TAGOLOAN, Misamis Oriental—In this first-class municipality, 19 kilometers east of the city of Cagayan de Oro, is the Church of Nuestra Señora de la Candelaria. Inside the century-old structure, at the altar alongside the crucified Christ, is the Virgin Mary in all her glorious attire.
In the Philippines, the devotion to Candelaria is derived from the original Virgin of Candelaria (Our Lady of the Candles) enshrined in the Basilica of Candelaria in the Canary Islands, Spain. An older local image is venerated in Jaro Cathedral, which Pope John Paul II personally crowned in 1981. On his February 2 feast, also known as the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, candles are blessed to represent Christ the Light of our lives and of the world.
In mid-January each year, the Virgin Mary of Tagoloan Church is clothed in a new vestment, in time for the nine-day novena before the town festival. Since the mid-1990s, fashion designer Edgar San Diego has crafted her clothes, drawing devotees from all over this place of worship on Fr. St. Jaime S. Neri SJ, presided over by the Rev. Roberto C. Balsamo Jr., SSJV, and assisted by the Rev. Robert Roey M.Pajo.
“I am always inspired by the beauty and holiness of Mama Mary when I create clothes whether for my clients, fashion shows or clothes for her. The different interpretations that religious artists have created for her, according to the period of history and cultural context, never fail to amaze me,” shares San Diego.
San Diego and I wondered if “garment” was the right term for Mama Mary’s “dresses”. So he asked Dom Martin Hizon-Gomez, OSB, the legendary former designer who closed his fashion house Gang Gomez in 1990, to become a Benedictine monk at the Monastery of the Transfiguration in Malaybalay, Bukidnon.
“There are several ways to apprehend the word “clothing”. In a very general way, it could mean clothes. In this case, you can also use “clothing” or more exactly “clothing” to describe Mama Mary’s clothes,” Dom Martin explains. “But in the strict sense, vestments mean the specific vestments used in liturgical celebrations, such as in Mass. In this case, they are more properly called liturgical vestments.”
It was Tita Nice Yap Casino from San Diego (his Nope) and his cousins Dorothy Antillon and Bobby Casiño de Tagoloan, who facilitated the improvements and decorations of the parish church, who contacted him to create clothes for Mama Mary.
“They knew they had a designer parent based in Manila, but they didn’t know if I would be interested or approachable. In 1995, they tried to ask me. I was more than willing to do it,” San Diego says .
There’s an annual sponsor for Mama Mary’s clothes (including the Baby Jesus outfit, which she wears on her left arm), but somehow San Diego always got carried away. and was over budget.
“Cousin Dorothy takes turns determining the annual sponsors. They grew up in Tagoloan but are now based overseas. It is their way of honoring and honoring their former parish. Bobby takes care of the details. He would usually tell me what color the sponsor would like and he would also suggest a few things, but they would usually leave everything else to me,” San Diego explains.
Some of the generous parishioners include Perla Fortich, Janita Eduave, Perla Bainbridge, Mely San Diego, Nona Abejuela, Totie Alfante, Charito Yap, Acero Family, Acion Yap, Pongase Sisters, Anesa Paquiao Family, Meme Vasquez, Claresa Casio, and Gina and Teresita Rohrer .
“I don’t stop until I realize what I love, which means I also sponsor part-time each year. I don’t do the traditional heavy embroidered garments like the one you see in the Santo Domingo church because, one, it costs hundreds of thousands and definitely out of our budget, and, two, I want something different every year,” he said. , adding that Bobby takes care of the candles of the Virgin and the other accessories like the crown and the halo.
Then Bobby and Dorothy came up with the idea of creating a museum to house the growing number of clothes. Funds for the museum came from cash donations from friends and relatives for its tita Nice for her birthday in 2012 (instead of material gifts), then she added a sum for the completion of the small building. It opened on December 8, 2013. It is run by the Mother Botler Guild headed by Mrs. Aloma B. Emano.
My Tagoloanon friend, Dwight Go, introduced me to the museum curator, Maricel Casiño Sy, and barangay captain, Dede Spinosa, who graciously showed me around the museum and parish. While earlier designs are in storage, a dozen extraordinary, intricate and exquisite garments are on display at the museum.
The centerpiece is the 2021 garment. “It is hand painted with angels and flowers. It was created in the middle of a pandemic when I had neither beaders nor embroiderers. I just did what I did best, which was paint,” San Diego says. Another stunning piece is the lantern cape with LED lights installed inside the embroidery cutouts, for 2018.
One of San Diego’s favorites is his first creation. “I just came back from a show in Malaysia and I was able to buy a lot of beautiful Indian materials in Penang. The most beautiful I got was a gold embroidered saree with a multicolored background,” he recalls “I wanted to save it for a special client or as a fashion show finale, but our dear Mama Mary came along. I embellished it with extra gold anahaw applications and turnazul beads.
The only time they worked on a theme was in 1998, during the centennial year of the Philippines, when San Diego used a lot of local materials, including banig and wooden beads: “I use generally contemporary materials. With advice from Mama Mary, I always find the right one at the right time,” he shares. “I personally ask him for help, guidance and inspiration in everything I create. [in fashion and now in my paintings] and she never fails to provide me with beautiful and original ideas.
The creation that surprised me the most is the one from 2016. It also has a fascinating history.
“When my daughter Abby was 16, she was my sagala at the big Flores de Mayo at the Mall Of Asia. I created a blue terno for her with mosaic embellishments on the skirt, sleeves and long train. She was crowned Flores de Manila 2015. Then I transferred the mosaic to Our Lady of Candelaria’s new robe, in time for the February feast of the following year,” San Diego proudly states.
For 2022, the garment is truly a vision. “This year, the sponsor provided the material and gave me lace and silk. In pink,” reveals San Diego. “Mama Mary must have texted me.”