Paete Is the Go-To Place for Wood-Carved ‘Santos’ for Philippine Churches

Paete Is the Go-To Place for Wood-Carved ‘Santos’ for Philippine Churches
Celebrated Paete woodcarver, Paloy Cagayat, in workclothes, presenting his ‘first cut’ of the Takayama statue to Dr. Ernie A. de Pedro, Managing Trustee, Lord Takayama Jubilee Foundation

By Dr. Ernie A. de Pedro

►Paete (Laguna Province) is acknowledged as the wood-carving capital of the Philippines. This reputation dates back to the town’s founding in 1580 when Franciscan friars discovered that residents had a talent for wood-carving, using ‘batikuling’ wood (“Elaeocarpus calomala”), a native tree species ideal for making religious images or “santos.” The town’s name in fact comes from “paet” or chisel, an essential woodcarver’s tool.

As the Spanish evangelization progressed across the archipelago, the town was tapped to supply the religious statuary needed for new houses of worship — and has not stopped carving ‘santos’ since then.

Today, there are around 500 woodcarvers working in some 50 wordcarving shops. The town’s masterpieces — in statues, pulpits, murals and bas relief — are found in churches, palaces and museums all over the world – among them St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, in New York, the Mission Dolorosa in San Francisco, the San Cayetano Church in Mexico, the St. Joseph’s shrine in Sta. Cruz, California, and various churches and chapels in the Philippines.

Paloy Is Commissioned to Make St. Calungsod Statues

When statues of St. Pedro Calungsod (c1654-1672) were required for the canonization rites in Rome (Oct. 21, 2012), the Jesuits (who promoted the Calungsod Beatification & Canonization) turned to Paloy Cagayat — Justino ‘Paloy’ A. Cagayat, Jr., a third-generation woodcarver – to carve the first statue. Though a graduate of Mining Engineering from Mapua University, Paloy has preferred to live and thrive by his inherited craft – which he is now sharing with his sons. He has supplied churches and chapels with his carvings of various saints, crucifixes and Biblical tableaux – but it was his near-monopoly of statues (in wood or resin) of St. Pedro Calungsod that he is best known for. In fact, the Vatican houses one of Paloy’s works and, in the way that the Vatican cares for such art treasures, the wood carving is bound to last for centuries.

His home and studio is in Paete, Laguna. No street address is necessary as he is such an institution that everyone in town knows where his shop is.

First Takayama Statue

It was an easy decision to commission Paloy to make the first 3-ft (altar-size) statue of Blessed Takayama. Sight unseen. Just by e-mail.

Fr. Joel E. Tabora, SJ, president of the Ateneo de Davao University, had gushed about Paloy’s work. That was enough recommendation for us.

Then I remembered a niece who lives in Isesaki (伊勢崎市) in Gunma Prefecture, whose name is Leticia Pedro Cagayat. Were they by any chance related? Yes, they were – but “malayong mag-kamaganak na.” But Letty and her family have visited Paloy in his workshop in Paete, to commission a Marian statue for the Carmelite Convent in Laoag, Ilocos Norte. Small world, indeed.

Visiting Paete

When we visited Paloy in Paete for his ‘first cut” of the Takayama statue, we were impressed with the quality of his work. We added four details: ♦ Blessed Takayama must sport the traditional topknot of a Japanese Samurai; ♦ wear the halo of a ‘Beatus’ (Blessed); ♦ wear the ‘Palm of Martyrdom’ across his chest. The final statue should have a ♦ bronze finish.

This ‘estampita’ shows Blessed Justo Takayama Ukon with a Samurai topknot and a ‘halo.’
This ‘estampita’ shows Blessed Justo Takayama Ukon with a Samurai topknot and a saintly ‘halo.’

Paco Catholic Church

THIS FIRST STATUE will be enshrined at the Paco Catholic Church – of which Dilao (the first ‘nihon-machi’ or Japantown) was a part. For Rev. Msgr. Rolando R. dela Cruz, Paco parish priest, it will be a ‘coming-home’ for Blessed Takayama. This will be on Thursday, Dec. 21, 2017 — the 403rd Anniversary of the arrival of ‘Lord Takayama Ukon and 350 Japanese Christian Exiles’ in Manila on Dec. 21, 1614.

Wood-carved statue of Blessed Justo Takayama Ukon, enshrined at the Paco Catholic Church, Manila

Parishes desiring Takayama statues can contact the Takayama Canonization Movement at ( Individual devotees who want statuettes for their homeshrines can order too – when these are available by December 2017. ◘

One thought on “Paete Is the Go-To Place for Wood-Carved ‘Santos’ for Philippine Churches

  1. Thank you, Dr. De Pedro. The update on the Takayama statue is so exciting.
    Of course, I would like to request for statues for my personal use and to give to friends and family.


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