PAETE, LAGUNA, JULY 19, 2011 (PHNO) by Lee Quesada - The very first Catholic Church in Paete was built in the year 1646 by Paete natives under the supervision of Fr. Andres de Puertellano. In 1717, a new church was erected. It was made of adobe bricks and a mixture of egg white and other native materials to "cement" them. The building was constructed in elaborate baroque style with an infusion of oriental artistry.

The intricate retablo pieces were made by Paetenian natives, among them were Bartolome Palatino and Francisco Macahumpan.

The large paintings inside the church were executed by another notable son of Paete, Luciano Dans—these are the Langit, Lupa, Impiyerno (Heaven, Earth, Hell), and the large 2 murals of St. Christopher (San Cristobal).

The 3 epic murals on the old walls of the Paete Catholic Church.
(Viewed separately below)

The church with all its ornate designs and architecture was completed in 1840. It sustained major damages in the earthquakes of 1884 and 1937. The only recorded history during this time was written under the auspices of the Spanish Roman Catholic Church. Therefore, all the credits for the church construction and reconstruction are heaped on the "men of the cloth" and made no mention of names of native Paetenians.

Like many of the churches in the province of Laguna, the Paete Church was built during the early Spanish period. But the novelty of this church lies in the fact that all the religious images found here were carved and/or painted by the residents of Paete long ago.


"Between the shimmering lake (Laguna de Bay) and a mountain range (Sierra Madre)  lies
Paete-- so serene, so steeped in excellence it seems like a town encountered only in myth." 
Renown essayist Mona Highley

Paete is a lakeside town located at the northeastern part of Laguna, along the shores of picturesque Laguna de Bay. The town is made famous by craftsmen highly skilled in woodcarving and its embellishment.

Paete has come a long way from what Filipino hero, Dr. Jose Rizal describes as that town from whose "carpenter shops" were issued images "even those more rudely carved" (chapter VI, Noli Me Tangere ). Even now, Paetenos continue with their centuries-old tradition in carving and painting.

Rizal would feel proud of the town's masterpieces, evident in statues, pulpits, murals and bas relief found in churches, palaces and museums all over the world--among them the St. Peter's Basilica in Rome, St. Patrick's Cathedral, New York, the Mission Dolorosa in San Francisco, the San Cayetano Church in Mexico, the St. Joseph's shrine in Sta. Cruz, California, various churches in the Philippines and the Ayala Museum in Makati, Philippines.

The official town hero is not a statesman nor a soldier but a woodcarver, a modest, pious middle-aged man, a master artisan named Mariano Madriñan, who masterfully sculpted an interpretation of the Virgin Mary and of The Crucifixion in his obra maestra-- a life-like Mater Dolorosa, a magnificent work of art which was exhibited at the International Exposition held at Amsterdam, Holland. History writes that in 1882, Madriñan was awarded a diploma and medal of honour by King Alfonso XII of Spain for Mater Dolorosa.

A most precocious student of Madriñan was another Paeteño named Jose Caancan who became the premier of the Paete sculptors. Caancan, at that time served as the barber of Filipino hero Dr. Jose Rizal when he was a prisoner in Dapitan. From Dr. Jose Rizal, Caancan also learned more rudiments of woodcarving.

In the 1950s, Caancan`s work turned away from religious icons. His customers in his small shop in Paete (photo below) would pay a modest sum for a bas-relief of a Filipino couple pounding rice beside their nipa hut. Like his old mentor master, Caancan had a number of pupils, one named Policarpio Aseoche, a lad in his early twenties who was born physically handicapped of a congenital malformed leg, from a very indigent parents. Aseoche became a rival of his mentor and maintained his own little shop visited by tourists from all over the world.

From then on life and times of the Paetenian woodcarvers were producing typical Philippine barrio life. Carvings of Filipino maiden (dalaga) in Balintawak carrying a basket of lanzones  or perhaps a young swain serenading his bride-to-be or a farmer riding on his own carabao became very popular in the woodcarver`s shop.

The changing desires of more modern times encroaching steadily of adverse and radical arts forced the Paete woodcarvers to sculpt outside of the life-like religious sculptures. However, among the more contemporary and modern woodcarvers, forever live the soul of an artist yearning for expression.

A favorite subject for interpretation that remained popular was and still is the Last Supper. A beautiful piece of woodcarving about a foot high executed in less than 2 days, a Paete sculptor would get no less than 20 pesos (this was in the 1950s)

The town was proclaimed "the Carving Capital of the Philippines" in March 15, 2005 by Philippine President Gloria Arroyo. It is also believed that the modern yo-yo, which originated in the Philippines, was invented in Paete.

Today, many descendants of these skillful artisans have found a niche in the culinary world. Ice sculptures and fruit and vegetable carvings done by dexterous hands of Paeteños abound on buffet tables of cruise ships and world-class hotels and restaurants.

Today the town thrives mainly on the sale and export of woodcarvings and taka (papier maché) that became a big boom to the town`s economy, tourism, poultry industry, farming and fishing.

The novelty of this church is the rich repository of religious statuaries, altar and backdrop were carved and painted by the residents of Paete who are known to be master carvers and prominent sculptors. The intricate baroque altar is a testimony to the artistry of Paete’s famed woodcarvers.

The walls of the church are adorned with large murals done by Luciano Dans (19th Century), a true son of Paete who used color pigments mixed with pulverized volcanic ash and brushes fashioned from cat’s hair. Although the church has been recently restored, the original design features have been conserved.

THE 3 murals designed by Paetenian Luciano Dans  (19th Century),

St. Christopher
(San Cristobal)

Langit, Lupa, Impiyerno (Heaven, Earth, Hell)


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close-up shot of San Cristobal painting  
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Sources: Wikipedia; the book PAETE by Eugenio Quesada. Photos are from Google and from the Sagip San Cristobal group in Facebook.
The Paetenians home on the Net:

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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