Blessed Pedro Calungsod’s looks remain a mystery

CEBU CITY -- No one really knows what Blessed Pedro Calungsod looked like, but the image chosen to represent him “is that of every man,” said a church official.

“Many people look like him,” said Msgr. Ildebrando Leyson, who has worked on the cause of sainthood for the Visayan catechist for more than a decade.

He told Sun.Star Cebu that he once overheard two boys who visited the Beato Pedro Calungsod Shrine telling each other that they looked like Visayan martyr.

But there was also a person who approached him to ask whether the model of the image was a basketball player.

“He said he was not comfortable praying before the image of a basketball player,” said Leyson.

Approximation

Choosing an image that best represents Calungsod, who will be declared a saint in October 2012, went through a process, and the facial features and build are based on descriptions found in old documents.

Leyson related there were several attempts by a few artists to translate these descriptions into painting and sculpture.

The official portrait is the image of the martyr as imagined by the painter Rafael Casal, made in 1999. The palm branch and the white vesture are symbols of the martyr’s triumph and joy.

That painting was used in the two versions of Leyson’s book, “Pedro Calonsor Bissaya: Prospects of a Teenage Filipino.”

“Our only sources of information about that boy are the documents on the martyrdom of Padre Diego,” Leyson said in his book.

Indios

The documents mention him as an indio bisaya or a pure native from the Visayas region of the Philippines.

“We do not know what he looked like. We do not know of any drawing or painting of him from his time,” said Leyson, who turned to Historia de las Islas e indios de Bisayas by Fr. Alcina.

“Alcina, who was a contemporary of Pedro Calungsod, described the male Visayan indios of his time as usually more corpulent, better built and somewhat taller than the Tagalogs in Luzon; that their skin was light brown in color; that their faces were usually round and of fine proportions; that their noses were flat; that their eyes and hair were black; that they, especially the youth, wore their hair a bit long; and that they already started to wear camisas (shirts) and calzones (knee breeches),” he added.

Calungsod was the teenaged catechist who was martyred together with Jesuit Father Diego de San Vitores in Guam on April 2, 1672. The Jesuit priest was beatified in 1985.

The inside cover of Monsignor Leyson’s book acknowledges the image was based on the first account of the martyrdom of Pedro Calungsod, the manuscript of Francisco Solano, S.J.

The manuscript, which dates back to April 1672, was found in the archives of the Jesuits in Rome.

Casal’s painting also became the basis of the image of Pedro that was unfurled in one of the windows in Vatican City during his beatification in March 2000.

Model

The painting was presented to Leyson during one of his trips to Manila while he was still doing research on the life of Calungsod.

“It was placed in one part of the room where I was staying but I did not know it was the one prepared by the Jesuits,” he said. He brought the painting with him to Cebu and left it with then Cebu Archbishop Ricardo Cardinal Vidal.

“In Rome, the Vatican asked for an official image,” he told Sun.Star Cebu.

“I suggested to the Cardinal to hold a competition of artists, provide them with background information and give them the freedom to interpret the information,” said Leyson.

“But the Cardinal said there is already an image that would be used, the painting that I brought from Manila,” he added.

Leyson said there are persistent talks that the model for the image was a popular college basketball player. But he does not know who the model for the image was.

“We encourage the painter (Casal) to write a testimony about the painting that he made,” he added. (Sun.Star Cebu)

Related story: Lenten events to cast light on Pedro's sacrifice

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