A Sacred Mystery
those left behind gathered such herbs and grains that grew around their communities. The collection does not simply show life in general; it also shows how pottery played a key role in both the spiritual life of early Filipinos and the end of life itself. Valdes pointedly uses distinctive terms in this context: pang-alay refers to the ornaments worn by the babaylan or priestly class, and the terracotta figurines and vessels used in different rituals to honour or placate the gods. Pabaon, on the other hand, refers to grave goods: the funerary vessels used to inter the bones of the dead or the offerings of food and flowers made to nourish a departed soul for its trip to the afterlife.
The following chapters on jewellery and clothing penned respectively by Villegas and Alvina are a stark contrast to the simplicity of the earthenware collection. In his chapter, Villegas writes with verve as to how the coming of foreign colonists had a profound impact on local culture, custom, and fashion.
According to Villegas, “Gold performed a central role in traditional Philippine life. Gold ornaments were an integral part of animist religious ceremonies. Under the new religion [Roman Catholicism], gold had just as central a role. The practice of offering jewels to venerated images such as the Nuestra Señora del Rosario de la Naval de Manila hark back to pre-Hispanic practice.”
Local goldsmiths and jewellers who once wrought intricate pieces to adorn the heads and necks of the maharlika or ruling class found themselves crafting a unique array of pieces ranging from worldly adornments for women of quality to a selection of religious and devotional items such as institutional and personal reliquaries, rosaries, and sacred vessels like chalices and ciboria.
Alvina’s chapter on the Philippine dress over the years touches on how foreign influence impacted the development of fashion in the country and how it retained nuances unique to the climate and customs of the region. Likewise, she talks about how the materials used in clothing—their sources, the manner of weaving or embroidery, and the quality of the fabrics—spoke volumes as to the wearer’s status in society; and how local clothing has adapted to the changing times. She also speaks of the virtues of the women who crafted such intricate and delicate items out of locallysourced fabrics such as piña and jusi: “All work But perhaps the most compelling chapter in the book is Esperanza Gatbonton’s piece on religious art during the Spanish Colonial Era.
Serving as both objets d’art and objets de foi, religious images and devotional items actually gave a nation of goldsmiths, weavers, embroiderers, painters, as well as wood and ivory carvers a steady source of income for the better part of 400 years. Passed on from generation to generation or given into the safekeeping of institutions such as the BSP, private museums, or the Church, each piece is an item that speaks volumes of the faith of a nation, its different devotions, and— particularly in the case of one very precious piece—its resilience in the face of adversity.
This is the BSP’s Niño Dormido, an ivory statuette of the Infant Jesus in His crib which was crafted in the early 18th century but taken by the British as part of Spain’s ransom during their brief occupation of Manila between 1762 and 1764. Allegedly taken by Admiral William Draper as an example of the riches the Spaniards had in the Philippines, the Niño was given up as lost until 1983,