ARCHITECTURAL HEADTURNERSI think we’re going in circles – I told friends Niño and Claude as we follow directions dictated by a navigational app on our way to a resort in San Rafael, Bulacan. Part of my experience from getting lost in that trip was having my head turn almost 360 degrees as we passed right in front of fortress-like ancestral houses with Baroque and Rococo recess on its facade.

It was getting dark so I was just trying to imagine under the fading light of day these unique features from these ancient structures that appeared to me as remaining sentinels of the olden days as the car sped away on that quiet provincial road. This is my first time to be in Bustos.  Months after I was back in this town. This time as the Traveler on Foot.

TRASLACION DE STO. ÑINO DE BUSTOS. We spent much of our day walking around the town of Baliuag when the vehicles crossing the iron-braced bridge were put to a complete stop to give way to a procession. We watched this procession from the Baliuag side of the bridge where an image of  San Agustin awaits on a decorated carroza along with its welcome entourage. Marching on the Bustos side were the town folks clad in red shirt carrying the image of the Sto. Niño de Bustos. When the two images came face-to-face, a gleeful pandemonium erupted from the crowd then the entire retinue meandered its way to Baliuag Church to continue the Traslacion.

The Traslacion de Sto. Niño de Bustos traced its history from a tragedy when a raft crossing the turbulent Angat River capsized on a rainy Sunday in 1860.  The town’s patron, the Sto. Niño whose Castilian image serves as a remembrance of the infants who drowned with their parents on their way to Baliuag Church to receive the sacrament of baptism and the traslacion procession commemorate the period when Bustos was part of the town of Baliuag.

BUSTOS LETRAS Y FIGURAS. Leaving the procession we continued with our walking tour. We entered the town of Bustos through the iron-braced Alejo Santos Bridge. Named after the World War II veteran who later in life, General Alejo Santos became a controversial figure when he ran as a token candidate against the dictator Ferdinand Marcos during a mock election in 1981. At the foot of the bridge is Bustos Church that went through several renovations with only the stone walls at the sides and back remaining from the original structure.

At the Bustos Heritage Park is a stylized lettering that spells the town’s name in the Letras y Figuras tradition. This style in art, popularized by 19th century painter Jose Honorato Lozano demonstrates the blending of detailed figures and landscapes to form letters. On the Letras y Figuras in Bustos we traced traditional shapes that can be found on the locally-baked biscuits called the minasa and the intricate carvings that are found in the ancestral houses around town.

MODERN ART BY CONRADO MERCADO. As we went around Bustos Heritage Park, what caught our attention next were the haunting expressionist quality of modern art in the free-standing sculptures that were in contrast with the classical and nostalgic style of the Letras y Figuras lettering. These aggressive and mostly cubist forms of welded steel and cement make up the elongated faces that resembles primitive African masks were by Bustos’ homegrown artist Conrado Mercado.

Mercado was born in one of the landmark heritage houses in Bustos but his art breaks away from the Baroque and Rococo styles that were prevalent in the architectural community he was raised. I can only guess that since he studied fine arts in UST at height of the Modernist Movement that perhaps gave influenced in his applying of brutalist, cubist and Primitivist styles into his highly expressionist works.

MERCADO ANCESTRAL HOUSE. We walked further into the rows of ancestral houses in Bustos. Along the road, we found those bahay-na-bato that I first saw while on a speeding car. The good thing about walking is you get to spend more time in taking a closer look at these Spanish era houses. While most are in different stages of decay there are those that are well-preserved like the stately Perez Ancestral House that was converted into a cafe and the next to it is the famous Mercado House where the Modernist artist Conrado Mercado was born.

The Mercado Ancestral House was built in mid-19th century. It’s a landmark heritage house for its unique features of having Baroque carvings on stone that shows garlands of flowers, balusters, and crucifix to assure protection from evil.

