Thursday, April 23, 2015


HEADS WILL ROLL. All these exquisite antique santo heads from the Philippines were auctioned off on ebay, by the controversial antique dealer, Rory Bacus. The fate of unsold santos remain unknown. 

One of the most controversial dealers of Philippine religious antiquities was the late Rory Bacus of Cebu, who listed his business as an exporter-importer of woodcarvings. In the early 2000s, Rory Bacus, under the name "robacus", posted regularly on the international auction site, ebay, many religious artifacts, examples of which are shown here on this page.

Bacus has been associated with the loss of many old religious images from Cebu parishes, which includes figures of Virgen Dolorosa, Baby Jesus of Mount Carmel, San Jose, Nazareno and Sta. Monica, from the Santa Monica Parish in Dalaguete, Cebu.

These, along with 158 icons, including 58 crucifixes and other sacred artifacts, were recovered in a raid conducted in the house of Bacus in late April 2003. Bacus had also been allegedly involved in the disappearances of many images from different churches in and outside Cebu.

In October 2003, the Archdiocese of Cebu charged the noted antique dealer of fencing various religious artifacts. Included in the complaint at the City Prosecutor’s Office was an affidavit of Rosa Navarro, the treasurer of the Badian pastoral council who testified that she was able to recognize a cherubim icon, among the  icons seized by the police from Bacus’ house in a previous May 2003 raid.

On April 25, 2003, prior to the serving of the search warrant, the police were also able to retrieve ten antique religious icons at a house in Guizo, Mandaue City, reportedly owned by Bacus. Agapito Torrentira, councilor of Inabanga town in Bohol, and barangay captain Emiliano Divino, of the same place, came to Cebu and identified two of the icons recovered as among those stolen from barangay Cambitoon chapel, of the town.

A second police raid conducted later yielded  the images of San Isidro Labrador, San Agustin, and Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, verified by the 2 Bohol officials as items stolen from their place.Carcar residents, Josefina Roldan, Angeliza Tanodtanod, and Silvina Francisco had also stated that they had identified another icon from Bacus, as the one stolen from a chapel in barangay Perrelos of the town.

However, Bacus’' lawyer had earlier questioned the search that the police had conducted, arguing that they used a general warrant, which was not specific as to what objects will be searched. The lawyer also contended that the police were not able to establish that icons seized were indeed stolen, as alleged. She said those icons could not be declared as illegally possessed if there is no evidence to show these were stolen somewhere. (TO BE CONTINUED)

All pictures were grabbed and saved from actual postings on ebay between 2000-2003.

Monday, April 20, 2015


EL STO. ENTIERRO DE GUAGUA. Considered as one ofthe most beautiful and most opulent in the country, the Sto. Entierro of the Velez-Ynfante Family is shown here during the Good Friday procession in 20__, Phot courtesy of Dr. Raymund Feliciano.

 The Santo Entierro of Guagua has been the soul of the Velez family over the last 250 years. It takes a week to prepare, polish, assemble, clean and light up this elaborate silver carroza for the Good Friday procession. 150 volunteers are chosen each year from the Barangay Santa Filomena, Guagua to serve the Senor Milagroso.

The Santo Entierro in its magnificent calandra, in 1949. Picture source: Budhi: A Journal of Ideas and Culture, Vol. X, No. 2, 2006. "Guagua to Quiapo", by Ramon Ma. Zaragoza. p. 22 

Sampaguita garlands are the only floral decorations allowed. When lighted candles proved to be unsafe for the crowds during the procession, electric lights were installed in the virinas of the carroza, requiring power from 11 heavy duty truck batteries. In addition, thirty violinists volunteer their services. The image of Jesus in repose is reputed to be the most beautiful of its kind in the country.

Saturday, April 4, 2015



The original image of Apalit's Sta. Maria Magdalena had ivory head and hands, owned by Dr. Joaquin Gonzales (+1900) and Florencia Rodriguez Sioco (+1925). This 120 cm. Magdalena had her owned giltwood carroza. Bot image and carroza were inherited by their son, Augusto Sioco Gonzalez, who married Rosario "Charing" Arnedo, daughter of Pampanga's provincial governor, Macario Arnedo.

According to the recollections of the late father of descendant Mr. Toto Gonzalez, this original Magdalena was capeless; it was dressed entirely in embroidered burgundy velvet. It had a tiara of silver as well as a perfume bottle. Her accessories included real gold and diamond jewelry --- earrings, necklace, ring, and bracelets. It was always dressed by the female retainers of the family (never by the family members themselves) and was kept assembled the whole year through inside its glass case in a guest room filled with ivory santos in virinas.

This  Gonzalez-owned Sta. Maria Magdalena was unfortunately destroyed when the Americans dropped a bomb on the Gonzalez house in barrio Sulipan where Japanese army trucks were parked
(the bomb was actually intended for the Apalit bridge) on New Year's Day, 01 January 1942.

