Retablo Series. The Quest for the Unknown Saint


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Five years ago, three saints were left unidentified in my graduate thesis. The goal then was to properly name all the saints in my hometown’s (Silang) retablo, explore  their iconography, present their hagiography and somehow ascertain the composition or “storyboard” of the 4-century old structure. Each relief or statuary was placed not just out of whim but of a logical order and deeply-founded purpose that conveys meaning, symbolism, and even subliminal messages, to introduce and propagate the colonial faith.

Over the years, from informal discussions with the parish priest, church servers and volunteers, local historians and friends with similar interest, I have identified the two with confidence. And this leaves me with one more saint to recognize.

Aloysius GonzagaThe santo de bulto, located on the second level, fourth statue from left, main altar is a bearded man, short haired, clothed in black robes similar to that of the Jesuits and gazing to a cross (now with missing parts) held by its right hand. Then, I made an assumption that this may be possibly Saint Aloysius Gonzaga similar to his representation in the right wing retablo. But could it be just a double representation parallel to the reappearance of Saints Ignatius and Francis Xavier on either side of the Santo Niño on the top level of the retablo mayor? A probable, no.

After doing the Retablo Series in this blog for quite some time now, I encountered the unresolved. Who is this saint? Then, a sudden insight. Could this be a Franciscan saint? Perhaps, the black robe may be a brown…

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Theory one. Could this be Saint Francis of Assisi, the founder of the order (as proposed by a friend)? In some works of art, his representation is a bearded man wearing the vestments of his order sometimes bearing a cross. But his primary iconographical mark is his stigmata. This is missing from the saint’s visible palm up left hand. Possibly painted over? We just do not know. A closer inspection may prove this thought.

Theory two. How about St. James of Alcala? Silang was previously dedicated to Didacus or also known as Diego de San Nicolas, a Franciscan lay brother belonging to the Spanish Missionaries who first arrived in the Canary Islands. After years of service he died at Alcala de Henares in Madrid and was canonized in 1588 by Pope Sixtus V. It is also interesting to note that it was in his honor that the early colonial settlement and church of San Diego, now part of California was devoutly dedicated.

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Now, let us take a look on some of the samples of San Diego’s images. Then, let’s see. Could it be?

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San Diego de Alcala, bearing flowers in his habit. A painting by Francisco de Zurbaran.

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A statue of San Diego de Alcala in San Andres y Sauces, Spain.

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San Diego Parish, Valenzuela, Philippines.

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Other images of San Diego de Alcala in various parts of the world.

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The post is released in time for San Diego de Alcala’s feast. This is part of the series deciphering the iconographies of Silang Parish Retablo in Cavite.