Published in: on September 24, 2017 at 4:57 am  Leave a Comment  

Casa Manila Museum

LIFESTYLE OF THE DE BUENA FAMILIA. Life was predictable. In the early light of morning, the Don rises for a cup of thick chocolate and then proceeds to the despacho that is located at the entresuelo to dictate a letter or two to his scribe. It was very rare for a Don to pen anything by himself in the olden days. He then goes to the comedor to meet with his family for breakfast.  At early noon he goes to the zaguan where the carruaje awaits him for a trip downtown to transact business. At one in the afternoon he returns home to eat lunch, after which he takes hours of quiet siesta in the cuarto. At four, he rises for merienda that the mayordoma has prepared for him at the airy caida. As afternoon’s end is near, he takes his family to ride with him in the elegant barouche for a paseo just outside the walls of the city. When the Angelus bells rang from the sixteen chapels and churches of Intramuros at six in the evening, all would stop for the oracion and the family returns to the house to continue reciting the rosary in the oratorio.

From seven o’clock onwards, the family receives visitors for an evening of brandy and tertulia in the sala mayor. The comedor is reset for hot supper at eleven. The guests leave the Don’s house before midnight. The Don lights his last cigar for the evening at the azotea while from up the street came the clackety-clack of the watchman’s boots on the cobble and the clang-clang of his lantern against his knee, and the mighty roll of his great voice booming through the night, Guardia serno-o-o! A las doce han dado-o-o. Lights out.

A NOSTALGIA MUSEUM. The last lines of the previous paragraph were lifted from one of Nick Joaquin’s short stories who in many of his works has romanticized the genteel lifestyle of the de buena familia living in Pre-War Intramuros.  A similar story line is conveyed in each room of Casa Manila. This nostalgia and lifestyle museum is a reproduction of a bahay-na-bato that was built during the Spanish Colonial period, restored by a wealthy bachelor Don in the 1880s. He loved to entertain and eventually he married, had his extended family and servants stay in the house until the 1920s.

While the structure and the story line were newly conceived, the museum’s contents are centuries-old. The Furniture and Furnishings in Filipino Ancestral Houses were sourced from old homes and were arranged in each room in an evocative setting. Entering the casa through its main portal, which is directly accessible from the cobbled Calle Real felt strangely like walking into a cold and damp dungeon. The wooden door is wide and tall enough to allow the passage of the carruaje to park in the zaguan. The zaguan is paved with piedra china. These blocks of white stone were originally used as ballast of galleons. There is a wrought-iron bastonerang de hierro in the zaguan. Facing this 1880’s neo-Renaissance cane and hat rack is the main stairway.

THE DON WORKS FROM HOME. Ascending the stairs led to the entresuelo. This space has low ceiling because it is sandwiched by the ground and second floors. It houses two guestrooms and the home office. The Don opens the guestrooms in the entresuelo for his country cousins or a bachelor uncle. The bedrooms are furnished with a four-poster bed, a painadora with mirror and wash basin and a low comoda that also serves as bedside table.

The entresuelo has a long bench that resembles a church pew called a capiya. Tradespeople and tenants sit here while waiting for their turn to make a call on the Don who is also a landlord. The Don transact business in the despacho that is furnished with bookshelves, an executive desk, a caja de hierro, a gilt vargueño for keeping stationery and land titles, and a special escritorio made with double flip top so that the Don and his business partner could sign important documents while facing each other.

KAPAG GALING SA PARIS, WALANG KAPARIS. Up the second floor is the main living quarters. This space has a familiar feel to it probably from the books I read that vividly describes life in the olden days or from those out-of-town trips as a child to a great grand uncle’s house where we would climb a narrow staircase that lead to the spacious caida.

In the days of the Don, guests are welcomed at the caida. Here, new acquaintances are expected to by overwhelmed by envy from the grand murals, exquisite paintings, and ostentatious display of wealth through fine furniture like the ball and claw marble top center table and object d’art which are all imported from Europe. Like most de buena familia of that generation, they believe in the adage Kapag galing sa Paris, walang kaparis.  The Señora and her niñas spends much of their days in caida playing games like sungka and doing embroidery while the Don trains his son to play chess or demonstrates his moves as a master chess player on the same table.