After the war, in late 1945, Dna. Charing commissioned "Talleres de Maximo Vicente"  to make a new Magdalena image and carroza, for Apalit, to replaced the lost ivory image. Maximo Vicente asked Charing Gonzalez for a photo of the original Magdalena but she had none; she simply gave him carte blanche to produce one. The result is a beautifully carved wooden image with an expressive face and hands, with an "encarna" that made her look Jewish. She stood at 5'6" tall without the 4" base.

The famed santero arrayed her with long hair of "jusi", a burgundy vestida and golden yellow cape with brass flowers dipped in silver then gold, and a double-plated (silver and gold) tiara. She holds her attribute, a  glass perfume bottle,  Vicente also provided a classical wooden carroza with silver-plated brass decorations and 1940s milk glass virinas. Mr. Toto Gonzalez remains the current caretaker of this exquisite Sta. Maria Magdalena, and she continues to lend her regal presence in the annual Holy Week processions of Apalit.

(Many thanks to Mr. Toto Gonzalez for providing the background information on Apalit's Sta. Maria Magdalena, and to Dr. Jojo Valencia for the 1973 photo.)

Friday, March 27, 2015

217. SACRED LEGACY: Santo Collection of the Zaragozas of Guagua and Quiapo

The Zaragozas are an old family whose lineage can be traced back to the Cepeda family of Sta. Teresa de Avila. A relative of the mystic saint, Gen. Agustin de Cepeda arrived with Legaspi in Manila and became its mayor in 1657. Another relative, Agustina Zaragoza fought against the French at the age of 18 in 1808, to become the toast of the Spanish Army.

The family’s Philippine bloodline was begun by Rafael Zaragoza, who was assigned to Nueva Ecija to protect the Spanish interest on the burgeoning tobacco industry in the Philippines. He fathered two children, Jose and Miguel Zaragoza. Jose married Rosa Roxas of Quiapo, with whom he had a son, Elias--the first Filipino to graduate from Yale University in 1906.

I first heard of the Pampanga connection of the Zaragozas of Quiapo from stories in Guagua about the spectacular Santo Sepulcro of the Velez-Infante that has been processioned annually every Good Friday, for over two centuries. A member of the family, Rosario Velez R. Infante would go on to meet and marry Elias Zaragoza, thus establishing the Guagua-Quiapo ties.

The family history is recounted in one journal, written by a descendant, Arch. Ramon Ma. Zaragoza, entitled “From Guagua to Quiapo”. Ramon’s father, incidentally , is the 2014 National Artist for Architecture, Jose Ma. Zaragoza, renowned for designing sacred structures including his masterpiece, the Sto. Domingo Church. In his family chronicle,

Zaragoza called to mind those bygone days when his forebears participated in Quiapo fiesta processions, fielding the twin carrozas of Sta. Teresa de Avila and San Juan de la Cruz.

He also wrote about the religious artworks that filled their ancestral houses, which survived numerous catastrophes and saved by current family members—including the prized La Dormicion dela Virgen Maria—a most exquisite antique ivory treasure that is now under the care of Arch. Ramon.

 On this page are a few more of the ivory santos from the Velez-Zaragoza collection, all reproduced from “”From Guagua to Quiapo”: Budhi, A Journal of Ideas and Culture, Vol. , No. 2, 2006. Ateneo de Manila Press.

With Arch. Ramon Ma. Zaragoza.

Thursday, March 12, 2015


In March 1937, the1st Philippine Exposition of Christian Art was held in the Philippines, a first-time exhibit of antique religious and ecclesiastical art culled from private and church collections. The pre-war exhibit was organized in time for the holding of the 33rd International Eucharistic Congress in Manila, and was held at the Victoria Gardens, Manila.

 Some of the precious heirloom santos on display include the Buencamino family’s “Last Supper”, a tableaux of 12 seated santo figures representing Christ’s disciples, plus the carved likeness of Christ himself. This grouping still exists today. Just as awe-inspiring was a set of crucifixes that , as one magazine recorded, “won praises from lay visitors and foreigners as well as church dignitaries who were in the city to witness the 33rd International Eucharistic Congress.” Here are the pictures of the exhibited crucifixes and the original captions that described them.

The image of Christ sculptured about 160 years ago, and at present the property of Doña Consuelo David de Jesus of Sta. Cruz, Manila.

The Ivory Christ the first and only one of its kind in the Philippines and probably in the whole world today. It is made of pure ivory supported on a cross on a block of wood of Philippine ebony. This image stands about 2 feet tall (mountings excluded) and is a cherished possession of a family in Naga, Camarines Sur.

The Nueva Ecija crucifix which is said to have been made in 1732, is not, as one would expect, a church property. On the contrary, it belongs to the municipality of Gapan, Nueva Ecija and is at present, in the custody of its lay officials. Many a Gapan townsman, 200 years ago, knelt and prayed before this crucifix not in devotion, but in atonement for theft, slander and slight offences.

