Friday, March 04, 2005

Treasures of Santa Cruz Church

Treasures of Santa Cruz Church

Posted 00:09am (Mla time) Mar 04, 2005
By Ambeth Ocampo
Inquirer News Service

Editor's Note: Published on page A15 of the March 4, 2005 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer

ONE of these days, I have to visit veteran photojournalist Ed Santiago in his modest Paco home to get a glimpse into my life two decades ago when we were both working for the now defunct Philippines Daily Express. He was, aside from Manny Goloyugo, the photographer I would always ask for because he was genuinely interested in the historical materials that ended up as illustrations for my magazine articles.

While sorting and filing these black and white photographs recently, I realized that whenever we went on a photo shoot -- for example, reproducing artifacts, pictures and documents from the National Library, the National Archives or the Lopez Memorial Museum -- he also took pictures of me at work. Now I can wax nostalgic over my lost youth.

One photograph has me peering out from the topmost window in the Emilio Aguinaldo mansion in Kawit, Cavite. Visitors are not allowed into the tower today, nor are they shown the numerous secret passageways and peep holes that dot the house. But even if I could push my weight around and insist on doing it again, I don't have the energy to climb the steep steps all the way to Aguinaldo's old lookout. I don't even think my overweight frame will fit into the pigeon coop I was photographed in.

Another photograph shows me on my knees at the door of Santa Cruz Church in Manila. Despite five years of monastic training, this is not one of my favorite positions. I was not praying or atoning for my sins. Curious about an ancient granite slab there, I had poured water on it and started rubbing it with old newspapers. It turned out to be a tombstone (one of many around the church) marking the grave of Jose Herrera who died in 1800 at the age of 82. A photograph of the same tombstone is in the recently published book "Santa Cruz Church: A Living Heritage," by Anna Maria L. Harper who occupies this same column space on other days.

The book isn't in the bookstores yet, but can surely be acquired in the church. Lavishly illustrated, it covers the history of the church and parish from its beginnings in the late 16th century to 1945, the end of the last war.

What I found interesting, aside from the pictures, are the archival sources used. For example, Harper translated part of a physical inventory of the treasures of the church following the expulsion of the Jesuits from the Philippines in 1768. Reading the list helps us visualize the wealth of the church at the time, and also makes us understand why many ancient churches around the country are not only considered "heritage at risk" in terms of the physical structure but also because of the contents. Many churches and rectories, particularly in the Visayas, are consistently robbed from within and without, and the stolen church treasures are sold to antique collectors in Manila or sometimes exported abroad.

Harper provides a sampling:

"1. A gold crown of the image that is in the church with crystal stones; it weighed 6 marcos, 5 ounces and 77rrs in total removing the weight of the stones and some 2 ounces of silver from a half arch and 5 from the entire arch that is [illegible] that leaves pure gold of 5 marcos, 6 ounces and 7 rrs of the purest 20 carats; 2. A gold diadem of 18 carats that weighs 2 ounces and 4 rrs; 3. A sun of gold 20 carats weighed an ounce and 9 granos; 4. A potencia that weighed a total of three ounces, 7 rrs and a half; 5. Three gold rings with a ruby in each valued at a peso; 6. A Niño of ivory almost eight inches long with slippers and a girdle of gold, the adornment valued at 8 pesos and the ivory 2; 7. A gold crown of the Santo Niño of 17 carats with 70 false stones and 103 grains of small pearls weighing a total of eight ounces, 2 rrs and a half; 8. A gold brooch with 9 diamantes, the major one at the centre and the others valued at 300 pesos; 9. Two gold butterflies with 5 diamantes, each valued at 30 pesos; 10. Three flowers for the overdress of the Image with 425 medium-size pearls; 11. A forehead strap with a large diamante in the center and the rest false stones and 136 pearls as big as a chilantro gain valued at a hundred pesos; 12. An altar front of wood lined in silver measuring 26 x 12 inches (4 palms and a half in height and two palms in length) that according to prudent judgment based on the reliable opinion of the officer in charge of weights and measures contains 700 ounces of silver; 13. A crown and dress of silver of Our Lady of the Pillar with her child equally adorned; the silver according to the prudent judgment based on the reliable opinion of the officer in charge of weights and measures would reach 250 ounces; the image has as well a pair of eardrops with 26 crystal stones set in gold and 4 brooches of silver with fake stones each and a crystal in front 7 quarters in height and 5 wide."

Reading the above gives one an idea of the images that were in the church. The potencia was one of the three rays projecting from behind the head of Christ; saints being of lesser importance had haloes. The forehead strap was worn by the Santo Entierro or dead Christ in a bier. Surprisingly these images wore glittering but fake jewels mixed with the real thing.

A close review of Harper's material is worth a doctoral dissertation on art and cultural history. Which just goes to show that footnotes can be mined with profit.


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