What are Puerto Rican Wooden Saints?
Index of Saints
The Carvers and
the Carving of Wooden Saints
Welcome to Puerto Rico's Wooden Saints portal !
The purpose of this website is to familiarize the public with the Puerto Rican tradition of carving images of saints in wood--a very old folk-art expression of our Island.
For centuries, images of saints carved in wood served to represent miraculous saints whom believers would petition, hoping for intercession on their behalf before God. Worshippers offer the saints a promise to be repaid once their supplications were answered. The promises, or promesas, consisted of performing public demonstrations of their gratitude: demonstrations such as a celebration of the saint's day, dressing in habit for a period of time, praying the rosary or celebrating a rosario cantado, or rosary-singing ceremony. Promises made to the Magii, or Three Kings--called las Promesas de Reyes--are an example of promises that are observed on the Island to this day, especially in the countryside, and particularly on the day of Epiphany, the sixth of June of every year.
The santos de palo (wooden saints), named this way because they are commonly carved from a piece of wood, preserve a fundamental link with Puerto Rico's religious, social, artistic and cultural history. Some of the figures carved figures in the nineteenth century have survived up to the present day, thanks to carvers that chose native wood species that are resistant to humidity and tropical vermin. We can also enjoy these very old examples due to the work of collectors that dedicated their time and economic resources in the search, study and preservation of this expression of true Puerto Rican folk art.
In the past, Puerto Rico's wooden saints fulfilled a religious function, but today they have been transformed into symbols of Puerto Rico's cultural heritage. As a manifestation of folk art they have been recognized by important organizations within and without Puerto Rico, such as the Institute for Puerto Rican Culture, the Museo del Barrio of New York, the Smithsonian Institution of Washington, D.C., the International Folk Art Museum of Santa Fe, New Mexico; the Spanish Colonial Art Society Museum of Santa Fe, New Mexico, the Puerto Rican Tourism Bureau and the Puerto Rican Industrial Development Bureau, among many others.
Our web page is evidence that the Puerto Rican tradition of wooden-saint carving still lives today and that its preservation and diffusion relies on the interest of new generations of Puerto Ricans living all over the world, and of people of other lands that appreciate the tradition for it's artistic value.