Friday, February 20, 2015

215, Santo Stories: STO. CRISTO OF PAKIL

 SANTO CRISTO DE PAKIL. The ancient image of the Crucified Christ in the church of Pakil, as it appeared in the 1950s.

 In the Franciscan-founded town of Pakil, Laguna, one can find an ancient, life-size crucifix venerated at the altar near the church’s entrance. The present church itself, dedicated to San Pedro de Alcantara, dates to 1732, a masterpiece in stone marked with florid ornamentation.

 The Santo Cristo de Pakil is an object of deep veneration among residents, but is also popular among the devotees of the Virgen de Turumba. The legs and feet of the Santo Cristo have all but darkened with age, and the habit of kissing the feet and the anointing of the santo’s extremities with perfume has persisted.

 The origins of the crucified Christ in Pakil is shrouded in mystery. It was said that an old man sought refuge in the town, begging the cura to find sanctuary in the church. The kind priest allowed him in, and the old man requested that he be given some carpentry tools so he could do some work for the church, in return for the hospitality.

 When the old man did not emerge from the room after some time, the door was forced open—and the priest found him gone. But inside the room was a splendidly carved image of Christ crucified, wonderfully wrought in wood and capturing the agony of the Lord in his passion.

 The image – known as Santo Cristo de Pakil—was enshrined in a retablo menor and is used every Holy Week for the Good Friday rites. As the arms are articulated, the figure of the Christ can be brought down from His Cross to be transformed into a Santo Entierro.

 In this form, the image is processioned on the streets of Pakil, followed by a band of violinists, musicians, singers and hundreds of devotees.

Sunday, February 1, 2015


SANTO NIÑO PERDIDO. The lost Holy Child refers to an episode in Luke 2:41-52 when, at the age of twelve, he accompanies his parents to Jerusalem on pilgrimage. On the day of their return, Jesus strayed away from Mary and Joseph. The distraught parents returned to Jerusalem to find  Jesus three days later. The losing of Jesus is one of the 7 Sorrows of Mary.

When I discovered the world of ebay in the mid-1990s, I was amazed at its wide inventory of items for sale or for bidding. I was surprised to find a smattering of old colonial santos for sale, a few from the Philippines, but mostly—at least back then--from the Spanish colonial period of the Americas.

 I could only drool and dream about these wooden antique santos as they were different stylistically from the local santos that I know. They were more doll-like, classically carved, and their coloration mimicked the healthy, pinkish skin tones of Caucasians.

 I still remember the early dealers whose ebay stores visited, like Historia Antiques which offered museum quality santos and a seller who went by with a rather sassy name—dkr-alliegirl. She always had santos in pristine condition for sale, vividly described and beautifully photographed for a willing buyer. But of course, the price tags kept me away from acquiring such treasures—until I saw this little 9.5 inch Christ Child on dkr-alliegirl’s site.

 Advertised by the seller as a “Niño Perdido” (Lost Christ Child), it was delicately carved from softwood, with arms fixed,complete with finely carved fingers. The miniature santo stood on a simple rectangular base, and had painted hair and glass eyes. Noteworthy was santo’s original coloration which it has retained all these years—from his painted white body to the pinkish blush on his cheeks. 

I am not familiar with the iconography of a “Niño Perdido”; for awhile I thought it was a companion piece to a San Jose, who was sometimes represented as walking hand in hand with the Child Jesus. 

The ebay auction ended with the Niño attracting zero bids, and when next I looked, it was up for grabs at $175. This was when I made my move and contacted the seller, despite the price which I felt was still steep. It turned out that the seller was Deborah Richter, a formidable collector of Hispanic colonial art, and whose antiques have been loaned to exhibits and museums.

I tried coaxing her into selling the Niño to me for a lower price, but she was rather firm with her price. Eventually, with a sigh, I gave in and paid for the piece at the price she wanted, but satisfied with the thought that the provenance of this piece is impeccable, coming from American collectors of note. Years later, I would find Kurt and Debbie Richter’s pieces included in the book “Saints & Sinners: Mexican Devotional Art”, by Schiffer Publishing, which featured an antique ivory Virgin Mary in a virina, among others.

It took awhile for the santo to reach the Philippines from the U.S. But upon seeing it, I knew it was worth the wait, and the price! My first ebay santo purchase also turned out to be one of the first vestment projects of Dr.Raffy Lopez for me. He put together a satin ensemble heavily embroidered with floral patterns on the front and on the sleeves. Lacey cuffs and a collar, plus a one-piece brass tress potencias completed the Nino’s outfit.

 I found a suitable sized wooden gothic urna for my Niño Perdido, just 18 inches high. On a special altar in my living room, the Christ Child stands, ready to give his blessing to those who come in. It’s been a long journey from the U.S. to the Philippines, but the little boy lost has, at long last, found a new home, and I will be forever grateful for honoring us with His holy presence.