restored. The metal crown and the pierced heart of the Soledad are made of silver. Its original manto was taken by the late restorer and vestment maker Carlos Mercado of Sasmuan, who must have transferred the design on new velvet, as the design, as recalled by descendants remained unchanged.

 Today, the Limson Dolorosa or Soledad is still in service, with its own carroza triunfal that replicates the design of the magnificent carroza created for the Lopez’s Macarena. It is lovingly cared for and attended to by Limson descendants. Then, as now, she continues to grace the Good Friday processions of Guagua, as well as the Salubong rites, continuing a hallowed tradition that have become so much a part of the lives of devoted Guagueños for generations.

Photos: Ralph Laurence sales, flickr
Toto Gonzalez, Dr/ Dindo Limson Juco

Limson family tree, online

Online Interview with Dr. Dindo Limson Juco
Jerry Punzalan Sagmit

Saturday, June 25, 2016

256. Guagua's Dolorous Virgins II: THE JINGCO-BACANI DOLOROSA


The Bacani Dolorosa is an exquisitely-made processional wooden figure of the Dolorous Virgin, an heirloom image of the Bacani (Bakani) Family of Guagua. Family lore tells of the image being used for processions on Holy Thursdays even during the Spanish times. But more likely, it is a handiwork of their relatives--the Jingcos--who were a family of sculptors led by Sabas Jingco, and later, his son Maximino Jingco, a U.P. Fine Arts graduate who opened a taller de escultura y pintura in Betis in 1927. The younger Jingco studied under the tutelage of Isabelo Tampinco. This also explains why the Dolorosa is often referred to as the Jingco-Bacani Dolorosa. 

The patriarch, Dr. Jose Irisari Bacani was a well-known medico cirujano, a graduate  of University of Sto. Tomas (1917) who later pursued higher studies in the U.S. Upon his return, he worked briefly at the Philippine General Hospital, then settled back to Guagua in 1919 to practice his profession. In 1920, he married Consolacion Valenzuela where they raised three daughters.

The Dolorosa, over the years, has been repainted, and now has a fairer complexion like ivory;  it is hard to tell from a distance whether it is real ivory or plain wood due to her most recent encarnacion. It always participated in the pre-war Holy Wednesday procession in Guagua, until its carroza was completely burned at the height of the World War II in 1942. In those dreadful times, Guagua town was razed to the ground.

As a result, the family withdrew the Dolorosa from the Holy Week processions of Guagua. This prompted the Lopezes,  another prominent family of the town, to have another sober-looking Dolorosa made in Spain—known today as the Macarena.

Rosario Bacani Guanzon
The Bacani Dolorosa, meanwhile, was left in the care of one daughter, Rosario Bacani Guanzon. It would take 50 years before this beautiful Dolorosa resurfaced again in the 1990s—as a participant in the Marian procession held in Guagua in 1991 and 1998.

Apung Charing shared the Dolorosa with siblings and relatives, allowing them to keep the image in their homes for as long as six months. After which, the image was secured and kept once more by Mrs. Guanzon in nearby Sta. Rita town, where she keeps a home.

The Bacani Dolorosa has not been seen publicly since.  Dressed in her red embroidered vestment and caped with her wide manto, the Dolorosa cuts a striking figure, especially when she wears her silver rostrillo. It is hoped that the people of Guagua will behold the face of this beautiful Dolorosa once more in the near future.

PHOTO CREDITS: Jerry Punzalan Sagmit

Sunday, June 19, 2016

255. Guagua’s Dolorous Virgins I: THE LOPEZ DOLOROSA

in its own silver-plated carroza triunfal, 1952

Through the years, Guagua, Pampanga has taken pride in having not just the most beautiful Dolorosa images in the region but also in having a pool of several statues of the sorrowful Virgin that are used in their Lenten celebrations.

