From the capital of Capiz, our group embarked to the former capital of the province to see the oldest church this side of the Philippines; Panay’s Sta. Monica Church.
Unlike the Roxas City Cathedral, it is made of coral stone and holds not only the title of longevity in the province but of also having the biggest Catholic bell; not only in town, not even just the country, but through the whole of Asia.
Our tour started at the Museo de Santa Monica; a former convent that used to be connected to the church. Falling from disrepair through the years, it now stands as a separate structure to hold religious relics of the Panay Church.
Although renovated, the structure still holds true to the spirit of its era with its adobe walls and wooden capiz windows.
Walking through a wooden double-door older than my grandfather, we entered the small museum of Santa Monica.
Inside, ornate relics and artifacts rule in absolute silence. Amidst stone walls and brick floors; altars forged in silver sat along with earthen jars, wooden banisters, carvings, statuettes of saints and bygone musical instruments.
There was so much to see in so little space.
These are antiquities that once filled the original church of Santa Monica which we were about to see in a few minutes.
The group entered the Panay Church from its side portal, our steps echoing in its deserted halls. Its age can be clearly seen from its peeling walls and faded ceiling where skeletal metal chandeliers hang.
The pews looked silently on as we moved along its cruciform body, heading towards the church altar.
With the state of Panay Church, it was not surprising to see how its retablos remained faithful to its original state. Without gold and silver linings, it stood as how it might have centuries before. Its wooden carvings painted in muted colors, its saints standing holy inside niches that clearly show the genuine patina of time.
A pulpit raised at one side of the church led my eyes to the main altar which was as humble as the rest of the church. An altar as simple as this one in Panay is a rarity in Philippine Catholic churches nowadays.
Ascending innumerable steps upwards, the group converged to Panay Church’s pride; the Dakung Lingganay.
If Taal has the biggest church in Asia, Panay has largest Catholic bell in the continent. It unbelievable weighs more than ten metric tons. To put that in perspective, an average SUV weighs in at two metric tons. That’s more than five Ford trucks combined.
The famous bell, forged by a local dentist (and smith) Don Juan Reina, was curiously made from coins.
Between 1844 to 1886, the local friar collected a total of seventy sacks of coins from the parishioners which were in turn melted and casted into the Big Bell of Capiz.
A Spanish inscription marks the bell’s face; Soy la voz de Dios que Ilevarey ensalzare desde el principio hasta el fin de este pueblo de Panay para que los fieles de Jesus vengan e esta casa de Dion a recibit las gracias celestiales.
I am God’s voice which I shall echo and praise from one end to the other of the town of Panay, so that the faithful followers of Christ may may come to this house of God to receive heavenly graces.
And it cannot be more true. The booming sound of the massive bell can be heard as far as eight kilometers around town.
Passing through the National Historical Institute marker declaring Panay Church as a national historical landmark and the recessed statue of Sta. Monica, the group finally faced the Baroque coral-stone façade of the church.
The late afternoon sun was already casting its poignant rays west of the Panay Church as we walked along its sprawling red brick plaza. We at last trained our cameras on its aged face, pockmarked with dark lichens and natural coral holes. While taking a few images, I cannot help but imagine the melancholic booming sound that Dakung Lingganay probably makes before the sun retires and twilight arrives.
Santa Monica Church
Address: Iloilo East Coast-Capiz Rd., Panay, Capiz
Contact Number: (036)6211-535
Mass Schedule: Click Here
GPS Coordinates: +11° 33' 20.24", +122° 47' 38.06"
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