JOSE MANUEL “JM” Castillo keeps his chibi saints in pristine condition by keeping them safe in their taped boxes.
According to his friend from Pampanga, a fellow collector, storage is key to preserving their paint job. The statues line Castillo’s room in clear cases, serving as inspiration for his faith. In time he’ll open them to make a display, or take pictures to share his joy.
Their stature is small in size but big in conviction as they serve as reminders of the people who are considered models of the Catholic faith.
Ranging from P180 to P300, chibi saints can be found in both online and in physical stores along with more traditional statues. These figurines stand from a few inches to a foot and can be described as cherubic, being affectionately referred to as “chibi”—a Japanese term meaning ‘something short.’
Due to the growing popularity of the child-like images, some stores sold hundreds of figurines of the image of Jesus and the Virgin Mary and well-known saints like St. Joseph, St. Francis of Assisi, St. Dominic de Guzman, St. Jude, and St. Therese.
Interestingly, some of the saints who are rarely represented in traditional statuettes are depicted as chibis, allowing santo enthusiasts to diversify their collections. Their accessibility in terms of price and space, along with their novelty, has worked to make chibi saints a new iconography of faithful expression.
A new form of religious art
The Catholic Church has been using art to educate its followers and to promote devotion to the saints.
According to Bryan “Choobie” Albia, a Thomasian college instructor with a masters thesis on sacred images, the Church has used art to instruct and inspire ever since its conception. Efforts to communicate the beauty and glory of faith still continue and can be found in chibi saints—a contemporary iteration of its colorful past of sacred portraiture and scenes.
Besides its purpose as a collectors’ item and a symbol of faith, the figurines remain potentially useful in catechesis, especially to the youth, Albia said. As a more recent creation, chibi saints may express the enduring mysteries of Catholic redemption to a younger generation that may appreciate it.
“[Religious Iconography] is a means of meditating constantly on the articles of faith,” Albia said.
Among the popular sellers of chibi saints in online shopping platforms are Chibi Maria, Pious Creations, Vela Chibis, Beloved’s GIft Shop, Lauren & Carl Collectibles, and Gem PH.
While serving their religious purpose, chibi saints also evoke joy among their collectors.
Castillo, a collector from Pandi, Bulacan, practices his faith by visiting numerous Catholic churches. However, as travel restrictions tightened, collecting chibi saints became his domestic religious expression.
As a devotee, Castillo started collecting chibi saints in September 2020, seven months into the COVID-19 lockdown. As of this writing, he owns more than 150 chibi saints. He finds particular fondness in Marian images such as his parish’s patron saint La Purísima Concepción, one of the representations of the Immaculate Conception.
Because of the growing demand for chibi saints, some manufacturers produced cheaper but lesser quality imitations. Chipping and subpar painting is a particular concern for a collector like Castillo.
Collectors see to it that their images remain in pristine conditions. Castillo chooses to preserve his collection through their storage, only taking them out tio create altars and tableaus.
“To preserve them, I keep them in the box except for special occasions or photos,” he said. “A friend and a fellow collector suggested this.”
Due to the pandemic, processions and other festivals that celebrate images of faith are disallowed. Chibi saints provide collectors a domestic and private version of traditions like visiting religious sites.
“Because of the chibi saints, I can make my own exhibits. It recently became my way of being close to my faith since I can’t visit churches to visit images. It’s also very affordable while being aesthetically pleasing,” Castillo said.
Giving back to the community
There is more to chibi saints than art or decoration. Some suppliers, such as the Immaculate Conception Minor Seminary, donate the proceeds of the sales of the figurines.
It all started when Fr. Joselin L. San Jose returned home from Rome with small, cherubic-like statues. He saw the needs of his parish and began to wonder how to give back to his community. After making several reproductions of the images, parishioners sought more.
Now with about 20 chibi saints for sale in the Immaculate Conception Minor Seminary, San Jose plans to release more images that will bring the youth closer to their faith. The proceeds are used to support seminary students and the parish’s social communication ministry.
“It is a part of our faithful lives to use, wear and come near to images that embody our Lord or even the holy lives of those we pray to in order to be inspired; may it how they lived or how they died,” San Jose told The Flame.
“As years go by, it is noticeable that the youth are coming to terms with their faith and chibi saints are a way for them to connect with it,” he added.
For San Jose, the joy collectors find in chibi saints and the potential of these figurines to promote the faith create an environment of holiness that religious art has been sculpting for centuries.
“They help the people, especially the youth, to become aware of the importance of holiness. As they become attracted to these representations, they are slowly emulating the people represented by these images,” the priest said. F