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Santa Monica bell proves a big attraction

National treasure draws visitors from far and wide

The old church bell of Capiz The old church bell of Capiz
  • Abraham Cerojano, Panay Island
  • Philippines
  • February 21, 2011
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When it comes to church bells, size seems to matter on the central Philippine island of Panay.

About 100 years ago, Father Jose Beloso of Santa Monica parish in Capiz thought his church should offer something grand to make it stand out. So he commissioned a blacksmith to cast what is now claimed to be the largest bell in the Philippines.

A century later, the bell of Santa Monica has earned the church a place in guidebooks, luring sightseers, pilgrims, politicians and celebrities.

Monsignor Benjamin Advincula, the parish priest, admits the church often attracts a large congregation partly because of the old bell’s charm.

He said it can wake the soundest of sleepers each morning in remote villages as far as eight kilometers away.

The bell draws about 100 tourists to the baroque-style church every month, said Isidro Bendejas, a church worker and tour guide.

He said the numbers of visitors, pilgrims and churchgoers are at their highest during the summer and holidays.

“During peak season, we sometimes run out of space in visitors books,” he said.

Although the church and its bell have been a popular tourist attraction for decades, it only started gaining national recognition recently.

In 1997, the National Historical Institute declared the church bell a national treasure.

In 2004, the National Commission for Culture and the Arts listed Sta. Monica Church as one of 26 churches that were National Cultural Treasures, calling it “the best preserved sites in Panay province.”

In an article “Angels in Stone: Augustinian Churches in the Philippines,” Augustinian priest Pedro G. Galende, calls the church “a grand structure made of coral stone” measuring 70 meters long, 25 meters wide and 18 meters high.

The bell, known in the province as “dakong lingganay’ (huge bell), weighs 10.4 tons and was cast in 1884 by noted blacksmith Don Juan Reina. As much as 70 sacks of gold and silver coins were reputedly melted down to make it.

Tour guide Bendejas said the base of the bell is just over two meters wide and many visitors like to squeeze themselves inside to get a sense of its power.

Townsfolk said the bell sounds like “the voice of God.”

That belief is boosted by the inscription in Spanish on one side of the bell that reads: “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 heavenly graces.”

Claims that the bell is the largest in Asia has led to debate, especially over the Internet where rival claims in Myanmar, Korea and Japan are often cited.

However, as far as the Philippines is concerned, ‘dakong lingganay’ surpasses all its rivals.

PV13345.1642

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