Text and images VIANCA GAMBOA
There is nothing quite like Dom Martin Gomez’s “transfiguration” in the sea of stories and how they came to be. Aptly named Gang Gomez in the ’70s haute couture scene, he used to dress the Manila elite with his signature “classic lines,” making use of the country’s indigenous textiles such as piña and jusi. He finished his degree at the prestigious SLIMS Fashion and Arts and pursued his career for 22 years. Soon he plucked looks for his high-end shop and went on to serve God by joining the Monastery of Transfiguration in Malaybalay, Bukidnon. Not long after, he found himself going back to his roots—embracing both his passion for religion and fashion.
There was a great demand for our very own versions of the Spaniards’ pre-dominant language of the Church’s teachings and elements, including songs, architecture, and vestments which were always been quilted in rich silks and brocade. The adaptation, or what is known in Church as inculturation, slowly gained momentum in the 1950s when the Church began to translate, and later on, compose hymns in the Filipino dialect, as well as incorporate our local materials by building churches out of bamboo, narra, and the likes. But most of all, however deeply enthralled, he was surprised with the notion that our country possesses no original embroidery designs of its own despite the local weavers’ exquisite talent, thus pushing him to exhibit the tribes’ attention to detail, like the Tboli’s, and designs not manned by any Western influence.
Twenty-one years ago, he unveiled a 50-piece collection of handwoven vestments for the Centennial of Philippine Independence in 1998 in line with the Catholic Church’s inculturation with the Filipinos’ modern, indigenous culture. It was a way to pioneer our own identity of worship through holy robes making use of our own fabrics and textiles like all-natural abaca, piña, and banana silk—incorporating his distinction as a former designer.
It was a cultivation of the Benedictine monasteries’ forms of art enshrined with values of noble simplicity, sense of balance, and harmony. Materials had to be what could be found in the general vicinity, in accordance with a certain instruction laid out by the Roman Missal for the making of sacred vestments, indicating that “the beauty and nobility of the vestment should derive from the material used and the design rather than from the extraneous and lavish ornamentation.”
Living up to be one of the most influential artisans under the liturgical order, Dom called his exhibit Vestments for Worship: Wrapped in Identity, which was displayed at the Ayala Museum for six months. This was also the main focus in his book Worship and Weave: Towards Filipino Liturgical Vestments. The exhibit formally roamed around art-appreciative parts of the world like in the US West Coast, Textile Museum of Canada, and The Philippine Center in New York before its official inauguration for finding a home in the Museum of Transfiguracion Abbey, which was also designed by Dom Martin himself, at the Monastery of Transfiguration compound in Bukidnon on August 6, 2008.
Dom went on a lot of research in the process like visiting ethnolinguistic groups’ weaving centers, looking at their approach to design, and their fabric specialty.
He began visiting 20 of them in different parts of the country to immerse himself in their weaving traditions, tapping them to co-create his designs, and even “challenging” them to go beyond their elements and patterns. At one point, he tapped two Yakan sisters to weave a chasuble with only two distinctive colors: white and gold—veering away from their traditional three-way thread. He mused that they rejected the offer at first but out of his constant nagging and words of empowerment, they obliged, without harassment involved, of course. He came back to find refined white and gold with intricate embroidery of geometric patterns and diamond appliqués in one uniform chasuble.
Dom was able to showcase the Ifugao’s craft that makes use of their special technique in dyeing called mumbodbod. In lieu of abaca fibers, he asked them to weave the traditional ikat designs out of silk yarns. It was yet another story of development for the weavers because it is a somewhat difficult material to utilize, according to Dom. The collection is a parade of red chasubles with ochre and cream details in ikat prints.
The piña and abaca collection, despite its very crisp and subtle fabric, stood the test of weaving precise detail with paisley patterned stole and soft palette of rose gold, pastels, and khaki.
Like “sacred vessels of the altar,” the Filipino Liturgical Vestments is up on display at the museum and was never kept hidden in the sacristy for the country to appreciate. Some of these vestments, however, are being worn by monks during special celebrations in the abbey church. Cardinal Tagle even called dibs on the violet chasuble and stole made from poly-hemp with cotton pili orphrey.