Entering it felt like entering a contemporary Spanish church. You could see antique statues of saints and angels, Christ and Mary, pillars and arcs, smell the newly painted walls and feel the dim yellow lights and air-conditioned modern ambience at the same time. It was almost ironic, really, how the place felt welcoming and eerie all together. It’s like that feeling you get from looking at an image of the suffering Christ for too long. Every eye in the place looks at you and seemingly says “I love you” and “Why can’t you love me back just as much?” in a single look.
Handumanan, which means “memorial,” is the title given for the Rosita R. Arcenas collection of Bisayan Santos. This museum is situated in the Dingman Building of USC Downtown Campus and was officially opened last August 25, 2015. It features old ecclesiastical sculptures and artifacts collected by the grand matriarch of the Arcenas family, Mrs. Rosita R. Arcenas. The museum holds artifacts obtained since the 1950’s. A part of the exhibit is the university’s collection.
The artifacts in the museum came from old churches in Cebu. The first thing you are drawn to even from the entrance of the museum is the collection of Santos, or religious sculptures, created by native Filipinos during the Spanish period. One particularly intriguing figure is the image of San Jose (St. Joseph, husband of Mary), which is positioned so that it faces the wall. This is so that its long wavy hair, used to embody a great Bisayan chieftain who wore his hair long, can be emphasized. The exhibit also displays a painting or larawan of the Birhen Hara sa Tanang Santos (Our Lady Queen of All Saints), different figures of the Birhen sa Immaculada Concepcion (The Immaculate Concepcion), ivory images of the Virgin Mary as Our Lady of the Rosary, The Virgin with the Child Jesus and as the Divine Shepherdess, as well as different versions of the crucifix. There were busts of St. Joseph and the 12 apostles and a shrine with the Santisima Trinidad (The Most Holy Trinity).
At the very heart of the museum is a paso, a Spanish Catholic float that is paraded during the Holy Week depicting images from the Passion of Christ. The paso in the Arcenas museum shows the Desmayo or “The Fainting” of Jesus Christ on the road to Calvary and the cruelty of the Sundalong Romano (Roman soldiers). This one beautifully displays Jesus’ pain and suffering with his bowed head, parted mouth and half-closed eyes and the Romans’ ruthlessness with their whips and exposed teeth.
There were also tabernacles, pilasters, candlestick holders, decorative panels, wooden flanges, a ruedo (wheel of bells), arcs, a reliquary, and the Baptismal Registry of Catmon which covers the period 1843-1847, and other accessories once used to adorn the Catholic Church.
In the museum, you can hear students making remarks like “Amazing!” Indeed, it is amazing how the place took something older than more than half the people on earth, something made and acquired long before we were born, and gave it new life. The Catholics are the only Christian who use statues and images to represent their invisible God and their saints. This is not just a memorial of history; it is also a depiction of culture and religion. The university is lucky to have been entrusted with the care of this expensive, rare and indispensible collection.