Eufemio Agbayani III
Historic Sites Development Officer II
As we approach the sesquicentennial of the execution of the three martyred priests, Fathers Jose Apolonio Burgos, Mariano Gomes, and Jacinto Zamora on 17 February 2022, we stumble upon an unresolved problem – how do we remember them visually?
At first glance, the answer is easy. There is a photograph supposedly showing the three. Burgos is seated while Gomes and Zamora stand in the background. It was so popular that the NHCP used it as a basis for its GOMBURZA 150 logo. However, many have raised questions about its authenticity. Gomes would have been 72 by the time he was executed, while Burgos was 35 and Zamora, 37. The age difference would have been apparent if the photo was genuine.
The popularly shared image of the three martyred priests
NATIONAL LIBRARY OF THE PHILIPPINES
Origins of the Image
While it is difficult to determine the origin of the image, it was almost certainly derived from a group photograph taken at the studio of Albert Honiss. When it was posted on the Facebook group Manila Nostalgia, many were quick to make their guesses on who sat for the photo. Historian Jose Victor Torres believes that the man seated on the left was Fr. Pedro Pelaez, a champion of secularization of parishes who had unfortunately died in June 1863 during a massive earthquake. Meanwhile, artist Vt Banzon Ancheta guessed that the man standing on the right was Fr. Mariano Sevilla who was exiled after the Cavite Mutiny.
Group photograph of priests including Fr. Jose Burgos.
From a private collection. Uploaded by Jose Dennis Villegas on the Manila Nostalgia
Facebook group, 28 August 2014
The earliest instance of the popular image is possibly in Austin Craig’s The Story of Jose Rizal (Manila: Philippine Education Publishing Co., 1909). Perhaps Craig had access to the collection of photos that included the one with five priests and then manipulated it to show only three. Although it had not been clearly stated, many later understood Gomes to be the one standing in the center and Zamora to be the one at the left.
Facsimile of a page of Austin Craig’s book.
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
Many have thought that Rizal first used the supposed image of the three priests for the cover of the original manuscript of El Filibusterismo. However, the manuscript did not have an artistic cover like its prequel Noli Me Tangere. The photo was most probably placed by the staff of the Jose Rizal National Centennial Commission when it released a large facsimile of Rizal’s manuscript in 1961.
The absence of a genuine photograph did not deter our forebears from remembering the martyrdom of the three priests. The Katipunan led by Andres Bonifacio had been documented as commemorating the anniversary of their demise in 1895 and 1896, and possibly as early as 1894. Honors were rendered before a catafalque decorated with wreaths of makabuhay (Tinospora rumphii). When the Philippines first commemorated Rizal Day in 1898, a wreath was inscribed “Alaala ng bayan kina Burgos, Zamora at Gómez.”
With this dilemma, many artworks commemorating the three martyred priests would use cubist or expressionist imagery. This included the Gomburza National Monument in Ermita, Manila sculpted by Solomon Saprid and another monument by Tito Sta. Ana Sanchez in the Parish of the Holy Sacrifice inside University of the Philippines (UP) Diliman, Quezon City. Although sculpting faces in two of the three priests as part of a tableau in the Bonifacio National Monument inaugurated in 1933, Guillermo Tolentino did not specify the identity of each of them.
Images of Individual Priests
If the image published in Craig’s book does not show the three priests, then what did they look like? Only Father Burgos has a publicly available photograph, which had been published in various books and served as basis for other artistic depictions of him. These include his monument in Vigan City and his portrait by Francisco Makabuhay for the National Heroes Commission.
Photo of Fr. Jose Burgos
NHCP DIOSDADO CAPINO COLLECTION
As to Gomes, the most prominent artwork depicting him is his monument in the plaza of Bacoor, Cavite erected in 1923. We can hypothesize that those who commissioned the monument — especially the elders — would have known what he looked like. This monument served as a basis of later depictions, including that which was used in the 1972 commemorative stamp.
Monument to Mariano Gomes erected in 1923
MICHAEL CHARLESTON ‘XIAO’ CHUA
To complicate matters, there are two other artworks that supposedly depict him which, unfortunately, bear little resemblance to each other and to the Bacoor monument. One is a wooden bust of him which is now on display at the UP Asian Center. It was donated along with busts of other heroes by the descendants of revolutionary leader Guillermo Masangkay. Was the sculptor Graciano Nepomuceno influenced by the Craig image? It is hard to determine.
Bust of Fr. Mariano Gomes by Graciano Nepomuceno
Currently on display at the University of the Philippines Asian Center
The second artwork is a portrait by Pablo Amorsolo on display in the National Museum of Fine Arts. Unlike the elongated face of the Bacoor monument, the portrait shows Gomes with a rounded face. What makes things even more complicated is that this portrait bears a closer resemblance to the bust of Jacinto Zamora by Nepomuceno. It may also have been the basis of Zamora’s face in the 1972 commemorative stamp.
Portrait of Fr. Mariano Gomes by Pablo Amorsolo, 1932
Displayed at the National Museum of Fine Arts, Manila
An Icon’s Legacy
The absence of publicly available photographs of Fathers Gomes and Zamora has led to the inconsistency of their depiction in art. Many have chosen instead to closely follow the Craig image lending to its continued prominence. These artworks include a 1963 painting by Virginia Flor-Agbayani on display at the University of the Philippines Diliman Library.
Portrait of the GOMBURZA by Virginia Flor-Agbayani, 1963
Many, including the GOMBURZA Centennial Commission, opted to merge existing iconography with research, leading to an image of Gomes as a gray-haired man and Zamora as a middle-aged man. R. Martinez and Sons also published a similar configuration in the book Burgos, Gomez and Zamora: Martyr Priests of 1872 (1972) by Juliana C. Pineda.
Commemorative stamp for the centenary of the martyrdom of the GOMBURZA, 1972
Detail of an unreleased stamp commemorating the centenary of the martyrdom of the GOMBURZA, 1972
Nonetheless, we can consider the photograph not as a faithful representation of the three martyred priests but as an icon for our veneration and respect. Even though it is highly unlikely that the three were given the privilege of taking a photograph together before they met their tragic fate, the image allows us to remember them as a group not in agony, as monuments to the three would often do, but in serenity. We can emphasize not just the sadness of their deaths but the richness of their lives and service to their flock.
Boncan, Celestina P. Remembering the Cavite Mutiny of 1872. General Trias, Cavite: Geronimo Berenguer de los Reyes Jr. Foundation, Inc., 1995.
Gwekoh, Sol H. Burgos, Gomes, Zamora: Secular Martyrs of Filipinism. Manila: National Bookstore, 1972.
Pineda, Juliana C. Burgos, Gomez and Zamora: Martyr Priests of 1872. Manila: R. Martinez and Sons, 1972.
Richardson, Jim. The Light of Liberty: Documents and Studies on the Katipunan, 1892-1897. Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press, 2013.