Pavia is a small town, covering only 3,804 hectares of
It is close to the provincial capital of Iloilo, a short 15-minute drive from the City proper. Historically, it
has alternatively been part of Santa Barbara, and an arabal of
Jaro. The geography of the town is flat, and the fertile soil makes it ideal for
planting rice, coconuts and other fruit trees. However, the 19th-century Augustinian friars working in Iloilo noted
in their histories that most of the residents worked primarily as entrepreneurs. This was probably due to the proximity
of Pavia to the City. But this proximity was also a mixed blessing, as it caused many of the residents to fall prey
to the usurious moneylenders from Jaro.
Pavia was officially founded in 1862. How the town got its name is unclear,
and has long been disputed. One theory has it that the name came from a certain Colonel Pavia
of the Spanish garrison in Iloilo who was supposedly responsible for initially establishing a Spanish presence
in the area. Others believe that the name is a Spanish corruption of the Hiligaynon word biya-biya,
as the area was originally considered a neglected patch of land that served mostly as a camping ground for city sophisticates
and absentee landlords. Others claim that the town was named after a Spanish governor-general, Manuel
Pavia y Lay, Marquis of Novaliches, who eventually became a priest after his short tenure in the Philippines
from 1853-1854. However, this author believes that the more credible theory seems to be the overlooked fact that
the town's religious well-being was placed under the jurisdiction and supervision of the friars of the Augustinian Order,
and they simply named the place in honor of the town in Pavia, Italy, where the founder
of their order, Saint Augustine, was buried.
The last theory seems to be supported by circumstantial historical evidence: it was also in 1862 that an independent
parish dedicated to Saint Monica was established by an Augustinian friar, Policarpio Minayo. But it was only in 1889 when construction of the famous brick church
-- as it now stands -- began. It was envisioned and built in the Byzantine style, with Romanesque design elements.
Two Greek crosses dominate the facade, and the transept is round set against the rear wall. It is unique in the whole
of Panay Island, as it is the only church built entirely of red brick, inside and out. Quite significantly, the church
design was apparently inspired by the ancient royal archbasilica of San Michele Maggiore
in Pavia, Italy -- minus the front columns.* **
Its alternative history, however, has it that 13 large landowners were actually the town's founding fathers 14 years
earlier, in 1848: Marcos Evangelista, Graciano Gonzaga, Constantino Gumban, Vicente Hechanova, Anacleto Hedriana, Jorge Jagolino, Locario Juntanilla, Barbario Maquiling, and the brothers Ramos, Remigio, Leocadio, Gregori
and Mariano Maquiling.
In their honor, streets around the town plaza were named after them. It was said that the landholdings of each
of these founding fathers "stretched as far as the eyes could see" -- although these properties were perhaps more realistically
measured in sizes that ranged from 100 to 300 hectares only. Much of the original families' patrimonies, though,
have been diluted through the decades and contributed to their decline. But only the Gumban
have maintained a dominating political presence in the town for most of the 20th century.