Of Ivory Angels and Saints

(1989 when an international agreement was signed in protection of elephants and banning the ivory trade was made. The agreement doesn’t include the trading of ivories from antiquities to 1989. October 2012 when Nat Geo exposed the illegal ivory trade, and Philippines being hotspot of blood ivories. The expose created strings of controversy in Catholic Church and awareness in dwindling elephant population. it is very alarming that the black market is plagued with this illegal luxury trade while the elephant population is trying to survive. With the past holy Week celebration, let me share the veneration and love of Filipinos with these ivories carved to give face to the Saints, the Virgin, the Lord and Angels.)


It was 3 o ‘clock and it was Good Friday. The summer sun was piercing our skin. People were rushing to the 400 year old church made up of lime and coralline rocks. The giving of communion was about to start. The Main Altar was covered with black cloth. The Tres Caidas of de Perio family were displayed in the right side of the altar. Seats were all occupied. Some were praying while others are chatting in whisper with their seatmates.

Image(Mary Magdalene. Ivory face and hands. Holding a bottle of perfume.)

Outside the church, 8 life-size images of saints who participated on the Passion of Christ were lined up. These images were owned by old rich families of Santa Cruz, Zambales. Heirloom,priceless work of art that had been crafted by the finest Filipino sculptures and was been passed down generations to generations.

Image(Mary of Cleopas. Holding a broom. Ivory head and hands.)


(Mary Salome. Made up of hardwood. Bronze Halo

The caro of the saints were filled with fragrant flowers, light bulbs and incense, The saints were dressed in elegant black vest. At 5 o’clock the giving of communion and veneration of the Holy Cross was finished. Processions of saints around the town proper would follow. candles were lighted and hush of prayers were made.


(People flocking in the procession of statues of saints.)

People were walking as the caro of the saints were pushed by the owners.The Dolorosa (Grieving Mary) is heavily guarded by devotees. The beautiful face of Mary carved in precious ivory. The Santo Entierro (Holy Corpse of Christ) is at the end of the procession,. Little white flowers and and angels decorated the coffin glass. The procession is solemn and the sky was already dark. The caro’s lights illuminated the night as the darkness blanketed the town.

Image(Peter the Disciple. Bronze keys and halo. Made up of hard wood)


(Veronica. Head and hands made up of ivory)

Aside from being a family heirloom, these ivory saints has been an important part of the culture and fabric of Filipino society for centuries and continues to be significant today. The whiteness of ivory that symbolizes purity had mold the minds of the Filipinos on the veneration these ecclesiastical statues.


(Dolorosa. Mary Mother of God sorrowful face. Ivory face and hand)


(Santo Entierro. The Dead Christ in glass coffin heavily guarded.)


(Closer look at the Santo Entierro. Made up of hardwood.)

Yes, ivory saints could be a trademark of Philippines of being the only Christian Country in Asia. These statues reflect not only the Filipino Custom but also the history of our land, creativity and faith. The Spaniards brought us the influence of venerating saints and glorifying God through the use of imagery. Most of the surviving ivory saints scattered through the Philippine Island were carved by the finest artisans. Truly, Filipinos are really talented and creative. It is good to hear that the owners of these statues do their best to maintain and preserve the saints even in costly manner. At least, I am pretty sure that the next generation will still witness the old age tradition of Filipinos during Lent.



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