Wooden Saints — Symbols of Puerto Rican devotion, art and culture

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The carving of wood saints started in the XVI Century in the Spanish colonies from the southeastern United States to Patagonia. Over time, it disappeared almost everywhere, except in Puerto Rico where this art of the people is still widely practiced—as Igor I. Solar reports in this article for digitaljournal.com.

The Spanish word “santo” means “saint”. A religious saint is recognized for having a unique level of holiness, sanctity, and virtue, and also for having the ability of performing miracles. In Puerto Rico the word “santo”, also used in the expression “santo de palo”, refers to hand-carved wooden figures of saints.

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Traditional craft of Puerto Rico

Typically, large images of saints were carved by artists for display in altars in church buildings or other religious structures. The carving of small wooden “santos” is one of the traditional crafts of Puerto Rico. The santeros or saint-makers trace their craft to the sixteenth century. The small, compact figures were created by self-taught rural carvers whose figures were objects of devotion as manifestations of the saints’ spirit. Today’s carvers represent a link to Puerto Rico’s past and are valued as living symbols of the island’s cultural heritage.

The topics of Puerto Rican carvings include not only individual saints but also involve groups in biblical scenes and other subjects of the Catholic religion. The ancient Puerto Rican Santeros lacked artistic training or knowledge of details of human anatomy. However, the figures reflected their beliefs, leanings and emotions. Among the most recurrent figures are the images of the Virgin, Especially Our Lady of Mount Carmel and Our Lady of Montserrat, Jesus’ Nativities, and figures of the Three Kings.

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“Fifth Meeting of Saint Carvers Domingo Orta” in Ponce, P.R.

Periodically, saint carvers of Puerto Rico gather to showcase their creations and celebrate the most respected exponents of the ancient tradition. On Sunday, August 18, the “Fifth Meeting of Saint Carvers Domingo Orta” was held at the Plaza Las Delicias in Ponce City. The event brought together dozens of artisans who exhibited impressive religious images. The activity recognized the career of master carver Pedro Pablo Rinaldi Jovet, for his valuable involvement in the rescue of this important tradition. It was also the occasion to pay a posthumous tribute to Santia Rivera, for her outstanding contribution to the traditional carving of wooden saints. Ms. Rivera, the widow of Domingo Orta (1929-2007), died in January, 2013.

Among the artisans participating in this meeting was Julio A. Navarro Zayas, of Ponce, Puerto Rico, who answered my questions and provided the pictures of some of his creations that illustrate this report.

DJ: What is a santo and what is the meaning of a santo?

J.N.: A santo is a wood carving of a saint or a religious person in the Catholic Church. Small santos, like the ones in the pictures, are made for someone’s home. Some people pray and ask a santo for personal favours or to help or restore to health someone they know. Sometimes a person would leave with the santo a small object called a “milagro” (miracle). These are often in the shape of a part of the person’s body that may have the illness, such as a tooth or a heart. The intention is that the saint would assist in healing the sick.

In the past, santos where more an object of devotion, today however, although they continue to function in a devotional context, they are also regarded for their artistic merit and as collector’s items. They are also seen as symbols of Puerto Rican identity because of their link to the past culture of Puerto Rico.

DJ: Who are the Santeros and how are the saints made?

J.N.: Traditionally, the carving of saints has been a male-dominated activity. Nonetheless, there is now a growing participation of women carvers in artisans’ fairs and exhibitions. The wood carvers who create santos are called santeros (female carvers are santeras). Santeros use basic knives and carving tools to create santos. Sometimes, the body of a santo is carved out of one piece of wood, and the arms and legs from other pieces, which are later joined together. Then, the saints are somewhat polished and painted usually with bright colors.

For the original report go to http://www.digitaljournal.com/article/356693#ixzz2cXcCBKcV

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