A Silver Treasure Turns a Hundredby: Elmer Nocheseda
A cultural relic of Pateros turns centenary this year (i.e. 2003). Although in much need of repair, the andas ni Santa Marta is a venerated town treasure. And still in good use. Considered a priceless heirloom of pounded Mexican silver, it tells the town's stories through the past century.
The diminutive imahen of Sta. Marta is believed to be much older than the andas. It was carved by a native santero more than 200 years ago, leaving a peculiar iconographic signal of suksok or tucked-in cape, a popular detail in carved Marian images in 1750's. The imahen, no more than 18 inches, looks tall and regal as it lords over the silver andas.
Though petite, it looks radiant and majestic when positioned on top of the andas. The silver finery endows the image with elegance as it scintillates with the reflection of sunlight. At night, nothing looks more stately and arresting than her sparkling image as the lighted andas sways brilliantly with the penitent midnight dancers. Like good partners, the andas and the image of Sta. Marta form a perfect match.
Much of the story of the imahen and andas of Sta. Marta is associated with Don Marcelo de Borja. Being a respected barrio head, he is gallantly called Cabezang Celo by his sacopes or members of his cabeceria. He was born sometime in 1843 and lived a full life until his death in June 12, 1922 at the age of 79, leaving behind several landed estates in Pateros, Jala-jala, Nueva Ecija, Mandaluyong and Manila.
He also left behind a handsome bahay na bato, which until its demolition in 2000, was the oldest house in Pateros. Married to Tarcila Quiogue, they prospered by their sheer industry. They planted and traded rice, bunga and ikmo leaves. They gathered and sold suso shells for duck feeds, raised ducks and made and sold burnay jars and tinajas. Because of his status and wealth, he was appointed cabeza de barangay de cabeceria numero 40 of the mestizos de chinos for several terms up until the revolution in 1896-1898. His father, Don Valerio, on the other hand, served as the gobernadorcillo of Pateros in 1860. Devoting his time to business, Cabezang Celo refused several nominations to be the Pateros town head, rather, his younger brother, Don Anacleto, became its capitan municipal during the perilous years of 1896 to 1898, the height of the Philippine revolution. His sister, Gervacia supported the Katipunan, and a grateful town of Pateros named a street after her.
Kidnap for ransom is nothing new. Even before the crime of pandarambong entered our legal parlance, Pateros recounts stories of kidnapping and tulisanes attacks in the 1800s. The Catalogo de Cosas Notables of Capitan Ladislao Siolo recounts bloody attacks leading to loss of lives and property.
Leopoldo Ortega, a grandson of Cabezang Celo, wrote an article in 1965 recounting the exploits of his lolo with these masasamang loob. In 1900, Cabezang Celo was tricked by some malhechores (bandits, mandarambong) into a supposed meeting with Filipino revolucionarios but was kidnapped and brought to Cavite instead. They asked for ransom of P10,000 in silver coins, a very big sum at that time.
His two sons, Francisco and Quintin, and his two daughters, Juliana and Crisanta were able to put up P1,000 and negotiated under the pretext that the Americans who ransacked Pateros in March 1899 got all their money. Cabezang Celo was released a very sick man.
The image of Sta. Marta was witness to the American-sponsored election of town officials headed by Don Gregorio Quiogue Flores, which was held in the house of Cabezang Celo in 1901. By 1902, the new American-led civil government made it possible for him to buy and gain title to the friar lands he had leased to plant betel nut and ikmo leaves. He was able to acquire agricultural lands he devoted to planting rice. He established a mechanical kiskisan or rice mill right beside his house in Pateros, which is now occupied by the new town hall. He developed agricultural lots in Jala-jala and Nueva Ecija, which subsequently became a source of legal claims among his siblings, even reaching the attention of the Supreme Court in 1935 and 1950.
