There’s something profoundly beautiful in the visual language of art within the Catholic faith. In numerous Catholic cathedrals and basilicas, the architectural grandeur is a sight to behold. The crystal frescoes and mosaics, depicting scenes from the life of Christ, the saints and celestial visions, invite worshippers to gaze above, aspiring towards the divine.
The Ramon Aboitiz Foundation Inc. (Rafi) through the Kabilin Center in partnership with SM City Cebu, launched the “Treasures of Devotion” exhibit at The Northwing on Jan. 8, 2024.
Merely a week into the new year, Cebuanos can engage with their devotion through both a tangible and virtual exhibit, marking a festive start to the annual Sinulog celebration.
The exhibit, intentionally crafted in the likeness of a majestic church, serves as a reminder that the very essence of devotion finds its truest sanctuary within the hallowed walls of a place of worship.
The dome-like exhibition commemorates 500 years of Christianity in Cebu and captures the essence of spirituality through photo and video documentation.
By meticulously cataloging religious artifacts from diocesan and parish museums, as well as private collections in Cebu, the exhibit displays profound layers of memories and experiences accumulated across generations of believers.
“Faith is intangible because it is directed to God; devotion is the manifestation of this belief to a supreme being and is tangible, as seen in the care we give to the representations of God and his angels and saints, such as our religious images, which some even believe possess miraculous power, like our Sto. Nino,” said Haidee Palar, head of the Kabilin Center, in a speech.
She added that Cebu hosts a treasure trove of items that convey religious devotion, which has long been imminent in Cebuano culture and heritage for half a millennium.
Inside the gallery
In this digital exhibit, a curated collection of sacred artifacts, previously concealed within convents or rarely-accessed museums, takes center stage in virtual galleries designed around thematic and conceptual groupings: In Love with Mary, Images of Christ, The Holy Family, The Holy Men and Women of God, Liturgy and The Sacraments, Heavenly Host on Earth, Sacred Furnishing, Home Devotions, Painting the Sacred, and Vestments and Linens.
This gallery boasts one of the largest collections, highlighting the profound impact of Marian Filipino Catholicism. Notable devotions in the Philippines encompass Our Lady of Consolation, Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal, Our Lady of Mount Carmel, and Our Lady of the Holy Rosary. Additionally, various depictions of Jesus Christ’s life are featured, with an emphasis on crucifixion scenes. Scenes from the Holy Family’s life, such as their journey to Bethlehem and the Flight to Egypt, also grace the gallery.
This collection serves as proof of the devotion of individuals to their beloved saints. It focuses on sacred objects integral to liturgical norms, ensuring dignified and beautiful celebrations. While the church is the traditional space for liturgical prayer, the gallery’s Home Devotions exhibit highlights a personal prayer corner at home. It encompasses parish painting collections, featuring cuadro paintings of saints, holy fathers, scenes from the Old and New Testaments, and painted stamps depicting the Mysteries of the Holy Rosary.
The gallery also houses documentations of sacred vestments and linens, essential for Holy Mass celebrations. Their preparation and care take place in the sacristy, stored in special cabinets.
Traditions and preservation
“Treasures of Devotion,” a collaborative virtual exhibition by the University of the Philippines Cebu, Rafi’s Kabilin Center, and the Archdiocese of Cebu, narrates stories of faith and devotion shaped and sustained by these sacred objects.
The website of the Kabilin Center shares that a Boljoon devotee, Baldwin Navarro emphasizes the role these religious objects play in his personal faith formation.
“I can say that it is very important because always, because of these images, what we call devotion was formed. Because of these images, we see how dedicated a person is just for what he calls devotion... They play a role that is no other role but to inspire people to become devoted. They mold people into becoming better Christians,” said Navarro.
He further conveyed that his reverence for religious objects was inherited from his elders. Recounting his grandmother’s profound devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, he shared her final words on her deathbed: “I have no wealth to bequeath to you. There is nothing else; this devotion is the wealth I bequeath you.”
The legacy of a devotee does not fade with the passage of time. Religious artifacts are not merely static objects; each chalice, icon or vestment carries a unique narrative, reflecting the religious practices, artistic styles and cultural nuances of its time.
The preservation of these items then becomes a must-do act of cultural stewardship, safeguarding the spiritual legacy embedded within each artifact for the benefit of future generations.
Efren Bolo, the current Parish Pastoral Council president of St. Augustine de Hippo Parish Church in Alcantara, Cebu, emphasized the crucial importance of preserving the church’s immovable cultural heritage.
“There is a great opportunity to preserve this so that the future generations or the youth can see that what we are doing has weight and value, a sentimental value, that we can see from the beginning until now that we have reached the 500th year of our Christianity, from the time that we have acknowledged ourselves as among the baptized,” said Bolo.