The Bell of Pan-ay
by Kiko Matsing
In the church of Pan-ay (est. 1572) there is a grand old bell with the chutzpah to call itself “The Voice of God”. We always bear southwest along the coastal road when we head back to Iloilo City from my mother’s hometown. This time, we detoured west to Roxas City, Capiz, intending to cut through Panay Island, and in the process, took a short side-trip to this small eponymous town. It was a drizzly summer afternoon. Egrets flocked on the young ricefields to feed.
What surprised me was not the church itself, nor it’s main attraction–one of the biggest bells in Asia, weighing more than 10 tons, when rang, it can be heard as far as 8 km away–but the poetic imagination of it’s maker, Juan de la Reina, who embossed on its body the following:
Soy la voz de Dios que llevarè y ensalzarè desde el principio hasta el fin de este pueblo de Panay para que los fieles de Jesucristo vengan a esta casa de Dios a recibir las gracias celestiales,
which I translate to:
“I am the voice of God that shall echo and exult from the foundation of this town of Pan-ay until its ruin so that the faithful in Christ may return to this house of God and obtain the blessings of heaven.”
The bell ceases to be an inert object, and comes alive to us, not just by being personified (a poetic device), but also in how the text itself evokes its substantial mass, its prophetic pitch, and the enduring strength of its metal. Word and flesh become one.
Interestingly, the locals refer to it, not in Spanish, but with an indigenous name, Dakong Linganay (big bell), and even provide it an almost mythic history: cast in 1878 from 70 sacks of coins (to trump the infamous 30 pieces of silver?) donated by no less than the townsfolk themselves.
And what of Juan de la Reina? Was he a mythic figure as well, christened a royal name (after Mary? Isabella II?) that would equal his monumental task? If anything, that touch of flair on his bell tells me this: the guy was having too much fun. The master craftsman must have delighted in his work.