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Celestino Avilés Meléndez
and the Wood Carvings of Saints

Celestino Avilés Meléndez


If in gastronomy Orocovis is known for the longaniza (sausage), in the subject of arts we are known mainly for the Wood Carving of Saints. This thanks to master artisan Celestino Avilés Meléndez and his family.

In distant times, wooden saints were for some a solution to the problem of not being able to attend church, either due to living in remote areas or due to other inconveniences. They bought these carvings so they could pray to them in their own homes. Over time this art began to disappear and by the early 1980s Don Celestino, who was already a well-known artisan since the 1960s and had made very good friends at the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture, made the decision to rescue this art by creating the Encuentro Nacional de Santeros (National Gathering of Wood Carvers of Saints) in 1982 with the help of his son Rafael and Walter Murray Chiesa. The wooden Saints evolved from a religious tradition to a theme for art lovers and collectors. Many carvers learned directly from Celestino but even those who did not even know him are carvers today thanks to the efforts of this humble artisan.

Encuentro Nacional de Santeros, poster 1982

That same year, the Museo Orocoveño Familia Avilés (today Museo Orocoveño Celestino Avilés Meléndez) opened its doors.

Writing a short article about Celestino and his family is not an easy task because there is too much to cover. It is necessary to also include the great contributions by some of his sons such as Celestino, composer of the Orocovis Anthem, Rafael, carver and co-founder of the Encuentro de Santeros and Antonio (Papo), one of the greatest carvers on the island and expert repairer of ancient pieces. Fortunately, in 2020, Dr. José Guillermo Torres Meléndez published his book Nacionalismo Cultural: El tallador de santos Celestino Avilés Meléndez where he explains in detail, among other topics, the contributions of this family both to the town of Orocovis and to the rest of the island.

List of some outstanding facts about Don Celestino:

  •     He was a Sergeant in the United States Army who participated in World War II, serving 3 years between Japan and Panama.

Celestino Avilés Meléndez ARMY

  • Only orocoveño to be recognized by a President of the United States (George W. Bush, 2001) for having received the National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, for which he was also recognized in Puerto Rico by Governor Sila María Calderón.

  • Only orocoveño to have received an Honorary Doctorate Degree (Doctor in Arts: Universidad Central de Bayamón, 1997).

  • Only orocoveño of whom a book has been written  (Nacionalismo Cultural, Dr. José Guillermo Torres Meléndez, 2020).


Orocovis book, Celestino Avilés Meléndez

  • Co-founder of the Encuentro Nacional de Santeros (1982-2022).

  • Founder of the Museo Orocoveño Familia Avilés (1982).

  • Recognized for being the biggest proponent of the  Sentinel of Orocovis (Mango Tree) being his most remembered event the Relay of the [Puerto Rican] Flag.

  • He managed to have the Cultural Center building named after the saint carver Juan Cartagena Martínez.

    ​There have been hundreds of recognitions to Mr. Celestino Avilés from the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture, Development Administration, Senate of Puerto Rico, House of Representatives, Tourism Company and the University of Mayagüez, among others. There have also been hundreds of reports in newspapers and television, including a special made by first lady Maga Nevárez. For years there was a gigantic mural with his image in San Juan.


He was born in the La Guaira Hill in Orocovis in 1925 and died in this town in 2004.


* Orocoveño is the demonym of people from Orocovis.



- Nacionalismo Cultural: El tallador de santos Celestino Avilés Meléndez ( Dr. José Guillermo Torres Meléndez, 2020)

- Museo Orocoveño Celestino Avilés Meléndez

Mural Celestino Avilés Meléndez orocoveño

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