So much silver coins were paid for his efforts. Attributing his good fortune to the intercession of Sta. Marta, he thought of expressing his gratitude. He ordered a silver palanquin to be made for her image. He made use of his hoard of Mexican silver coins he usually kept in gusi (earthen jars) buried in the ground. Then he exchanged the rest of his hoard with the new American issued currency of 1903. Several of these gusi jars were unearthed in 1961. Some people believe that there are some more around. My Ninang Marthy de Borja viuda de Ungco gave me some or her treasured silver collections found from this hoard.
The andas was made by some local latero craftsmen from Pateros. Ortega also recounted the stories of his lolo that "the silversmiths who cheated him with the quality of their work were afflicted with misfortune." He said that they served as icon bearers and danced the pandanggo during the saint's procession to atone their peccadillo.
They make good use of the andas and keep it in the dark silong of the house of Cabezang Celo. Shining in the dark, some thought that it is the apparition of the Santa that glows. The andas survived the rain and storm when the procession roamed the town even in hip-deep floodwater in 1971.
However, the damp environment rotted its wooden base and some of its precious metal. It was later kept in the house of the Daycos in the 1980s and was in disuse when the family moved to Canada in 1986 bringing with them the image of Sta. Marta. Later on, the image was brought back to the Philippines, which they said was according to the image's own prodding.
In 1987, they used the andas in a procession. However, since then, it was never seen again until 1998 when a new set of poderes, or Sta. Marta devotees, headed by Bong Quiogue and Lawrence Castillo shared their efforts to have it repaired. Lacking funds and expert craftsman's advice, they made temporary repairs on its wooden base, replaced some broken pieces and fastened edges with aluminum tape, the one used in fixing calderos.
They cleaned and polished the soot-covered silver plates. Put together again, the image and andas become integral image forming a delicate balance of proportions. They form a beautiful equilateral triangle with the head of the Santa as the apex and the bottom of the andas as the base.
The design of the andas follows the dictates of the neo-renaissance style, which is very popular in the Philippines during the period of 1890 to 1915. This style, which was also revived in the 1930's, is characterized by the repeated anthemion design around its base. They also make use of a lot of arabesque scroll of acanthus leaves that delicately fill the space in highly symmetrical patterns.
The layers of the andas create a regal form, maintaining a classic symmetrical proportion in three tiers.
The primera grada forms the solid square base with elegant chamfered corner, which when viewed from the top forms a cross. It has a triangular fronton like the church pediment and the borders are decorated with embossed lambrequins on the fringes. Inside the triangular space is classic Greek flora. The four silver sheet panels are framed with silver moldings. Each panel is elaborately decorated with classic designs of symmetrical sprouts of acanthus vine ending in blooms and young leaflets.
The elegant lozenge-shaped cartouche dominates the center of each panel, like a chapa or coat-of-arms demanding respect and attention. As a highlight, it is crowned with curling young acanthus leaves. It is surrounded with arabesque scrolls of this classic vine that emanates from a bunch at its bottom. The empty flat surface of the cartouche provides space for an emblem or monogram. More importantly, the smooth surface reflects light and shines like a mirror. It throws off a large amount of light making it scintillate at a distance. Under the sun, the andas sparkles in brilliance. With moonbeams and nightlights, it glows in the dark.
The segunda grada or the middle portion contains a protrusion like a rectangular pediment on its upper portion to contain the repoussed images of winged cherubs. One cherub at the back panel is now missing. No one knows when it was lost.
On four corners are embossed images of the heraldic symbols of the cross and the palm leaves at the four corners. These heraldic symbols appear in her saya. The base is defined with a repeating anthemion design, heightening its classical form. It is lighted with four arbortantes or lamp stands on its four corners and an S-shaped pescante on each of the four side panels. (One pescante is now missing).
Earlier picture shows pescantes attached at the lower base of the primera grada. Before electricity became portable through car batteries, the globos or blown glass urns lit with candles or calburo (carbide) mixture of lime and water. The gas lights up to produce a bluish glow called the limelight. Sencia Castillo, the present caretaker of the andas, remembers the burning smell of the calburo when the andas of Sta Marta passed their house.