TERTULIAS AND BAILES AT THE SALA MAYOR. As I entered the sala mayor through the tall double doors, I wondered how people in the olden days survived living in ancestral houses without the benefits of air-conditioning or electrical lighting. The answer: the tall ceiling and grand windows that allow gentle breezes and generous sunlight to fill the rooms. Light is filtered by the translucent capiz window panels and fine floral traceries on the transomes.

The Don opens the sala mayor only to old friends and important visitors. On evenings, faint laughter from the gentry and flutter of abanicos are heard while the host and guests casually lounge on choice seats: mariposa sofa, divan, butacas and sillons for the tertulia. The tertulia is a set of impromptu performances where everyone gathers around the music nook to watch the Señora and a lady guest recite poems and play music from the piano or the harp. The Don hosts bailes usually on dia de su santo, saint’s feast days and during special occasions where a string band opens their evening performance with a sharp rigodon and in between the poetry readings and singing with waltzes, habaneras, danzas, and fandangos.

ORATORIO, CUARTOS, AND APARADOR DE TRES LUNAS. Off to the side of the grand sala are the bedrooms that can be accessed by passing through the oratorio. Here, the Don, his entire family, including household servants squeezed into the prayer room with statues and relics of saints in a neo-Gothic altar for the recitation of the Holy Rosary.

Dominating the master bedroom is the towering aparador de tres lunas. This particular piece is a known status symbols in that period.  The massive three-door narra cabinet, surmounted by a crown of fretted scroll work is named for the mirrors attached to its doors.

THE COMEDOR ON CHRISTMAS DAY. As I walk into the dining room, I imagined this long table where every family member and invited guests were feasting on sumptuous Yuletide meals. It is generally believed that food must be abundant on the table on Christmas Day and New Year’s midnight meal to bring good fortune in the following year. The requisites of the Christmas table are the pavo or stuffed turkey with truffles, pate de foie gras, olives, red peppers, minced meats and sausages, almonds and chestnuts and the hamon en funda flavored with cinnamon, bay leaf, pepper, and glazed with panocha. The conchinillo asado that is so tender a plate is used to cut the meat instead of a knife is the table centerpiece surrounded by paella, estofado de lengua, fritada de carne, relleno de cebollas, and golden brown empanadas.

The Don is lucky to have invited guests from Pampanga who brought him sans rival from Sta. Rita and pastillas de leche from Magalang to add to the tocino del cielo, dulce de cajel, carmelito and imported turron and mazapan desserts. The diners were particularly fond of the intricate designs of stylized flowers and leaves, birds in mid-flight, a nipa hut, a provincial lass, a farmer pounding rice accompanied with names, season’s greetings and messages found in the pabalat or pastillas paper wrapper cutouts that were dangling from the four-tiered fruit tray.

COCINA. The kitchen is hectic in almost all hours of the day, especially on days when the Don had to entertain on a grand scale during fiestas or on special occasions and when hosting meals for a visiting royalty or fellow de buena familia.

At the center of the cocina is a plain long table that serves both as dining table for the servants and work table for ironing clothes using the prensang de corona and for kneading dough to make breads and cookies.  It is also used a chopping board. The main feature of the kitchen is the stove on a low stone table where clay pots and iron-cast pans are held up by three stones and a pugon with its bulbous dome. Fire wood is used for both pugon and stove. Also a standard in kitchens of the olden days were the paminggalan and banggera. The paminggalan is the slatted cupboard in the corner used for storing leftover and preserved food. The banggera is an extended window sill made of wooden slats where newly-washed plates and glasses were racked to dry in the wind.

