Monday, April 30, 2012


EL ANGEL CUSTODIO. The heirloom image of the Nepomucenos, descendants of the founders of Angeles. It was commissioned in 1830, and now reposes at the central niche of the main altar of the Holy Angel University. Picture courtesy of the Center for Kapampangan Studies..

Most families reserve a special place in their homes for their images of faith---from a simple bedside table, a mesa altar, or a carved glass-panelled urna for a “santa”, an “Apung Guinu” or a “Santo Niño”. This goes to show how treasured santos are, handmade expressions of our faith, and venerated since the time of the Spanish conquest.

Kapampangan families often had images carved in wood or precious ivories by accomplished artisans of the province, lavishing them with respect, material gifts and money for their care and upkeep. A “kamadero” (caretaker) was often assigned to look for the image’s needs and safekeeping. This is especially true during the seasons of Lent, Christmas and fiestas, when the rites of the church revolve around these faces of divinities—to be prayed to, to be dressed and carried out in processions.

A number of antique images from prominent Kapampangan families still exist today, exceptional not just for their ancient beauty, but also for their history. In Mexico, the center of veneration is an ivory image of Santa Monica, the town’s patrona. It belonged to Capitan Francisco Liwanag and Doña Anastacia David Hizon, one of the wealthiest families of Mexico. The couple, though, were childless, and so the image was entrusted to a niece, Maria Hizon de Leon. But Maria would die young, but before her demise, she managed to pass on the image to her sister, Trinidad. The income from a parcel of rice land located at San Pedro, Kamuning, Mexico was allocated for the santa’s use. The current caretaker of the image is Trinidad’s granddaughter, Luz Dayrit Rodriguez.

Apalit’s most well-known santo is that of San Pedro, called endearingly by the name “Apu Iru”. The lifesize image, dating from the 2nd quarter of the 19th century, is made of expensive ivory. The seated santo shows St. Peter as a Supreme Pontiff, in papal robes. In 2002, a fire razed its shrine, destroying the saint's original accessories —gold and silver keys, tiara, pectoral cross and emerald ring. But the image remained unscathed, and this fortuitous event was hailed as a miracle by residents. During its annual June fiesta, a fluvial procession is held on Pampanga River, where the image, borne on decorated pagoda, is escorted by a fleet of boats carrying rowdy revelers.

The Apu Iru image is associated with the old Arnedo family, having been passed on to Dña Maria Espiritu de Arnedo, wife of Macario Arnedo y Sioco, who brought Apung Iru to Capalangan. To ensure that the cult is perpetuated, a corporation known as St. Peter’s Mission was put up by the Espiritu-Arnedo-Gonzalez-Ballesteros-Sazon families, which designates an official caretaker of the image (Augusto “Toto” Gonzalez III is the current kamadero).

Angeleños take pride in their own “Apung Mamacalulu”, or the Lord of Mercy, depicting the image of the dead Christ. It was commissioned by Fr. Macario Paras between 1828-1838, carved by an artisan named Buenaventura. It figured in at least two important events in Angeles town—the first, in 1897, when a religious farmer named Roman Payumu was arrested by Spanish infantrymen for taking part in the Revolution. Ordered executed on the spot, Roman, a loyal cargador of the Apu during His processions—invoked the name of the Lord of Mercy for salvation. His ropes that bound him came loose, allowing him to run and escape his captors--a miracle, attributed to the good Apu.

On Good Friday in 1928, the image of Apu was snatched by its kamadero, Eriberto Navarro while it was being processed. Acting for his aunt, Alvara Fajardo, a Paras heiress, Navarro claimed ownership of the image. A court case between the Church and the heirs followed, a case resolved only by the Supreme Court which returned the image to the Church. The authenticity of the returned image was in question for years, as the heirs had a second duplicate Apu image made, and which generated more following in their private Chapel than the one in the main Church.

Also in Angeles is the image of the titular town patron--El Angel Custodio-- commissioned and finished in the year 1830 by the town founder, Don Angel Pantaleon de Miranda. After the death of Don Angel, the image of the Holy Angel was taken by his son-in-law, Don Mariano Henson (ca. 1798-1848, Doctor of Laws, married to Juana Ildefonsa de Miranda), who passed it on to Maria Agustina Henson (1828-1905), who later married Pio Rafael Nepomuceno (1817-1858 ). The image was handed down to son Juan Gualberto Nepomuceno (1852-1923), who, in turn passed it on to son Juan D. Nepomuceno (1892-1973), founder of Holy Angel Academy. It was this image, it was said, that inspired Juan to name the school "Holy Angel", now the biggest university of Central Luzon. Don Juan’s daughter, Teresita N. Wilkerson took care of the image after his father’s death; it now rests in the central niche of the university's Gothic-style chapel, finished in 2010 by noted carver, Willy Layug.

The closely-knit Panlilios of San Fernando are the owners of a processional Mater Dolorosa, the ivory image of the sorrowful Virgin since the 1800s. Considered miraculous, the Dolorosa is credited for saving the life of Luis Dayrit Panlilio in 1954. He was preparing the carroza of the Dolorosa when he was asked by his father-in-law to go with him to check their sugar plantation. They were about to leave when the electrician came running to report that the batteries of the carroza were not working, which was a surprise as Luis had checked them before lunch. His father-in-law went without him and en route to the sugar fields, he was ambushed by the Huks. Luis lived to be 91 years old.

Mabalacat is the home to a smaller-than-lifesize Sto. Entierro, (or locally named Apung Mamacalulu), a depiction of the dead Christ lying in state. Believed to have come from overseas, Mexico, it was first owned by Don Juan Rivera, considered as the town’s most affluent resident at that time. A descendant, Leonila Rivera Serrano, is the current owner. When the Serranos moved residence, the image was shuttled back and forth between Manila and Mabalacat.

Caretaker Mrs. Baby Sacay, tells us that in the 1960s, three women came to the Poblacion chapel where the image was housed. One of the women had a recurring dream in which Christ begged her to remove 7 sheets of clothing covering His face as they were causing him to suffocate. In the same dream, the woman noted that the feet of Christ, unlike other representations, were not crossed. When the group examined the image, it was indeed shrouded with 7 layers of satin, and both feet were uncrossed—just like in the woman’s dream!. Mrs. Sacay also remembers the day several Blue Ladies of Imelda Marcos came to make an offer to replace the antique treasure with a new one. She politely refused, and then proceeded to put locks all over her house.

Santos stories abound too about the antique images of the Dolorosa of Guagua (owned by the heirs of Don Guillermo Limson), the Sto. Entierro of Sta. Rita (of (the Ynfante-Velez family), the Sto. Entierro of Bacolor (its calandra was exhumed from lahar in 1995 and restored to full glory by Tom Joven) and the Manalangin/ Agony in the Garden of Arayat, which features an angel dressed in short pants. The pampering and care lavished on images may appear excessive to some, but to Kapampangan Catholics, the kind God on whom their faith rests and who has given them so much –blessings, protection, salvation from sickness, tragedies and natural disasters--deserve nothing less.

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