Wednesday, October 19, 2016

270. HEADS UP: A Saintly Set of Ivory Heads

 A gathering of priceless santo heads—some belonging to treasured images, others owned by churches and families; some antiques, others vintage; some from shops, others from private collectors;  some classical, a few folksy—but all made and crafted from old  ivory, the most exquisite and desired material for creating images of devotion. 

Wednesday, October 5, 2016


NTRA. SRA. DE  NIEVA. Source: the Art Collector
One of the lesser known Marian images in the Philippines is not even a carved statue; it is an age-old painting in a rococo frame kept at the Museo ng Buhay Pilipino at the Central Bank Complex in Quezon City.

The 1790 painting, illegibly signed and with barely readable inscription, bears the title Nuestra Señora de Nieva, which shows the gowned Virgin with a scepter in one hand, and cradling the Christ Child with the other. She is haloed with a brilliant diadem and stands on a pedestal with rocaille touches, attended by cherubims.

1896 Novena to Virgen de Nieva, UST
The inscription below the icon mentions the number of days of indulgence granted to those who recited an Ave Maria and prayed for the prosperity of Christianity in the country. The author of this concession was the Recoleto bishop of Vigan, Most. Rev. Juan Ruiz de San Agustin, who governed ca. 1782-83 up to 1796.

The Virgin has been labeled “Our Lady of the Snows”, but is in fact, based on an existing when in fact, there is an image of Ntra. Sra. Soterraña de Nieva, venerated since the 14th century in Santa Maria de Nieva, a town in Segovia Spain. The original wooden statue was found buried in 1392, hidden from the Muslim invasion, in the village of Santa María de Nieva sits now.

The discovery was considered a miracle, and so Queen Catherine of Lancaster had a sanctuary built there. The Virgin was called “ Soterraña”, (subterranean), in reference to her buried state when found. It continued to reside in a Gothic church at Santa María la Real de Nieva, but a fire burned the original image in the 19th century. A replacement image was made and this is the present image found in the church today.

Pix: Household Antqiues & Heirlooms, GCF Books
Other than the Soterraña painting, an 18th c. ivory image of the Virgin with the Child Jesus that once belonged to former First Lady, Imelda Marcos has been ascribed the title of “Our Lady of Soterraña de Nieva “.

Pix; Household Antiques & Heirlooms, GCF Books.
Before this, this image originally was located at the San Agustin Church. The image is dressed in dress wrought in 18 karat filigree gold and shows the Virgin holding the Child Jesus in her left arm and holding a sceptre in the left hand.

Picture source: Household Antiques and Heirlooms, GCF Books
The figures’ head and hands are of ivory, and the image stands about 24 inches, including the base, decorated with three cherubims. This Marian image participated in the yearly Grand Marian Procession of Intramuros until 1981. It is now owned by a private collector.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

268. MINE EYES HAVE SEEN THE GLORY: Santo Sightings in Shops and Homes


Hobbies such as antique collecting can lead you to unexpected adventures, bringing you to ancestral residences, dealers’ homes and warehouses, thus affording you unexpected glimpses of Philippine religious art . Such examples are featured here, taken from as far as decades back.

MADONNA & CHILD, ivory masks and hands.
SAN ROQUE, in the folk style.
PACIENCIA, wooden processional.

Many of these items are long gone, some have gotten away, acquired by antique shops, and sold to collectors. Many still, are kept by the owners as part of their family heirlooms, lovingly cared whether folksy or fancy, in shabby or in pristine condition. Between then and now, I will not be surprised if a few of these have already been lost—either to theft, disasters or the ravages of time.

IVORY CRUCIFIX, for home devotion.

All will agree though that these examples of Philippine sacred art are  glorious expressions of our faith, for to behold such beauty is to see the Light.

SAGRADA FAMILIA, ivory head and hands,
SAN ROQUE, classically carved wooden santo
STA. MARIA MAGDALENA, processional santo.

Thursday, September 15, 2016


The first time I saw this antique ivory santo in a Mabini antique shop, it was a puzzler to both the dealer and me. It was slightly larger than the usual tabletop size, with an-all ivory head, heavily stained and with a crack running down one cheek. Only one hand was of ivory, the other was made of wood. It stood on a squarish base.

Unusual too were its metal accessories—it had a halo that looked like a gear of a large clock. It was also holding a staff and was carrying a metal basket. I knew at once, that the baskets and the staff were not original to the piece—maybe these were added to give more value to the santo, but which added more confusion as to the identity of the santo.

The condition, the price and the anonymity of the santo were perhaps the reasons why the santo stayed on the store shelf and remained unsold, for in my next visit—it was still there. This gave me the opportunity to examine the santo upclose. I had suspected it to be a figure of San Luis Gonzaga (St. Aloysius Gonzaga), because the tell-tale signs were there—the receding forehead, the straight nose, the gaunt look. His right hand could have held a spray of lilies, and the other hand, a crucifix—both iconographic attributes.

I sounded off santo restorer, Dr. Raffy Lopez, about this find, and I asked him to take a look—he might be interested in the mystery piece. And so he did, and after some negotiations, he brought the santo home.

He had agreed with my initial assessment, that the ivory santo was that of San Luis Gonzaga. It was also perfect for his next project—he was doing work in Lucban at that time, mounting a Marian exhibit. He was inspired to make a San Luis Obispo de Tolosa (St. Louis of Toulouse), Lucban’s patron, and felt that his newly-acquired santo could be transformed into one.