TIME-HONORED KITCHENWARE. Found in the cocina are the Classic Filipino Kitchenware that remain charming and nostalgic of the culinary traditions of the olden days. The Don gives away home-made cookies with figure of the Augustinian saint so the kitchen has a mould where the dough is pressed into it to make the Curative Pan de San Nicholas. On the table is the brass chocolatera and batirol used by the trusted mayordomo in making thick chocolate-eh for the Don’s desayuno.

Other time-honored kitchenware found on counter are the baskets used for winnowing rice, storing and transporting produce and fish from the market. There is a kudkuran with the head of a lizard used for grating coconut meat. There are copper kettle, brass calderos, and cast-iron pans that were already used in kitchens as early as 1609. There are wooden sandok in a kamot jar, which was used for fermenting liquids and condiments. Its name came from the scratch-like parallel indentation on the pot’s shoulder.

KITCHEN EXTENSIONS. At the side of the kitchen are the washrooms. The toilette is in a small room. It has two box-like contraptions of plain wood with a hole at center that functions as the toilette seat. The bathroom is in much larger room to accommodate huge Martabana jars for storing water and the bathtubs.

Located just outside the kitchen is the azotea. This outdoor space functions as a service kitchen for butchering fowl and laundry works. There is a pocket garden in the azotea of mostly culinary herbs and medicinal plants that are grown in terracotta and glazed pots: oregano, lemongrass, chives, pandan, chili labuyo, wansoy, kinchay, spring onions, and sabila are the requisites.  In one corner of the azotea is the aljibe, a water cistern that gathers rainwater used for washing. The Don would sometimes have a quiet time in the azotea to catch some fresh air while smoking cigar and looking at the courtyard below.

ESCAPE TO THE ZAGUAN. The back stairs in the azotea functions as an emergency escape route in case of fire or social upheavals. It leads down to the courtyard and the zaguan where the Don keeps a carozza used in processions and his fleet of vehicles; a caruaje for daily use, an elegant coach or barouche to show off during paseo, and a jitney for excursions and long drives to the countryside. The first two are horse-powered. Fine stallions are housed in the cuadra located in one side of the courtyard.

The Don had a fountain and water feature built in the courtyard where goldfishes and waterlilies thrive. In some occasions, table silver and jewelry are lowered in the slimy bottom of the fountains and albije to hide them from the tulisanes in times of upheavals.

EPILOGUE: BLOG INSPIRATION. It was dark when I stepped out of Casa Manila into the cobbled street of Calle Real where a couple of street-lamps flickered and a last carriage was rattling away upon the cobbles, while the blind black houses muttered hush-hush, their tiled roofs looming like sinister chessboards against a wild sky murky with clouds, save where an evil old moon prowled about in a corner or where a murderous wind whirled, whistling and whining, smelling now of the sea and now of the summer orchards and wafting unbearable the window. While from up the street came the clackety-clack of the watchman’s boots on the cobbles, and the clang-clang of his lantern against his knee, and the mighty roll of his voice booming through the night: 

Guardia serenoo-o-o! A las doce han dado-o-o!

There is a wealth of literature to share about life and the values in the olden days that can serve as our guide for the future and how to act with intelligence, taste, and morality in the present. My inspiration and references for this blog were from Nick Joaquin’s short story May Day Eve, Gilda Cordero-Fernando’s books Turn of the Century and Philippine Food and Life, Doreen Fernandez’ and Martin Tinio’s essays in the book World of 1896, Fernando Zialcita’s iconic Philippine Ancestral Houses, Governor Jaime Laya’s Letras y Figuras, and Felice Prudente-Sta. Maria’s books Household Antiques and Heirlooms and The Governor-General’s Kitchen.

-Eid al-Adha | 1 September 2017

Published in: on September 1, 2017 at 9:26 pm  Comments (3)  

Crescent Moon Cafe

LET’S HAVE LUNCH. A city in the Sierra Madre, Antipolo has that air and topography of a mountain resort. Being close to Metro Manila cities, its weekends are usually crowded with urban folks longing for that quick rejuvenating drive to the countryside.

