THE Cebu Cathedral Museum was host to the posthumous exhibit honoring renowned priest-artist Msgr. Virgilio "Nene" Rodriguez Yap.

Friends and family members gathered during the exhibit opening that was held on Yap's 15th death anniversary. They celebrated the priest's short artistic and pastoral journey.

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The exhibit “Retrospective: A Collection of Artworks” is on display at the museum

until Sept. 10.

The preparation for the event entailed several months of meticulous work by volunteers and members of the museum's curatorial board, said Archdiocesan Commission of Cultural Heritage of the Church vice chairman Fr. Brian Bigoli.

"Time for thorough preparation is very badly needed just to do justice for Msgr. Nene, who was keen and meticulous on details like this activity, for the lack of it would have been a scandal by his own standards," he said.

"Recalling that when the good monsignor was still at the top of his artistic career, he was the one who set up the many scattered and yet priceless artifacts of the local church's patrimony," he added.

The art pieces of the exhibit were collected from Yap's siblings, friends and institutions.

"Collecting the scattered art pieces of Msgr. Nene is a sort of detective work.

Working mostly on cross-references on people who knew the monsignor very well, tracing and gathering them together," said Brigoli, who was able to gather 22 art pieces.

An elder sister, 81-year-old Ester Yap-Borromeo, said her brother left his last will and testament with Cebu Archbishop Ricardo Cardinal Vidal.

"He (Vidal) called us (siblings) together. He read the will to us. Each of us was given one painting," said Borromeo, who pointed to an untitled abstract painting and a multi-media work with a crucifix affixed on a white and blue background.

The art works, the oldest dating 1966 and the most recent finished in 1977, underwent curative and conservation measures.

Brigoli said the commission had to set up a "pseudo conservation laboratory" within the museum grounds.

"All the serigraphy or screen painting was degraded due to acid deposits. These became yellowish and brittle," he said.

The canvass paintings also underwent de-acidification, de-humidification and varnishing processes, among others.

Artist

Louella Eslao-Alix, museum curatorial board member, delivered a short biography entitled "The Measure of a Life."

Yap was known as Msgr. Nene, said Alix. She said his nickname was a clue that he had a special place in the family.

"In Cebuano tradition, the favorite son or sibling is called 'Nene,'" she related.

The Yap family hails from Bogo City.

The priest-artist, who is the 8th of 10 siblings, entered the San Carlos Minor Seminary at the age of 11. He proceeded to the college seminary then went on to study Theology.

He was ordained on June 12, 1963 and his first assignment was as the assistant of Msgr. Esteban Montecillo at the Sto. Rosario Parish.

One of his classmates at the seminary was renowned composer and arranger Msgr. Rudy Villanueva, who shared some anecdotes on their friendship during the exhibit opening.

Banter

Villanueva related he enjoyed witty banter with his confrere.

"Once I was visiting him at the Gethsemane parish, I found him on the floor busy working on the design of a new coat of arms for a bishop. He told me when I arrived 'May ka diha, wala kay gibuhat' (Good for you, you have no work)," he said.

"How would you know that I am not busy? He then answered me 'Nibisita man ka nako.

Pasabot ana wala kay gibuhat (You are here to visit me, that means that you do not have work)," he added.

Villanueva said he called one of Yap's abstract paintings as a sketch of Jones Ave. (Osmeña Blvd.).

"After that, he made it a point to put up a note. The note said: These paintings are not to be seen through, they are meant only to be seen" said Villanueva.

"The note was really for me," he added.

Msgr. Yap's desire to improve on his skills bought him to the United States for further studies.

In 1968, he earned a master’s degree in Fine Arts at the University of Notre Dame du Lar in Indiana.

Upon his return, he taught Fine Arts in St. Theresa's College and the University of the Philippines Cebu College.

Landmark

Around this time, Yap also got involved in establishing the Cebu Archdiocese's official newsletter, Ang Bag-ong Lungsoranon.

But his popularity was galvanized by his design of the Gethsemane Parish in Barangay Casuntingan, Mandaue City.

His work was praised by Cardinal Vidal, who described his altar design as "both a tableau and a retablo."

"(The design) brings the worshipper to the garden of Gethsemane itself," said the prelate.

Yet another landmark work that would etch Yap's name in heritage preservation is the Cebu Cathedral Museum, which was one of Yap's last projects before he succumbed to leukemia on Aug. 10, 1995.

"He set up the Cebu Archdiocesan Museum which later on became the Cathedral Museum of Cebu. He set up the museum in one of the rooms of the ground floor of the old rectory of the Cathedral," said Alix.

The room has since been renamed as the Msgr. Virgilio Yap Memorial Chapel.

Alix said that the present inventory of religious artifacts and art pieces at the museum were the fruits of Yap's labor after visiting several parishes to collect the items.

"How does one measure the life of one such as Msgr. Nene?" asked Alix.

"If we measure him by the number of projects he undertook, the number of art works he created and the number of people he affected and influenced. I, who have never known him personally, would say that he lived a thousand lives in those 55 years," she added.