I took the motorcycle to reach the town of Panay, about thirty minutes away from the busy city streets of Roxas. All I had was a bag of Spanish bread I bought from a panaderia which, locals said, sold the best-tasting pastries in that part of the world. And no, I wasn’t exaggerating because that was how two men finishing their day’s share of the Spanish bread described what they were delightfully eating. But what I was about to visit that afternoon of August 8 (yep, it was my birthday!) had nothing to do with the bread, a little of the Spanish, a whole lot of Filipino.
The town of Pan-ay or Panay in the province of Capiz shares its name with the island to which it is part of, and often overshadowed by it. The town was originally called Bamban. Few people do know (including myself until that day) that the town became the center of Spanish settlement, and much of the Spanish influences and architecture are well preserved to this day. For instance, the second oldest street, after Colon street in Cebu City, is in the town, Calle Revolucion. The place is regarded as the heritage town of Capiz.
One will never miss out the Santa Monica Church, or simply known as the Panay Church. Although it was rebuilt several times, its restoration in 1884 makes it the oldest church in the island of Panay. The architecture features irregularities, a wide façade fronting the church, massive and imposing aesthetics, all reflecting a baroque style of construction.
The church also houses the biggest bell in the Philippines and fifth in the world! The historical marker at the entrance of the church placed by the National Historical Commission of the Philippines said that the bell was built out of seventy sacks of coins donated by the townspeople. How it was brought up is another story, or maybe, a few other stories. No one is certain how, but one account said that people had horses pull ropes to raise the bell up to where it is now in the five-storey belfry. The bell is about 10 metric tons!
There were smaller bells, too, around the biggest one. When they sounded altogether, its reach could be a kilometer radius.
At the side of the church is the Santa Monica museum. This is where you register first before climbing the stairs to the bells. When I came back, I had no chance to take a look at the artifacts. It was past five in the afternoon. It was closed already, so is the souvenir store right across the street. The last thing to do was to visit the Fuenta de Vida at the back of the church, an old Spanish well believed to produce large amount of water. It was restored by the town’s tourism office to bolster the cultural heritage inscription of the place.
It was almost six, and I had to leave. I realized I still had some Spanish bread in the paper bag. I took one, glanced at the church, smiled at myself and blew the bread as if there was a candle on it. As I munched on my goodie, I told myself I was sure why Santa Monica Church is Spanish. But why the Spanish bread was called that, I really don’t know. I shrugged and walked away as I softly greeted myself a happy birthday.