It was already past lunch time when we arrived in Antipolo City to attend the opening of an art exhibit at Pinto Art Museum when an agreeable invitation came from artist Riel Hilario, ‘Let’s have lunch at Crescent Moon Cafe. I’ll introduce you to Tita Lanelle.’

POTTER’S WAREHOUSE. Crescent Moon Cafe and Studio Pottery is a place that anyone would love to be invited for lunch at because of the eat-all-you can buffet and the food that is served in coveted stoneware ceramics designed and handmade by celebrated potter Lanelle Abueva-Fernando.

From Pinto Museum, we headed towards Sitio Purugan. There we veered away from the main road then entered a gardened compound tucked away in a suburban neighborhood. We walked inside a warehouse filled with unglazed cups, bowls, plates, and saucers in different forms and sizes.

FRIENDLY KOIS. We walked through the garden following a foot path. All over the ground were curious objects that captures our delight for handmade and folk arts like the deformed wine bottles repurposed as outdoor decorations and the wind chimes made of clay and seashells. In front of the main dining hall is a fish pond with friendly kois that come to the surface inviting visitors to give them a pat on the head. It was revealed later to us that the pond was a crater made by a World War II bomb.

Riel speculated that lunchtime patrons that overrun the place on weekends must have left because it was unusually quiet that afternoon. He then confessed that it is required to make a reservation when dining in at Crescent Moon Cafe and that he missed doing that.  But this artist is a regular customer and has regularly brought in new comers like us. He assured us that if the lunch buffet is no longer available, we can have the set meals instead.

LANELLE ABUEVA-FERNANDO. We entered the main dining hall, a cathedral-high ceiling draped with festive Asian textiles and large screened windows on three sides that allow fresh mountain breezes to go through made this space airy and bright yet still has a cozy and homey feel to it.

Here, we were greeted by Lanelle Abueva-Fernando. The famous Antipolo potter took Fine Arts in UP then spent years in the volcanic island of Hachijo in Japan as an apprentice to a master potter. She took further studies in ceramics in the United States before returning to the Philippines. Partnering with her husband who has the passion of cooking, they put up Crescent Moon Cafe and Studio Pottery.

THE ALAGAO APPETIZER. Served on the buffet table were Filipino food that were either treated with coconut milk, laced with chili and tomato sauce, or flavored with lemongrass like the chicken afridata, the crispy noodles, and pork belly.

But Riel invited us to start with the signature appetizer that is the alagao wraps. We followed his lead in putting small amounts of ginger, onions, basil leaves, green chili, kamias, grated coconut, fried shrimps, and peanut sauce and roll everything with the minty alagao leaf.

EPILOGUE. That afternoon at Crescent Moon we were the only customers having late lunch. Over lunch, we learned more about Riel, his art, and other things. We enjoyed our healthful meals which ended with suman and a sliver of mango.

The wait staff cleared our table and we left the compound heading to Riel’s studio for more chitchat. Off course that visit to an artist’s home studio is another story worth sharing.

-26 June 2017, Eid al-Fitr End of Ramadan

Published in: on June 26, 2017 at 4:00 pm  Leave a Comment  


WHAT TO SEE IN BALIUAG. Talk about Baliuag and the first thing that comes to mind are the prices of antique furniture at current auctions that has went from crazy to unbelievably insane like a narra and kamagong chest that is elegantly decorated with wood and carabao bone-inlay, a style that traces its lineage to this town in Bulacan were sold from eight to twelve million pesos.

Heir to a glittering past, the town of Baliuag is best explored at a leisurely pace to appreciate its history and heritage. So what is there to see in this town? There is a remarkable 18th century church and unusual monuments to Rizal and Bonifacio. There is a town museum that is housed in a historic bahay-na-bato. In a narrow alley, there are artisans that still practice the old-fashioned craft of applying animal bone inlay in making the Baliuag-style furniture and there is also an Alibaba’s cave of antique objects owned by a respected antique collector and dealer.

