Jose Jello S. Cubelo

SOME months back, I revisited my childhood interest in religious art and stumbled upon a group of people with the same interest in an online photo-sharing site. With no pictures to share, I considered myself a mere voyeur.

On these Internet travels, I met Clodoveo Vicente “Louie” Nacorda, an established religious art enthusiast, who for such was given by Jaime Cardinal Vidal the honor and responsibility of being the camarero of the 6-foot image of the Immaculada Concepcion housed at the Cebu Metropolitan Cathedral.

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Sir Louie, as he is fondly called by these on-line santo-loving community, was too kind to give me an undue honor by personally showing me the Sto. Niño pieces displayed at the exhibit he organized at SM City Cebu, and which is on it’s third year, thanks to the support of SM Cebu’s Marissa Fernan.

The exhibit “Santo Niño: Bahandi sa Simbahang Sugbuanon,” shows around sixty images of the Holy Child in various degrees of opulence, garbed in lavishly embroidered vestments from the collections of the Compañeros del Juegos del Señor, whose members include Nacorda, William Medici, Dr. Mae Mendoza, Msgr. Carlito Puno, Fr. Romeo Desuyo and Val Sandiego, together with some guest exhibitors.

The cornucopia of iconography and symbolism manifested through the Holy Child’s form, vestments and accessories are fascinating. This is what I learned from Nacorda’s research:

Sto. Niño Durmiente

Also called the Sto. Niño Dormido or the sleeping Sto. Niño, it is a popular altar piece in Filipino homes during the colonial times. It is venerated all year round and is placed in the Belen during Christmas time. The humble manger (as said in the Gospels) is usually replaced by a lavish and more comfortable mattress and fine lace coverings in devotional iconography to show the family’s devotion to the Holy Child. According to Sir Louie, this particular image is perhaps one of the most expensive pieces, being carved from solid ivory. (Image venerated by Simeon Paulin).

Sto. Niño de Pandacan

A “cambio” (term given to Spanish colonial art that combines local and western influences), this is a replica of the miraculous image venerated in Pandacan. Under this title, the Sto. Niño is depicted as a chubby, dark-skinned child standing on an open book, wearing sandals instead of boots, and casually dressed without a cape. Its right hand is raised in traditional blessing, while its left hand carries an orb. He abandons his imperial crown; instead, on his head is tres potencias (three powers) signifying the fullness of God in the person of Jesus.

The three rays represent the Holy Trinity. Its brown complexion facilitated the conversion of the natives to Christianity.

Sto. Niño del Divino Amor – This is one of images in the exhibit with the most amiable countenance. The image has a comforting expression, with outstretched arms as if to show his Sacred Heart that is burning in deep love for humanity. He is dressed in red, the color of Christ’s martyrdom, which is lavishly embroidered in gold threads to signify the bounty of graces Christ is ever ready to dispense.

Sto. Niño de Pasion

This approximately four foot tall image shows a crying child dressed in maroon (the shade of blood signifies martyrdom in religious iconography) just like the Nazareno of Quiapo. He holds the objects of the passion, a cross in one hand, three nails on the other, and a crown of thorns around his wrist.

This portrays Jesus, who even as a child, is tormented at the thought of his future Passion and Death.

Moreover, in the exhibit are interesting Sto. Niño pieces and paintings, like the El Capitan General de Filipinas, who is vested in the uniform of the governor general complete with a Napoleonic hat, royal sash and saber. Nacorda said that the image kept by the Recollects at San Sebastian in Manila received a monthly salary similar to what the Spanish colonial government’s governor general really received from the Spanish crown, and was honored by a 21-gun salute every time he goes out to procession, a tradition that was banned during the American Period.

There is also a piece owned by the former chief justice and senator, the late Marcelo Fernan (an ardent devotee of the Sto. Niño) who got the image for P30 many years ago. Then there is the Sto. Niño dela Paloma who appears playing with a dove, alluding to the non-canonical stories of the Child Jesus, who while playing with other children, took some wet earth and tossed it to the heavens. It is said that during this playful miracle, the clay was transformed to a living bird!

Why do the Sto. Niño then have many titles (an endless list like those given to the Virgin Mary)?

“We are a Christ-thirsty people!” declared Sir Louie, after deep contemplation. Sir Louie in fact has around sixty images under various titles, displaying the rich iconography of Catholicism.