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Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door (Part 2)

Ancient Philippine Catholicism in the halls of Museo de Intramuros


By Jaime Laya

A small painting in the inaugural Museo de Intramuros inaugural exhibit offers a glimpse of Filipino artistry and indio conversion. A man is being presented by an angel to Christ. There is a Latin inscription beneath, identified by Tagbilaran’s Rev. Fr. Ted Torralba as 1 John 2:6, translated in the New American Standard Bible as, “The one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked.” Christ is telling the convert, “Follow me.”

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Painting of Jesus and a convert, “Come and follow me”

Friars taught the catechism through visuals. Between them, a couple of splendid relieves illustrate the Apostle’s Creed. One shows the Holy Trinity and the Crucifixion— God the Father with a three-tier crown holds Christ on the cross, mourned by Mary and John. The other shows the Resurrection—garments flying, Christ rises above angels, an incredulous guard, and what could be a still-sleeping Magdalene.

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Relieve of The Trinity and the Crucifixion

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Painting of the Presentation in the Temple

Events in the life of Christ—Nativity, Baptism in the River Jordan, the Crucifixion, etc. are in painting and sculpture, including include large images intended for churches and for processions as well as smaller ones for bahay-na-bato and bahay-kubo altars.

  • An ivory image of the Infant Jesus could have been from a Nativity (“belén”) set assembled for Christmas in a wealthy church;
  • A relieve of the Baptism of Christ must have come from a church baptistery;
  • A  painting,  Presentation in the Temple, shows Mary and Joseph before Simón dressed as a Jewish High Priest holding the newborn Jesus brought to the Temple 40 days after birth;
  • Many images are associated with the Passion and Death of Christ. Dressed and close-to-life-size figures were for Holy Week processions, while small santos of the Crucifixion, the Pietá, and the dead Christ (Sto. Entierro) and of the Sorrowing Virgin (Dolorosa and Soledád) were for home veneration;
  • A beautiful urna has a relief of Adam and Eve that could have been meant as background for a Crucifixion scene;
  • Small images made for humble homes often show humor and Pinóy folk imagination, probably created as they were by self-taught carvers unconstrained by or innocent of classical tradition. A couple of angels look like Cordillera gods and the Crucifixion scene inside a glass bottle is said to have been Bilibid inmates’ income-producing activity.

Small images made for humble homes often show humor and Pinóy folk imagination, probably created as they were by self-taught carvers unconstrained by or innocent of classical tradition

Responsibility for evangelization was apportioned among the religious orders that expectedly featured their canonized brethren.

  • The Franciscans emphasized San Francisco de Asís and San Antonio de Padua in their territories, including Laguna, Tayabas, and Bicol;
  •  The same was true for the Dominicans’ Sto. Domingo, Sto. Tomás Aquino, and San Vicente Ferrer—in the Cagayan Valley, Pangasinán, and Batanes;
  • San Agustin and Sta. Monica of the Augustinians—in the Ilocos, Pampanga, and Cebú. An exhibit highlight is a relieve of San Agustín hearing God’s voice, “take up and read.” A Bishop from North Africa, he is considered one of the most important Church theologians;
  • San Nicolás de Tolentino of the Augustinian Recollects—in Bataan, Zambales, and Masbate;
  •  The Jesuits’ San Ignacio de Loyola and San Francisco Javiér—in Bohól, Leyte, and Samar.

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San Agustín

(To be continued)

Notes: (a) Museo de Intramuros is located at the corner of Anda and Arzobispo Streets; and (b) Rev. Fr. Ted Torralba is with the Diocese of Tagbilaran. He identifies the painting’s Latin inscription “Qui dicit se in ipso manere, debet, sicut ille ambulavit, et ipse ambulare” as being 1 John 2:6

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