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From the bulul to the santo: Objects of faith at Salcedo Auctions

Ethnographic and religious artifacts go on the block at upcoming The Well-Appointed Life

bulul of the Cordilleras
Mid-20th century large ‘bulul’; mid-20th century ‘hagabi’ (right)

The quest to find life’s meaning has led people to fashion their beliefs into a likeness that they can see, touch, and worship. Many pre-colonial Filipinos venerated the sky and then-unexplainable nature, and took the nearest accessible materials to carve objects and icons to which they could express supplication and reverence.

The bulul of the Cordilleras, for example, was created out of the Ifugao people’s desire to protect their primary source of food and livelihood. The bulul symbolized the Ifugao rice god that protected the barns and harvests, and were worshiped during harvest celebrations with different kinds of offerings.

Rice farming is central to the Ifugao people, whose lives depended on a bountiful yield. Before the new harvest, when food was scarce, the community performed a hagabi feast that became an opportunity to distribute food to those in need. Only the rich could perform the feast; therefore, the hagabi was also a symbol of wealth and status.

During the Spanish colonial period, folk religiosity permeated into the native people’s faith practices. The Spanish missionaries attempted to erase any tangible trace of local belief systems. Ironically, it was also through the people’s familiarity with idols that the colonizers introduced the new faith. The bulul was supplanted by the santo.

The saint was not only the icon to turn to for prayers; it was also the visual reminder of a true paragon of Christian faith. San Vicente de Ferrer was the “Patron Saint of Builders,” because of his efforts to grow and strengthen the Church. He was also known to have the gift of miracles. More importantly, he was also known for his religious poverty and austerity—traits expected of the long-suffering indio to attain a place in heaven.

A processional ivory and wooden San Vicente de Ferrer

Religion was undeniably the center of Philippine colonial life, and the Church exerted its power and influence through visual awe and grandeur. The architecture was grand and the interiors ornate. The retablo was meant to draw the attention of churchgoers toward the altar. It was imposing, majestic, and intricately carved—oftentimes employing all the artistic styles that came late to the Philippines from Europe.

A majestic Baroque retablo

A very rare ‘Del Fuego’ silver double-headed eagle altar card from the 18th century

At home, the altar continued to take the central role in the Filipino household. The altar table was a common sight, differing only in its craftsmanship. The upper middle-class Filipino sought the skill and mastery of artisans, mostly from the regional crafting centers of Bulacan, Bohol, and Batangas. On the altar table were enshrined the venerated santo images and other important prayer intermediaries. Oftentimes, it was an urna or house altar that was at the heart of their well-appointed household sacred spaces.

A rare Batangas ‘Olympic’ altar table from the 19th century

An important Neoclassical double-niche ‘urna’ with ‘Immaculada Concepcion and Niño Dormido’ from the 19th century

Religious objects are integral to Philippine culture and heritage. A wider understanding of these important artifacts has led to their better appreciation, not only of their function but also of their form—of the fine skill and reverential attention put into crafting them as sacred objects worthy of veneration and admiration.

The ethnographic and religious artifacts featured here will go on the block at Salcedo Auctions’ upcoming The Well-Appointed Life live and online auction on Saturday, 18 March 2023. Curated as the Connoisseur Collection, the selection includes other ethnographic objects, such as an early 20th century brass betel box, Maranao kudyapi, an intricately carved Maranao chess set, and large kulintang, among others. The collection also includes rare antique colonial era furniture, such asa 12-corner round table made in the Bilibid prison in the early 20th century, an 18th century Baul Mundo, pre-war heritage doors, and a sophisticated late 19th century kapiya.

Salcedo Auctions’ The Well-Appointed Life live and online auction, co-presented by exclusive bank partner HSBC, takes place on Saturday, 18 March 2023 at 2 pm. View the catalogue and register to bid via or download the e-catalogue here via . The in-person viewing opens on Thursday, 9 March. For inquiries or bidding assistance, email [email protected] or call tel. no. 8823-0956 or (0917) 591-2191. Follow @salcedoauctions on IG and FB.

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