One well-known Mater Dolorosa that exists to this day is the statue commissioned by town millionaire Don Alejandro Lopez. Married to Jacinta Limson, Lopez had humble beginnings. As a teaching graduate of the Philippine Normal School, he taught at Pampanga High School from 1912-1913, and rose to succeed Benito Pangilinan as a Division Superintendent of the Bureau of Education.

 In 1920, he engaged in commerce and agriculture, where he found his fortune and rose to prominence as director and vice president of the Pampanga Sugar Mills Planters Association. For his wife, he built the grand Villa Jacinta, the first all-concrete residence in Pampanga in 1929, at a cost of Php28,000.

 One of the sure signs of wealth in those days was the ownership of a religious image. When the Dolorosa of the Bacani family ceased to join the Holy Wedneday procession of Guagua after the war, Don Alejandro Lopez proceeded to order a beautiful wooden Mater Dolorosa image all the way from Spain.

 The wooden processional Dolorosa was created by an unknown sculptor from a taller in Madrid, Spain called Casa Garin. The shop, which also sold other religious articles for worship, operated until 2004. The classically carved Dolorosa, with its beautiful mournful features, had only a wooden conical frame for its lower body, without legs or feet. It was outfitted with a silver rostrillo and a silver heart pierced with 7 daggers.

 The Spanish-made Dolorosa was shipped to the Philippines and arrived in Guagua in 1952. Even as it was being made, Lopez also ordered from Victoriano Songco of the Catholic Trade Center, a magnificient carroza fit for the Dolorosa. (Siongco, in a few years, would also make the replica of the Virgen de los Remedios, patroness of Pampanga).

 The result was a grand carroza triunfal, shaped like a chariot, which was wrapped in silver-plated panels. The float was prefaced by two trumpet bearing angels up front, and light-carrying standing angels flanking its sides. The border of the carroza was lined with cherubs and puttis.

 On 9 April 1952, the Lopez’ Mater Dolorosa, arrayed in richly-embroidered vestments was enthroned on her fabulous carroza triunfal, and was blessed and inaugurated at the Villa Jacinta with the family and VIP guests in attendance.

 For years, the Mater Dolorosa participated in the Holy Wednesday processions of Guagua, but when the patriarch passed away, disputes of the heirs over family property caused the Dolorosa and the carroza to be assigned ownership to a male heir, who entrusted it for safekeeping to a neighbor. Recently, it was reported in local news that the silver accessories of the Dolorosa were stolen, but it was widely believed that they were sold by one descendant. Only the cape or manto survived.

The future of the Lopez Mater Dolorosa remains uncertain; its carroza triunfal has been duplicated as it has also broken down;  this new carroza is now in use to convey the antique Limson ivory Dolorosa for the annual Viernes Santo and Salubong rites.

NOTE: One of the last appearances of the Lopez Dolorosa (popularly called Macarena)  was in the Holy Wednesday procession of Guagua in 1992. Photo courtesy of Dr. Raymund Feliciano.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

254. MARFIL: Philippine Religious Ivory Carvings, part 2

STO. NIÑO, Head and hands of ivory, mounted on wooden body. Garbed investment embroidered with gold thread. 19th c. Ht. 30 cm. Gopiao Collection.

By Jose Mari P. Treñas
Photography by  Patrick Uy

Philippine Religious Ivory Carvings.
Excavations show fossils of elephants and tusk-bearing relatives of elephants in various Philippine sites (Cagayan Valley, Pangasinan, Panay, Manila and Mindanao.) A Spanish Augustinian memo in 1573 mentions elephants in Sulu. Sixteenth and 17th century Spanish accounts also state that ivory (marfil) was fashioned by the Filipinos into religious statuary, jewelry and weapon handles. Still the existence of a thriving ivory carving tradition before the Spaniards came cannot be ascertained. What is indisputable is that the earliest religious ivory carvings were commissioned by the Spanish friars initially from immigrant carvers from Southeastern China.

SANTO NIÑO, Solid ivory figure, arms carved separately. Gold crowns, traces of gilding on the hair. Glass eyes, 19th c., Ht. 20 cm. Treñas Collection.

