Saving the Lorenzo Ruiz mural-A A +A
Tuesday, July 10, 2012
TWO anniversaries coinciding this year deserve the attention and support of all Filipinos, specially Catholic Filipinos and Kapampangans.
One is the 100th birth anniversary of the renowned Filipino architect, Jose Maria V. Zaragoza, and the other is the 25th anniversary of the canonization of the first Filipino saint, Lorenzo Ruiz.
The lives and legacies of these two great Filipinos intersected in 1981 when Pope John Paul II visited the Philippines to beatify Lorenzo Ruiz and his companion martyrs of Nagasaki.
It was the first beatification rites ever held outside Rome, as well as the first visit of the Pope who would later be beatified himself.
The outdoor ceremonies, held at Rizal Park, featured a magnificent mural depicting Lorenzo Ruiz and his fellow martyrs. It was designed and commissioned by Archt. Zaragoza.
Architect Zaragoza is a revered name among Filipino architects. He helped shape Manila’s cityscape by designing and building such landmarks as the Meralco Center in Ortigas, the Sto. Domingo Church, the renovated Quiapo Church, the Archbishop’s Residence in Mandaluyong, the PAL Building in Makati, the first SM Department Store, the Pink Sisters Convent, Radio Veritas, Virra Mall, St. John Bosco Chapel, etc.
Unknown to many, Archt. Jose Maria V. Zaragoza was half-Kapampangan. His mother, six-foot-tall Rosario Velez, belonged to the illustrious Velez-Infante clan of Guagua which, legend says, had an ancestor named Maria Velez, who escaped from a nunnery to marry a young Spanish friar.
The young lovers used a carabao-driven cart as escape vehicle which of course, enabled the local magistrate to capture them. Their tragic story is the reason a mountain in Bataan is called Mariveles (after Maria Velez), and several nearby islands are named Corregidor (Spanish for magistrate), El Fraile (after the young friar), and Caraballo (after the hapless carabao).
Archt. Zaragoza’s father, on the other hand, was Elias Zaragoza y Rojas, the first licensed Filipino electrical and chemical engineer and first Filipino to graduate from Yale University. He belonged to the Zaragoza family of Quiapo whose ancestors were the King of Spain’s representatives to Nueva Ecija during the tobacco monopoly (the reason a town there is named Zaragoza).
Originally from Spain, the Zaragozas were related to the Cepeda family of Saint Teresa of Avila, whose cousin Alonso Cepeda came to Manila in 1571 with Miguel Lopez de Legazpi.
It was Archt. Zaragoza’s son, Ramon Ma. Zaragoza, famous author, historian, founder of RAMAZA Publishing and a renowned architect like his father, who donated the mural to the Center for Kapampangan Studies months ago, on the condition that we repair it.
He also expressed his wish to have a Holy Mass celebrated on the occasion of his father’s centenary in December, with the mural serving as backdrop like it did in the 1981 beatification rites.
The four-meter-high painting, broken into eight separate wood panels, was in a state of disrepair when we found it in a storage room in Quiapo. Several panels were missing, which means we had to reconstruct the painting using photographs of the 1981 event. Right now we are studying what scaffolding to use when we erect it in time for the celebrations later this year.
We know that the mural has historical value because it was the centerpiece of the first beatification in Church history that was held outside the Vatican, and religious value because it was a relic, having been blessed and probably touched by a future saint, Pope John Paul II.
But what really excites us is the serendipitous chain of events that led to our acquisition of the mural.
Architect Ramon Zaragoza had been a supporter of the Center for Kapampangan Studies since he first saw it during the launching of a book by Prof. Lino Dizon, about seven years ago.
He was a frequent visitor of Pampanga, being a friend of Kapampangan artist Jojo Valencia and a member of the Velez family who helps prepare the centuries-old image and carroza of the Sto. Entierro of Guagua for the town’s First Friday procession.
Late last year Archt. Zaragoza indicated his wish to donate the mural, which he said had been gathering dust in his building in Quiapo and nobody seemed interested or willing to restore it.
We did not think twice, even if initially we found no connection between the Center’s advocacy and Lorenzo Ruiz, who was a Tagalog-Chinese mestizo from Binondo, Manila. We were pushing hard at that time for our own candidate for beatification, Phelippe Sonsong of Macabebe, whom we felt deserved to be a saint, too.
But then our history and heritage consultant, Francis Musni, pointed to us the auspicious anniversaries this year (Lorenzo Ruiz’ silver jubilee and Zaragoza’s centenary), and Archt. Ramon Zaragoza revealed to us his father’s Kapampangan lineage, and we realized the unique role that the Center for Kapampangan Studies could play in saving, restoring and remounting his father’s tribute to the first Filipino saint.
The plan now is to finish restoring it in time for the national celebration of the silver anniversary of the saint’s canonization, which will have no historical artifact to accompany the event except this mural. If the mural has no place in the national celebration, we can have our own celebration in Pampanga, where devotion to the saint is strong with a number of parishes even named after him.
On December 6, we will celebrate Archt. Zaragoza’s birth centenary with his family, including the Velezes of Guagua, with a Kapampangan architects’ association, again with the mural serving as backdrop during the Mass, in accordance with Archt. Ramon Zaragoza’s wishes.
If the government decides to honor him with a national celebration, like an exhibit of his works, the mural is theirs—if the organizers want it and if the donor allows it.
It should be the responsibility of the government, more than private individuals or organizations, to preserve and conserve artifacts of significant historical and cultural value.
Why this mural was left to deteriorate in a storage in Quiapo for more than 30 years, and why Archt. Ramon Zaragoza had to run to a private institution like the Center for Kapampangan Studies for help, is an indication of how cultural treasures are treated in this country.
The experts in restoring artifacts and artworks are in the government’s cultural agencies like the National Museum, the National Historical Commission, and the National Commission for Culture and the Arts. I hope they can help us.
Archt. Jose Maria Zaragoza deserves all the recognition this government can give, including the National Artist Award, and his works deserve the protection and support this government can lend. As an architect, he emphasized functionality, abhorred wasted spaces, and pioneered natural lighting and ventilation. The Lorenzo Ruiz mural was one of his works that reflected his deep spirituality and fidelity to the Catholic Church.
In 1637, Lorenzo Ruiz told his executioners that he was willing to die a thousand deaths to defend his faith.
Archt. Zaragoza’s mural, unfortunately, doesn’t have the benefit of a thousand deaths.
Published in the Sun.Star Pampanga newspaper on July 10, 2012.