The tercera grada is detachable and serves as the elegant cuenta peana or pedestal of the image. It has an elegant slope that enhances the height of the small image. Its sparse decoration directs emphasis to the image. At its center top is the contraption called talasok that firmly attaches and securely locks the Santa to the andas. The stiff contraption inserts itself to a hole at the base before it is tightly locked, thus others call it with the imaginative moniker of tarugo.
Like the folk song, "ginto't pilak namumulaklak sa tabi ng dagat," the silver trimmings of Sta. Marta actually blooms profusely. A major part of the silver finery of Sta. Marta is the plancha or the ornate covering of worked silver and gold with encased semi-precious stones. In Pateros, it is fondly called pagong, mimicking the shell or carapace that covers the body of the tortoise. With this silver shell, the image exposes only its baticuling limbs and head.
The pagong is divided into two parts: the saya or the skirt that covers the lower portion of the body and the tapa-pecho or the blouse that covers the torso. The pagong is delicately made from melted Mexican silver coins and not from silver bullion, which would have the plata quintada or the mark to show payment of quinto or the tax levy.
The silver plate is thick and heavy with more than gauge 24, which is quite unusual. It means that "maraming pilak na pagkukunan," says Martin Tinio, an expert on silver finery, when he saw the piece. The top surface is shinato, that is, kinayod ang balat ng pilak, or completely buffed to make it shine like a mirror. The reverse side contains the cholong or pound marks of the hammer that formed the silver plate into a mantle that resembles the pleats of the saya or the tunic.
Previously contemplated to be only as old as the silver andas, it turns out to be a much older piece. The organic rococo scrollwork and asymmetrical design of the calado or fretwork reveals intricate technique that hints of the style and taste popular during the period of 1750 to 1830. The appliqué design called locally as tapal is made of parcel gilt (mixture of silver and gold).
The curlicues of the appliqué are asymmetrical, elaborate and very intricate, highlighting the cross and the palaspas leaves. The emblematic symbols were adopted not only for decorative use, but in Pateros, they become the iconographic symbols of Sta. Marta. As Tinio comments, "Landi ng dibuho. Diyan mo makikita ang tunay." The capricious and ornamental design shows finery and much attention to detail. However, the colored stones are not precious. Though all of them are puwet ng baso using the enggaste technique common at the turn of the century called sipit alimango, they do sparkle.
The piyanya (peana, peaña) or the ochovado (octagonal) wooden pedestal of the image is covered with pounded silver with neo-renaissance design. Together with the buaya at her feet, the piyanya is an integral part of the saint's iconography. Her monogram "SM" is finely embossed at the center interlacing with curling vines of leaves and flowers, resulting in an ornamental cipher, the delightful fusion between the flourish and the letter-form. At the center of the base at the back of the crocodile is a hole where the talasok or peg is inserted. This ancient contraption is important because the image has to dance and sway with the earthy pandanggo beat. Any lapse in its attachment could spell disaster.
The ideal way to clean the silver andas is with the concoction called cuervo de cierro. This is a pasty combination of one part zinc oxide with one part denatured alcohol. It is painted over the silver, mindful to cover all the surfaces and crevices. The paste is allowed to dry before the silver andas is kept for storage. They cover it with white telon and then with plastic sheets. It is then rubbed off with a dry cloth and polished to a gleam when the andas is again to be used. The andas shares a space in a bodega where itlog na maalat are dyed red. The poderes are now collecting old silver coins to make the repairs and fix the loose joints. With the love and attention, her new breed of poderes gives her, and hoping there is no major war, I am sure it would last a hundred years more.
(Note: Shortly after the February 2009 feastday, and after being kept by the Poderes de Sta Marta, the andas was asked to be returned to Boots Gonzalez Dayco, the son of the late Miguel "Ige" de Borja Dayco, a grandson of Don Marcelo through his daughter Crisanta. Another chapter in the story of the andas begins.)