The most intriguing question is whether these were carved exclusively by the Chinese (which was the dogma upheld until fairly recently) or whether this craft passed on to Filipinos early on. Gatbonton initially expressed a theory about a “local” style in her 1982 catalogue, Imagery in Ivory for the ivory exhibit of the Intramuros Administration. The theory that Filipinos also carved ivory was again ventured by Gatbonton rather tentatively in her book published by the Intramuros Administration in 1983, entitled Philippine Religious Carvings in Ivory, when she states that, “We may reasonably assume that Filipino carvers, we working alongside the Chinese.” This assertion Gatbonton repeats more unequivocably in her article for Arts of Asia also published in 1983—but here she goes on a limb. She breaks the paradigm—she states that based on the collection gathered by the Intramuros Administration, it was possible to reassess the general belief that Chinese carvers were responsible for all the ivory carvings originating from the Philippines.

MADONNA AND CHILD. Solid ivory figure with gold leaf decorations; gold crowns and gold rostrillos (facial aureole). 18thc., Ht. 26 cm. Treñas Collection

She cites two reasons: 1. The Filipino carver’s attitude towards the theme of Crucifixion where Christ is the passive victim); 2. The Filipino carver’s tendency to carve for frontal effect.

This theory was actively pursued by Jose. Although it is not clear when Filipinos started to carve ivory santos, by the 1730s, the Spanish missionaries were praising the artistic skills of indios and mestizos. In 1729, the Archbishop of Manila states that in connection with a proposed deportation of the Chinese, the natives were ready to take over all crafts. In 1738, Fr. Pedro Murillo Velarde S.J. wrote that the Filipinos were ‘exceedingly clever in handiwork—good carvers, gilders and carpenters.” Significantly, Jose notes that the item ‘sculptor’ does not appear in the lists of Chinese professions in 1689, 1700 or 1745. All in all, historical evidence shows that the Chinese were absent from the Philippines for long periods of time. The answer to this question may not be definitive, but the paradigm has been broken.

SANTO NIÑO. Head, hands, feet of ivory mounted on wooden body. Garbed in vestment embroidered with gold thread,, silver crown,m Late 18th  cm., Ht. 39 cm.m Gopiao Collection.

While more research and documentation have to be done, significant strides have been made on the recognition of Philippine ivories. The Spanish scholar and writer, Margarita Estella Marcos, has traced a number of Philippine ivory carvings now in private collections. Jose enumerates some of these pieces: a Santo Cristo documented in 1585 in the Church of the Magdalena in Sevilla, a number of pieces given by Bishop Antonio Paino to the Church of Sta. Maria in Valladolid in 1630 and 1660, a plaque depicting the Crucifixion dated between 1694 in the Church of Vera Cruz in Salamanca, a San Miguel and San Juan Bautista dated between 1695 and 1712 in the Cathedral of Badajoz, a Divino Pastor dated 1699 in the Castle of the Family of San Francisco Javier in Navarra, a Cristo de los Peligros which arrived in Spain in 1715 and is now enshrined in the Parish of Belmonte in Cuenca.

PURISIMA CONCEPCION, Solid ivory figure. Gold ornaments, Late 18th  c., Ht. 27 cm., Maralit Collection.

In 1770, a dozen ivory figures (among them, the Four Evangelists, a Nuestra Señora de la Asuncion and the Four Doctors of the Church) were documented to have arrived in Mexico from the Philippines. The Museo Oriental in Valladolid exhibits many ivory carvings of Philippine provenance.

More and more, Philippine ivory carvings are emerging from the shadow of European ivories. Although there were early condescending references to the Philippine pieces as hybrid ivories with pious Oriental expressions, Western oses and agitated draperies, this has changed. These pieces, the result of a unique Filipino sensibility utilizing European models and Chinese tecniques, are now recognized as among the most beautiful religious ivory carvings produced during this period.