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Santos de Palo or “Wooden saints”, are one of the most enduring and symbolic folk traditions in Puerto Rico.

 Santos are sculptures in the round, of small size, made of wood with primitive tools and colored by simple methods.

 

Rosary crèche with carved saints, 1937. Photo by Edwin Rosskam taken for the Farm Security Administration, Smithsonian Institute Collection  

Specifically, hand-carved wooden Santos represent patron saints of the Roman-Catholic tradition. Wooden saints were generally used in makeshift household altars, often in the dwelling of the believer where they were honored and displayed, surrounded by flowers, candles and other important family artifacts.

Singing the Rosaries, 1942. Photo by Edwin Rosskam taken for the Farm Security Administration, Smithsonian Institute Collection  
 


Three Kings niche in Guánica, 1942. Photo by Jack Delano taken for the Farm Security Administration, Smithsonian Institute Collection

Santos were observed and worshipped as intermediaries between earth and heaven -- able to communicate any request directly from the believer to God.  As such, people would pray to the Santos de Palo and invoke health, protection, intercession and prosperity. In fact, there are hundreds of Santos de Palo, all of which represent different powers, favors, remedies, or cures. They became a vehicle through which the believer could access relief from physical and emotional duress – much like visiting a modern drug store.   
   
 
Three Kings niche in Guánica, 1942. Photo by Jack Delano taken for the Farm Security Administration, Smithsonian Institute Collection  
 
Rosary Niche with Wooden Saints, 1937. Photo by Edwin Rosskam taken for the Farm Security Administration, Smithsonian Institute Collection  
 
Religious Procession in Maunabo,  1942. Photo by Jack Delano taken for the Farm Security Administration, Smithsonian Institute Collection  
 
Three Kings Fiesta in Río Piedras. Photo by Edwin Rosskam taken for the Farm Security Administration, Smithsonian Institute Collection