Los Tres Santos Reyes
Story and photos by Francisco Toste Santana

On November 4, 2002 was the opening for the 7th annual competition at Adelphia in San Juan, P.R. Carvers from different towns in the Island sent their pieces. This year’s theme was Los Tres Santos Reyes.

Tradition in Puerto Rico (going back to the 18th century) has always represented the Three Magis on horses, polychrome and with the dark skin Magi (Melchor in Puerto Rico) in the center on a white horse, awarding him the prominence.

In Puerto Rico, the Three Wise Men have been raised to the level of saints due to the constant and consistent miracles attributed to them by their devout followers.

For various centuries, annually on the eve of Epiphany (January 6th) families have held a Velorio de Reyes to fulfill the covenant (promesa) made by an ancestor to the Three Wise Men for granting them in the past a miracle (health, safety, etc.)

The Holy Rosary, as well as aguinaldos and coplas are sung to the Three Wise Men that are placed on a home altar adorned with flowers and candles and at the end of the prayers, a celebration is held with local food and beverages till the wee hours of morning. Children used to put a box filled with grass under their beds for the horses to feed and in exchange the next day they would receive gifts from the Three Kings.

The first prize went to Ibsen Peralta, a very young santero. His piece shows The Three Magi’s dressed as jibaros (country folks) and instead of carrying the traditional gifts of gold, incense and myrrh to the Child Jesus, they carry local musical instruments. They seem to be on a parranda, a typical feast for the celebration of Three Kings Day, on January 6.

Ibsen has been carving for five years and his piece shows the great dexterity he has with the knife as well as the elegance of his painting.

The second place of the contest exhibition was awarded to Eduardo Vega’s carving. His masterful carving can be seen in the faces of the Magi as well as their horses. The saddles are also carved in wood. Vega uses rich colors in the dresses of the Three Wise Men.

Four Honorable Mentions were awarded: Israel Gerena (carving shows his great sense of humor) Julian González (carved in one piece of “wood” with the Magi carrying the signs of the Passion); Jesús Nieves, his Three Kings in traditional oriental garments with a masterful use of colors and Juan Rivera uses his characteristic style of painting “baroque” and showing endangered species (parrot, owl, etc.) with the Magi.

Woodcarving of “santos” is alive and well in Puerto Rico and has a similar parallel development to that of New Mexico’s. Both have a history of over four centuries, established by the Spaniards when they came to the New World.

Francisco Toste Santana, the general manager of Adelphi Cable in San Juan, is a frequent contributor to Tradición Revista.

First published in Tradicion Revista, Volume 8, No. 1, Spring 2003.
Copyright 2003. May not be reproduced in any form without written permission.