TOWN CENTER. One of the main landmarks that we first saw across the Baliwag Clock Tower at the town’s poblacion is the Rizal Monument. Designed by artist Ramon Carreon in 1928, this monument shows Rizal in overcoat just like how we see it in the Luneta. Interestingly, Carreon added allegorical figures including Inang Bayan standing taller than national hero as if whispering behind him and a couple of sphinxes flanking the monument.

There is also a monument to Bonifacio, which we rarely see the hero of the masses portrayed brandishing a bolo while riding a horse.

SAN AGUSTIN CHURCH. Behind the Rizal Monument is the San Agustin Church, which dates back to the Spanish period. The stone and brick church facade glows in that full midday sun with the image of the town’s patron saint overlooking the plaza from its Classical pediment. At the base of the slender bell tower is a bas-relief of Moses holding the tablet of the Ten Commandments. A visual feast were the church’s main doors flanked by double Doric columns all dressed-up with garlands of flowers.

Legend has it that when Baliuag was invaded by the Moors, the townsfolk would lock themselves inside the church. Beneath the church were secret tunnels used as escape routes leading to a nearby river. On what used to be a river now stands a fast food restaurant.

MEET MONSIGNOR VALERA. Preparations were taking place that day for the Traslacion of the Santo Niño from Bustos later in that afternoon. Inside Baliuag Church we met parish priest Monsignor Andres Valera. Despite of his busy schedule preparing for a wedding celebration and for that day’s festivities, he found time to lead us for a tour of the rectory and the church museum, providing narratives to every religious and secular piece.

In the museum were every conceivable image of the Blessed Mother in wood and in ivory. There are librettos of church music and missals printed in Latin and a compilation of the  town’s census dating as far as 1777. Enclosed in a glass frame is a vestment used for the image of San Agustin that is spread out to show the metallic thread of inuod embroidery.  There are also silver monstrances and chalice gilt in gold. Monsignor Velara pointed out that in the olden days church receptacles were never made in gold. Silver was preferred for its attribute to change color in the presence of poison. Monsignor Valera then led us to his office were he showed us his collection Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter action figures and memorabilia.

THE RECTORY. The church rectory that shares the same age as the church still has remnants of the original structure. Apart from the refurbished flooring and ceiling, preserved on the walls of the rectory were the relief of repeating patterns of flowers, tropical plants and the cincture.

Some of the church’s original furniture were transferred to the rectory for safekeeping and exhibit like the massive vestry cabinet that was originally in the sacristy and the communion rail that now functions as a wall decor. The centuries old statue depicting the Baptism of Jesus was originally in the church’s baptistry. And there is the sacrarium. Dated 1883 and embossed with Augustinian symbols, this marble basin was used in the olden days for washing of chalices and other receptacles used in administering the sacraments. It has two faucets. The priest used one to wash his hands before the mass and the other after the mass.

LUMANG MUNICIPIO. A few walks from the town center is Baliuag Museum and Library that is housed in the old town hall.  This 19th century bahay-na-bato was originally the residence of Dr. Joaquin Gonzalez, one of the writers of the Malolos Constitution and the first school president of what would later be known as University of the Philippines. The ancestral house was bought from Dr. Gonzalez by the local government  in 1915 to serve as its municipio.

Aside from being a well-preserved heritage house, the old municipio is also a historical landmark where the first Philippine election was held.

MAY DAY EVE. While inside the Baliuag Museum, we chanced upon a group of students from Bulacan State University having their dress rehearsals and script reading. When I heard one of them in a booming voice said Guardia sereno-o-o! A las doce han dado-o-o! I knew immediately they were rehearsing for Nick Joaquin’s May Day Eve so we requested the one playing the role of Doña Agueda to be the sitter for a photo.

Rooms in this grand bahay-na-bato were sub-divided into function rooms. The original zaguan houses the local tourism office. The sala mayor and some of the bedrooms have permanent exhibits of antique furniture and objects. These same rooms were occasionally used for art and moving exhibitions. When the municipal government took over the house, the comedor was converted into a courtroom with a raised platform reserved for the tribunal.

