In 1566, Fray Martín de Rada is said to have preached the Gospel in Bamban (Pan-ay) and from there he proceeded to evangelize Dumangas to the south. The Augustinians continued to spread their net of evangelization to the south and west of Pan-ay until they had established footholds in the whole island. By the late 1500s, they had been had been the sole evangelizers of Panay island until the Jesuits arrived at this time.
Because of lack of food, Miguel Lopez de Legazpi transferred the Spanish settlement from Cebu to Panay in 1569. The town was formally founded in 1572 (1581 according to Jorde), although by that time Legazpi had moved the capital of the Philippines, further north, to Manila. Fr. Bartolome de Alcantara was named the prior of the town with Fr. Agustin Camacho as assistant. A prosperous town due to trade, Pan-ay became capital of captivating Capiz for two centuries, until Capiz was named capital. The town name was eventually given to whole island. After 1607, Fr. Alonso de Méntrida, noted for his linguistic studies and Visayan dictionary became prior. In the 18th century, Pan-ay was famous for its textile industry which produced a cloth called suerte and exported to Europe. In the 19th century, Don Antonio Roxas, grandfather of Pres. Manuel Roxas, opened one of the largest rum and wine distilleries in the town. The Augustinians held the parish until 1898, when administration tranferred to the seculars.
The first church was built before 1698 when it is reported that a typhoon had ruined it. In 1774, Fr. Miguel Murguía rebuilt the church, but it was later damaged by a typhoon on 15 January 1875. Fr. Jose Beloso restored the church in 1884. The church is best known for its 10.4 ton bell popularly called dakong lingganay (big bell). The bell was cast by Don Juan Reina who settled in Iloilo in 1868. Reina who was town dentist was also noted as a metal caster and smith. The bell was cast at Pan-ay from 70 sacks of coins donated by the townspeople. The bell was completed in 1878. It bears an inspiring inscription which translated reads: “I am God’s voice which shall echo praise from one end of the town of Pan-ay to the other, so that Christ’s faithful followers may enter this house of God to receive heavenly graces.”
Heritage Features: Pan-ay belongs to the Baroque style. The pediment cascades gracefully down. The façade is ornamented with swags of flowers, niches and statuary. The bell tower to the left of the façade is simple in contrast to the façade. It base is planned as a quadrilateral but its upper stories are octagonal with the two sides longer than the other. To the church was attached an L-shaped convento, which had been ruined. Remnants of the covento have been incorporated into the present modern convento. 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 choirloft was also removed because it was damaged by termites, so were the wooden floors of the bell tower. In place the tower 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 wood work was rotten and was in danger of collapsing. The woodwork and roof have been replaced by a steel and galvanized iron structure.
The church retains much of its original floor: terra cotta tiles, white marble and black slate as accents and for 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, however, 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 Gospel side altar are remnants of decorative painting, also done in brilliant primaries.