At the Monday afternoon opening of the Museo de Intramuros, an astounding collection of Philippine religious imagery, carvings and sacred vessels finally saw the light of day after years of being kept hidden from public view. Acquired and put together by the Intramuros Administration founded 40 years ago, as led by its visionary Dr. Jaime C. Laya, the collection represents, according to a book by co-curator of the exhibit Dr. Esperanza Gatbonton, “the first real attempt to collect and preserve within the Philippines an important aspect of the country’s cultural heritage.”
Laya, in an interview with ANCX, said the collection was part of a larger plan for Intramuros before the first Aquino administration came into power. The original plan included the creation of Casa Manila, Casa San Luis, and cultural evenings inside the Walled City like the Puerta Real Evenings. "This is only 30 percent of the total collection," said Laya of the pieces on exhibit which was sourced from all over the country. (There is a collection of Philippine jewelry, too, we heard.) Previously, there was really no space to display the collection. "Part of the collection was in Casa Manila, part of it was on loan to San Agustin and various museums." Laya said.
The opening exhibition, called “Imágenes / indigena: The Indio Response to Evangelizarion,” presents the story of the evangelization of the country but from the Philippine perspective. “It explores the ‘Filipino’ psyche as it is introduced to a new religion and culture. It aims to highlight the resulting Filipino artistry and craftsmanship in the merging of the indigenous and the foreign, in the form of religious images,” said Atty. Guiller Asido of the Intramuros Administration.
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The landmark exhibition is divided into five sections within several rooms of the museum. The Immaculate Conception room presents different statues of the Immaculada Concepción, which are varied interpretations of the Blessed Virgin by local artisans. The concept of the Virgin was a standard of womanhood brought in by the first missionaries who arrived in our shores in 1565 and found the women of our islands “unchaste.”
The Religious Orders room is filled with wooden statues of saints, from the five religious orders that played a pivotal role in the evangelization of the country: the Augustinians, the Franciscans, The Jesuits, the Dominicans and lastly the Recollects.
The second floor rooms are occupied by religious paintings, sacred vessels, and the early Filipino interpretations of divinity—carvings that some may deem crude but are essentially the first stages of what will eventually be ilustrado-influenced incarnations of Philippine santos.
“This is our history, and it must be told,” said Department of Tourism Secretary Berna Romulo Puyat in her speech to an audience of museum officials and media. Puyat was the one who convinced the present Intramuros Administration to finally put the treasures out for the world to see. “Here, local and international tourists have the avenue to hear our stories when they visit Museo de Intramuros. They may also learn that exploring the walled city is not only a way to traverse our history but also glimpse into our creative past and its potential for the future.”
Quoting Gatbonton’s book, Philippine Religios Imagery, Puyat said, “The collection affords the viewer a panorama of the various styles, and enables him to compare them with the artifacts done abroad in the same medium. We Filipinos have always tended to accept that we were the passive receiver of artistic stimuli from abroad. This collection proves that the Philippines was as much a giver.”
In her own words, Secretary Puyat said, “When you view the collections, it is from that perspective that we should see it, not just as objects of colonial art but as a mirror to the Filipino’s soul and his craftsmanship.”
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Jewelry for the skirt of the Immaculate Conception statue.
Putting the skirt of the Virgin together the Sunday before the opening.
Silver and metal collection in the sacred vessels room.
17th century molave statue of San Fernando Rey
An elaborate andas in the vessels section.
This wooden 17th century high relief depicts San Agustin at his desk with a quill pen in his hand.
One of several pieces in the exhibition still unidentified.
A meticulously carved hardwood San Mateo Evangelista
A hardwood Gregory The Great from 1796.
A molave St. Jerome (San Geronimo)
Relief carving of the Triune God set in Calvary.
The sacred vessels room.
Unidentified statue at The Indio Response section
Inside the Indio Response room, displayed are some of the earliest interpretations of statues of colonial faith
Old church parts laid out on the ground floor as part of The Patronato Real and the Establishment of Parishes
San Andres by the entrance.
Santa Lucia, Virgin and martyr, in molave.
From left, a Franciscan saint, San Francisco de Assisi, San Francisco Rey, Saint Elizabeth of Hungary, San Antonio de Padua
A statue at the Reiigious Orders section.
Paintings on the ground floor. From left: Flagellation of Christ (oil on wood), Moracle of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel (oil on canvas), Resurrection of Christ
Preparing the Immaculate Conception for the opening
Silver skirt of the Immaculate Conception.
Silver accessories for the statue.
Cleaning a metal piece for the Immaculate Conception.
One of the religious paintings depicts St. John The Baptist and Jesus in Jordan.
One of the wooden church parts on show.
The museum facade.
Photographs by Jilson Tiu