SIGLO ANTIQUES. Past lunch time, this old world town continues to casts its spell over me and my travel companion. By then we found ourselves inside Siglo Antiques. There Engineer Mike Nicolas greeted who we first met in his antique stores branch at Tomas Morato Avenue in Quezon City.

The humble and respected antique dealer led us to his warehouse, unlocking room after room of antique furniture and curiosities. It took a while for our eyes to adjust from the glare of afternoon sun to the dim and windowless interior filled with antiques and vintage objects nothing later than the 1950s. There is a Gothic-style altar that must have housed a family’s favorite santo in the oratorio. There were platerang buntis and abanico and aparador of different heights with their coronas. There were escritorios, lamesas, and sillas with Art Deco and Art Nouveau details.  And then lo and behold my heart beat faster upon seeing the iconic Baliuag-style comoda elegantly inlaid with wood and carabao bone.

IMBUTE ARTIST. Baliuag-style furniture were common pieces found in Filipino homes and the craft of applying carabao bone inlay were in demand particularly before World War II.  In Barangay Sto. Cristo we met Anacleto ‘Ka Romy’ Bernardo, the youngest and only surviving member from an older generation of artisans specializing in wood and carabao bone-inlay. This craft is locally called imbute.

The imbute artist buys the ribs of the animal from the slaughter house and makes them smooth using wood bleach. He then cuts the bone in different shapes using improvised tools. We watched Ka Romy carve small dents using an old chisel that he inherited from his father on the furniture. He then apply alternating strips of carabao bone and wood to form geometric patterns around floral design.

EPILOGUE: TRASLACION. By late afternoon, we drifted back into the road when the vehicles were halted to give way to Traslacion of the Santo Niño de Bustos.  In fascination, we watched the townsfolk of Baliuag and the visiting folks from neighboring town of Bustos pull together the colorful festivities from the iron-braced bridge that connects the two towns.

From the Baliuag side of the bridge was the image of San Agustin awaiting on a carroza along with a welcoming committee. Marching on the other side of the bridge were the town folks of Bustos that came in throngs and in red shirt carrying their Santo Niño. When the two images came face-to-face, the carroza carrying San Agustin was turned and led the procession that meanders back to Baliuag Church with the Sto. Nino de Bustos.

– In celebration of the Heritage Month | 2017

Published in: on May 7, 2017 at 11:52 pm  Comments (1)  


ROADSIDE WORKSHOPS. It was a searing summer weekend when I stepped out from a provincial bus prematurely on my way to Betis to the dusty road of Bacolor in Pampanga. What prompted me to halt the bus driver and walk under the fierce midday sun and inescapable dust were the life-sized statues that lined the woodcarving workshops clustered along the main highway.

There I imagined how this place must have looked like when Mount Pinatubo erupted in 1991. Dormant for 600 years, the notorious volcano ejected volcanic material of Biblical proportions that altered weather patterns worldwide and literally obliterating several towns in Zambales, Tarlac and Pampanga from the map including the historic town of Bacolor.

HALF-BURIED CHURCH. The town of Bacolor have seen better days. Being an ancient town said to be founded by a group of immigrants from Sumatra led by cannon maker Panday Pira and then first and oldest town in Pampanga that was founded by the Spaniards, its old culture is legendary. As described by friar Juan de Medina to be the best pueblo in all the islands with the best meadows for cultivating rice, wealthiest and best-dressed inhabitants, and a celebrated church of stone and brick with a famous crucifix.

The church of San Guillermo Ermitaño was built in 1645 on a land donated by a wealthy landlord named Guillermo Manabat. It became the center of the mission with Betis, Macabebe, Apalit, and Candaba as its visitas. With the eruption of Mount Pinatubo, the church is buried up to one-half with its main entrance lost to lahar.

