Panay Church

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Panay Church
Santa Monica Parish Church
Iglesia Parroquial de Santa Mónica
Home of the largest bell in Asia
Panay Church is located in Philippines
Panay Church
Panay Church
Republic of the Philippines
11°33′20″N 122°47′38″E / 11.555622°N 122.793905°E / 11.555622; 122.793905Coordinates: 11°33′20″N 122°47′38″E / 11.555622°N 122.793905°E / 11.555622; 122.793905
Location Iloilo East Coast-Capiz Rd., Panay, Capiz
Country Philippines
Denomination Roman Catholic
Founded 1698
Founder(s) Augustinian Friars
Functional status Active
Heritage designation National Cultural Treasure
Designated July 31, 2011
Architectural type Filipino Colonial Neo-Classical Baroque
Length 70 meters
Width 25 meters
Height 18 meters
Bells 9 bells
Tenor bell weight 10.4 metric ton (largest bell)
Archdiocese Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Capiz
Province Ecclesiastical Province of Capiz
Archbishop Most. Rev. Jose Advincula

The Santa Monica Parish Church (Spanish: Iglesia Parroquial de Santa Mónica), commonly known as Panay Church, is the oldest church on the island of Panay located in Panay Municipality, Capiz, Philippines. It is also the home of the largest church bell in the country and in Asia, and the third biggest in the world.

The original structure of the church was built during the term of Fr. Manuel Lopez between 1692 and 1698, but it was reported that a typhoon had ruined it. In 1774, Fr. Miguel Murguía rebuilt the church, but it was also later damaged by a typhoon on 15 January 1875. Fr. José Beloso restored the church in 1884.[1]

The original name of the settlement was Bamban and it was changed by the early Spaniards to Panay, a word which means “mouth of the river". This is also the location of a fortress built by Juan de la Isla in late 1570.[2]


Augustinians arrive on Panay Island[edit]

The arrival of the Spanish colonizers in the late 16th century in the Philippines brought not just their culture but also the seeds of the Catholic faith. The missionaries who went with the expeditions of the would-be Spanish colonizers were the Augustinian friars. They accomplished many significant firsts in the history of the Philippines. It was they who fanned out from Cebu to the other islands of the archipelago, including Panay. The Augustinian missionaries, Fr. Martín de Rada and Fr. Diego de Herrera, laid the foundation of Catholicism in Panay in 1569. These two servants of God went with the Spanish expedition to the islands to look for a safer place due to the danger of the Dutch attacking them in Cebu. Upon their arrival in Panay, the two missionaries took in the whole island as their religious mission.

Fr. de Rada had built a church in that town and was considered to be the "first in Panay". However, it was Fr. Demetrio Cobos who laid plans for a stronger and bigger church to be made of stone. Unfortunately, Fr. Cobos was not able to see the end of the construction that he started, for it took 40 years to finish the project. It was eventually completed under the supervision of Fr. Joaquin Fernandez. As the years passed, more Augustinian missionaries came to Panay, increasing the number of those who were already present on the island.[3]

Foundation of the church[edit]

Fr. Manuel López, Prior of Panay, in a letter to the father provincial dated June 7, 1698, speaks of the deplorable state of the church and the convent as a result of a particularly fierce typhoon which hit the province in January of that year and completely destroyed the church and its ancillary buildings. From this letter, it can be assumed that the first buildings were probably finished before 1698, or even before 1692, during the first term of the priorship of Fr. Lopez. Friar San Agustín replied that the convent was of very good structure, but did not mention the church. According to Fr. López, since the people of Panay by themselves were not able to restore the building, an agreement was signed with the alcalde (mayor) who donated 228 pesos from the community treasury to provide the funding. In 1774, Friar Miguel Murguía rebuilt the church, which was severely damaged a century later by the typhoons of March 5, 1874 and January 17, 1875. Friar José Beloso restored the Santa Monica Church again in 1884 and refurbished the convento that he had built from the rubble of previously destroyed church properties. The convento itself was rebuilt in 1892 by Fr. Miguel Rosales and it was finished by Fr. Gregorio Hermida shortly thereafter. In 1895, Fr. Lesmes Pérez restored the church to its former grandeur. Unfortunately, the Church was intentionally put to the torch along with the municipal hall, by order of the Spanish Governor General, Diego de los Ríos, to dislodge the rebels from the town during the 1898 Revolution. [2]


The church, built in the Filipino Colonial Baroque style with Neo-Classical influence, is a grand structure of coral stone that is 70 meters long, 25 meters wide and 18 meters high. The walls are 3 meters (or about 10 feet) thick and the floor is covered with marble. Its structure is shaped in the form of a Latin cross with one large central altar and four lateral ones, each fitted with gorgeously decorated and gilded retablos of hardwood, decorated with various polychrome statues of high artistic quality.