The first step Dr. Lopez took was the bleaching of the ivory head, which was badly stained and aged by time. The thorough cleaning revealed the white ivory beneath. The late Edgar Torres gave the santo its new encarna.

 The proportion of the wooden body was corrected as well—the body was cut at the waist and the torso was elevated to half a centimeter more. This would make the santo a stand a little under 16 inches.

Next came the painstaking work of recreating the bishop’s vestments. Dr. Lopez fashioned an alb made from exquisite lace and a miniature stole that was hand-painted with the tiny images of the four Evangelists.

Beneath the alb is an embroidered ruby-red cassock. The holy bishop is arrayed in a deep yellow cope, heavily embroidered with gold thread, forming floral patterns. On his head is a bishop’s miter of the same color scheme.

Completing the look are the silver works, consisting of book and the crosier, that were specially designed by Dr. Lopez and executed by silversmith-jewelers from Quiapo and Pateros. San Luis wears a ruby ring, as well as a pectoral cross with a ruby inset. His original halo was re-plated and used. A discarded silver crown—symbolizing his royal associations, rests at his feet, on a tiny peaña appended to the saint’s own gilded peaña decorated with stylized acanthus leaves.

Finally, the whole santo ensemble was encased inside a virina, and, for awhile, remained in the ownership of Dr. Lopez, until a private collector from Lucban acquired it. It has been a long journey of transformation, but now, that has come full circle, for the old San Luis has returned home to Lucban at last—as San Luis de Obispo de Tolosa.

Many thanks to Dr. Raffy Lopez, Mr. James Yee for providing the photos and restoration details.

Friday, September 9, 2016

266. Recreating a “Miracle”: AN IVORY MEDIATRIX VIRGIN

In September 20105, the Vatican’s Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith issued an official statement that concludes that the alleged series of apparition of Our Lady in Lipa to Carmelite postulant Teresita Castillo are not of supernatural origin.

 The Philippine Church hierarchy had declared the events a hoax in 1951, which resulted in the statue of the Our Lady of Mediatrix of All Grace—as the Lady was so titled--being withdrawn from popular public veneration. In fact, it was ordered to be destroyed but the Carmelite nuns, instead, stowed it away for safekeeping.

 Thirty years after, Lipa’s Archbishop, Msgr. Mariano Gaviola gave permission to bring out the image of Our Lady and, in 2009, Archbishop Arguelles ordered the lifting of all bans to the devotion to Mary Mediatrix of All Grace.

 Just when everyone thought that the Lipa events would finally be recognized, the 2015 Vatican pronouncement put an end to Filipinos’s optimistic speculations, neither endorsing or approving her cult. Nevertheless, this did not dampen the devotion of Filipinos to our Lady.

This ivory representation of the Mediatrix Virgin was fashioned from an antique, but generic Virgin on a base. Transformed by the Lopez Workshop, the figure with ivory head and hands and manikin body was posed to assume the image of Mary following Teresita’s description. Instead of clasped hands, her hands were outstretched to her side.

The figure was then dressed in white satin with simple gold trims at the hems. Drapings were formed to simulate that of the original carved image through light graceful folds anchored in place by pins. 

The result is a pure, simple figure that mimics the serene beauty of the original Our Lady of Mediatrix of All Grace, who, miracle or no miracle, would still inspire our faith and devotion.

Friday, September 2, 2016


The Villa Escudero Museum in Laguna houses some of the most beautiful and valuable collection of antique santos of inconceivable styles in the Philippines. Built like an old church, the museum is part of the 800 hectare sugar plantation estate founded in 1872 by Don Plácido Escudero and his wife Doña Claudia Marasigan. Son Arsenio shifted to coconut farming in the 1900s and began a burgeoning coconut industry in the area.

 Together with his wife, Dona Rosario Adap, the successful agro-industrialist built their hacienda residence in 1929 on their expansive estate that straddles three towns in in two provinces: San Pablo City (Laguna), Tiaong, and Dolores (Quezon).

 In 1981, their children opened the estate to the public and evolved it into a resort that has become a favorite tourist attraction for both local and domestic tourists. It has since become a showcase of Philippine culture and traditions in a charming rural setting, giving the visitor a unique hacienda life experience—from carabao rides, folksy entertainment to outdoor dining with the waters of Labasin Falls lapping at your feet.

 But Villa Escudero’s crown jewel is undoubtedly its museum that features the eclectic collection of Don Arsenio and Rosario amassed from their hobbies and from their travels here and around the world. The objects include a dizzying array of excavated and trade porcelain, tribal, domestic, wartime, and religious antiques and memorabilia.

 In 1987, the collections found a permanent home in the church of the hacienda that was constructed in the old Spanish colonial style. Antique colonial santos and the finest examples of ecclesiastical art are the centerpieces of the Villa Escudero Museum.

There are majestic carrozas of all shapes and sizes bearing processional saints of the Holy Week. These participate in Lenten processions held in San Pablo City annually. There are santos in wood and in ivory, some exhibited behind glass, and some, in reassembled antique church retablos salvaged from old churches.

 Don Conrado Escudero, an heir, has added more antique santos in wood and ivory and other sacred art pieces to the collection through the years. Santos can also be found in the Escudero private chapel where the departe members of Escudero families are interred, as well as inside the magnificent Escudero residence itself.

 A selection of the Villa Escudero santos are on this spread. Access to the Villa Escudero Museum is included with the entrance fee to this distinctive hacienda resort, the first of its kind in the Philippines.