(This article first appeared in Zee Lifestyle, April-May 2009. The magazine article includes a lot of pictures of Aula Angelorum.)
THE SECRET HALL OF ANGELS
By Cecilia Manguerra Brainard
Tucked away in Cebu in an unknown address is a private religious gallery called Aula Angelorum, latin for Hall of Angels, a name given by a priest after seeing the numerous oil paintings, wooden and ivory sculptures of Archangels that grace the gallery. In fact, the gallery also has paintings and sculptures of saints, the Virgin Mary, and Jesus Christ. This collection of religious icons has been exhibited in the Santo Niño Exhibit at the Folk Arts Theater, the Ayala Mall, the Santo Niño Exhibit at SM Cebu City, and have participated in numerous religious processions. But despite their wide exposure, these statues and paintings return home to a secret place in Cebu, a dazzling whitewashed place that also houses 1950s vintage furniture, Ming dynasty plates, contemporary Chinese porcelain figures, and rare Filipiniana books. Walking into Aula Angelorum feels like stepping into bygone days, a place of Old World opulence and serenity, for indeed a prayerful feeling saturates the place, perhaps from the Masses and prayers regularly offered in here.
While the public is forbidden to know the location of Aula Angelorum, they are allowed to know the name of the owner - Louie Nacorda, who is well known in the corporate world as well as in the worlds of art and culture. Louie does not refer to his collection as material objects but speaks of them as if they are family members. “The child John the Baptist and Jesus Christ – these Baroque-like sculptures hold a very special place in my heart because I am a devotee of St. John the Baptism, and seeing him as a boy already dressed in camel pelt reminds me that John lived an ascetic life even in his youth,” he says.
He has also been heard to say, “I tell them if there is an earthquake they will fall; if there is a fire they will burn, so they better take care of themselves.” Indeed Louie has a quality of trusting in God completely, a trait that can discerned in his calm and gentlemanly manner.
Louie grew up in a religious family, surrounded from infancy by what he calls a “plethora of images – the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Anthony of Padua, St. Vincent Ferrer, St. Joseph, St. Roch, St. Rita, and so on.” His family was the type that did the Lenten Passion chanting (Pabasa) and owned private chapels in their residences. Picking up on his family religiosity, Louie co-founded the Cofradia de San Juan de Bautista de Cebu (with Pepit Gorordo Revilles). He was appointed by Cardinal Vidal as the chamberlain or camarero of the image of Our Lady of Immaculate Conception, the unofficial patroness of the Cathedral of Cebu. The position involves making sure the image and carriage are properly adorned for the yearly celebration; he also coordinates with the Church authorities on the celebration and the procession. He was also assigned overall chairman of the 4th centennial celebration of the arrival of the Black Nazarene of Quiapo from Mexico. He has been appointed as chairman of so many church-based projects, he can’t recall them all.
It followed that Louie and his sisters would carry on the family tradition of collecting religious icons. Louie’s first acquisition was a wooden crucifix which he found in Quiapo in the 1960s, an item which he had picked up for P40. By 1977, he started collecting in earnest, first Philippine furniture, then Chinese porcelain, and finally religious paintings and statues. His archangel paintings are from Peru and are done in the Escuela Cuzqueña style – the Cuzco School of Painting – which merge Spanish colonial and Peruvian indigenous elements of art. One of his favorites in his collection is the oil painting of St. Raphael Archangel, his first Peruvian acquisition. He was sick at the time and since Raphael means the Healing of God, he prayed for his intercession, prayer that was answered.
He has an oil painting of St. Michael, showing the archangel triumphantly smothering the devil with his flaming sword. This particular painting shows the archangel with flamboyant helmet with three feathers, graceful body and androgynous facial features, showing that angels are neither male nor female.
Another Peruvian favorite is the oil painting of Our Lady of Candelaria, which reveals Incan elements in the cloth with multicolored feathers that wraps the Baby Jesus. The Virgin Mary has a black headdress; her clothing is red and her face reveals Inca Indian features.
His recent acquisitions include a hardwood image of Our Lady as a young and innocent pre-teen child (La Nina Maria), which he found in a corner of an antique shop in Ermita and which he found irresistible. The other is that of a young St. Vincent Ferrer, plump and smiling, instead of having the usual stern expression. There is also a life size wooden statue of Christ that used to be on a Cross but which Louie had remade so that Christ’s twisted arms are by his side and Christ now lies on a bed.
Louie says his acquisitions happen by chance. The first attraction is the uniqueness of the piece – uniqueness in style, material, color scheme, and so on; but more important is how he relates to the subject matter. Collecting is addictive, he says, but it’s not about greed or monetary value but the sheer satisfaction of being able to be close to a thing of beauty. At the same time, he continues, it brings you closer to God. The purpose of art in religion is to concretize what otherwise is an abstraction of the divine. Religious paintings and images, as well as architecture is man’s limited way of expressing the limitless, the infinite and so, art really serves its purpose in man. Louie says that when his images are exposed publicly, he can feel the devotion of the viewers surging, their piety intensifying, because of the visual experience they have had.
Louie’s advice to his readers is this: “If you are interested in art, any form of art, just set your heart on it and it will come your way. Do not even think of the logistics (How? How much? Where? When?) Positive desires have a way of becoming self-fulfilling.
In the meantime Louie’s private collection of religious images fill the secret Hall of Angels and cast their blessings far and wide in Cebu.
Top picture shows Louie Nacorda, standing, in a red shirt.
Next picture shows Louie Nacorda in the brown shirt. Both pictures were taken at the Aula Angelorum.
Life in Parian Now
Cebu's 1730 Jesuit House
The Secret Hall of Angels
A Story of Hope
Finding Jose Rizal in Cebu
Lola Remedios and her Sayas
Lunch with F. Sionil Jose
tags: Cebu, Philippines, Parian, history, religious, santos collection, Sugbo