VILLA DE BACOLOR. I entered the church through a door which was formerly the upper window and walked on new concrete floor under layers of lahar beneath it. Its old convent houses the church museum of old religious statues and narratives on the town’s days of glory during the colony’s war with the British. From 1762 to 1764, Bacolor was the seat of a colonial government in exile of Governor Simon de Anda.  With the town’s role in the reclaiming of the colony, the King of Spain gave the town the title Villa de Bacolor and honored with bearing the royal motto Non Plus Ultra.

By the 19th century Nothing Greater has rivaled with the royal town. It was a wealthy center for commerce in Pampanga and a capital for culture with its zarzuela groups and its writers of Pampango Literature, foremost were revolutionary leader Juan Crisostomo Soto and Proceso Pabalan. This cultural tradition continues to this modern times when the half-buried church, its ancient bell tower, and woodworking workshops were used as backdrop for different sorts of film and television shows.

WOODCARVING TRADITION. Just like its Tagalog cousin Paete in Laguna, Betis is historically the chisel town of Pampanga until the onslaught of the Pinatubo eruption when the Kapampangan woodcarvers went out of business and moved to Bacolor in the recent years. Betis is still known for its ornate European carvings on furniture and Bacolor for santo-making.

Back to the dusty highway I almost forgot about the scorching afternoon sun as I strolled leisurely and in amazement seeing the life-sized statues in wood and concrete casually displayed on a single file in storefronts. I entered one random woodcarving workshop to another so I could avoid totally getting sunburned and see the woodcarvers’ activity.

BUSY SHOPS. Woodcarving workshops in Bacolor hummed with activity. Inside the busy shops the sound of chisel-tapping and fine wood dust fill the air. Here I observed the step-by-step process and stages of sculpture from the carving from a block of wood with a rough sketch and the careful detailing using medium and fine chisels to the smoothing and sanding and applying of encarna.

Encarna is another set of process in finishing a sculpture from applying escayola or gesso as primer to spraying paint. The role of the encarnador is to apply details using a fine paint brush to make sculpture life-like. The term ecarna is from the shorten Spanish word encarnación which means to become flesh.

SANTO-MAKING TRADITION. The santo-making is folk art that survive the Spanish colonial period. The Spanish friars introduced the craft of carving religious icon and statuary from hardwood by showing the natives religious images from printed reproductions of prayer books and estampitas and teaching them the rudiments of carving.  The santos were important teaching and visual aids used by the friar missionaries in spreading the Catholic faith.

Though Lent is the busiest season for the santo carvers of Bacolor, wood carving and restoration is a year-long labor. In workshops busy with activity, the wood carvers were kind enough to allow me to observe and talk to them while they work on repairing heirloom santos and creating new ones for the processions around the country for the Holy Week and year-round fiestas. In one of the stores, I was led by its owner to their warehouse where I gasped in awe at an army of santos in a bodega-like dungeon awaiting to be mounted in altars or on carrozas.

VISUAL FEAST. Santo-making traditions has contributed extensively to the artistic tradition of the country. The sculptures in Bacolor are mostly Baroque and Classical reproductions  that were copied from European images of saints, angels, and the Virgin Mary as seen in the works of Isabelo Tampigco and Maximo Vicente.

It is a visual feast to find pieces with unusual themes and were guided by the sculptor’s personal feelings and imagination like a Roman bust made of santol wood and a santo head that upon close inspection it has a semblance to the face of the sculptor who made it. When I asked the sculptor, kayo po ba ito? He just smiled and confidently uttered ako yan!

EPILOGUE: RANDOM SHOT. Summer is my favorite season for photography using my simple, uncomplicated point-and-shoot camera. Without filter and special lenses and a little adjustment in brightness and contrast, random photos turn out golden, crisp, and dramatic like this cherub’s face hand-carved from cement I found casually laid on a table at a santo-maker’s workshop in Bacolor, Pampanga.

-1 May 2017 | Feast of San Jose

Published in: on May 1, 2017 at 9:18 am  Leave a Comment