Artisans from Manila fashioned the Baroque decorations of the main altar which were set in silver. The town’s greatest sculptor, Joseph Bergaño or Sarhento Itak, did most of the bas-reliefs and religious statuary during the completion of the church in 1774. Unlike its Baroque interior, the facade of the church is simply decorated by pillars and nd pediments made of coral stones ornamented with carvings of flowers and niches for the life-sized statues of the Augustinian saints, Tomas de Villanueva and Saint Monica.[2] The pediment cascades gracefully down and the facade is ornamented with swags of flowers, niches and statuary. The bell tower to the left is simple in contrast to the facade. Its base is planned as quadrilateral but its upper stories are octagonal with the two sides longer than the other. Ruins of the L-shaped convent attached to the church have been incorporated into the present modern convent. Behind the church are remnants of a wall, which according to town lore was once a fortification. Attached to the sacristy is a large storage room, now converted into a Blessed Sacrament chapel. The interior was formerly divided into a central nave with flanking aisles, but in recent years, the wooden posts that marked the divisions were removed to improve sight lines to the altar. The wooden choir loft was also removed because it was damaged by termites, as were the wooden floors of the bell tower. The tower now has an independent steel stairway that leads to the topmost floor. This floor has been reconstructed in reinforced concrete with coral stone facing. The roof of the church, already damaged by a storm in 1984 and subsequently repaired, was already in a dilapidated condition in 2000. Its woodwork was rotten and was in danger of collapsing. These too were replaced by a steel and galvanized iron structure. Much of the original floor of the church was retained: terra cotta tiles, white marble and black slate as accents. These were used as well in the sanctuary. The church has three altars in Baroque style. The retablo of the central altar has been painted over in silver and gold enamel while the side altars have hardly been touched and probably represent the original colors of the woodwork—primaries of blue, red, green, orange with gold leaf accents. These altars are unique for Latin inscriptions carved on roundels set in its reed thin columns. Behind the Gospel side altar are remnants of decorative painting, also done in brilliant primaries.[1]

Church bell[edit]

Inscription of the Largest Bell in the Philippines and Asia

The church is best known for its 10.4 ton bell popularly called dakong lingganay (meaning big bell). Juan Reina, a town dentist and noted metal caster and blacksmith was commissioned by Fr. Jose Beloso to cast the largest bell in the Philippines. It was cast in Panay from 70 sacks of gold and silver coins donated by the townsfolk. The bell was completed in 1878 and measured 7 feet in diameter, 5 feet in height and weighed 10 tons, 400 kilograms or just over 10 metric tons. It was located in the church’s five-storey belfry.[1]

The inscription on the bell reads:

"Soy la voz de Dios que llevaré y ensalzaré desde el principio hasta el fín de este pueblo de Panay para que los fieles de Jesús vengan a esta casa de Dios a recibir 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 come to this house of God to receive the heavenly graces.”

The small bell dates back to 1721. It was cast by: Benitus a Regibus, Hilario Sunico and Juan Reina.[2]

Historical marker[edit]

Church of Panay Historical Marker

The church was recognized as a National Historical Landmark by the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP) with a cast-iron plaque that was issued and placed in 1997.[4] It is also recognized as a National Cultural Treasure of the Philippines by the National Museum of the Philippines.

Santa Monica Museum[edit]

Church artifacts and memorabilia are currently housed at the Santa Monica Museum. Some of these include an early 1770s bas-relief work of artist Joseph Bergaño, a solid bronze 1700s tabernacle, and a pure silver 1600s tablernacle.

Image gallery[edit]

See also[edit]