The town of Arevalo was founded in 1581 by the son of an illustrious family in Spain who was appointed Governor-General of the Islands, Don Gonzallo Ronquillo de Peñalosa.
He arrived in Manila on June 1, 1580 and one of the things that greatly impressed him was the wealth of the Panay settlement established by Spanish conquistador Miguel Lopez de Legaspi in 1567 right after Cebu. This place was known as Sta. Cruz and it now forms part of the town of Arevalo.
When Don Gonzallo created the town in 1581, he named it “La Villa Rica de Arevalo” or the rich town of Arevalo after his hometown in Spain.
The Sto. Niño de Arevalo Parish Church is a fairly recent construction. A historical account in the parish book said the community had come together to have its damaged belfry repaired on October 23, 1976, finishing it two months later, and then starting on the main building the following year.
Work on the structure took years and under several parish priests. When Fr. Nemesio C. Espinosa and his assistant Fr. Jerry R. Locsin assumed stewardship of the parish on Nov. 3, 1982, they focused in earnest on the church building.
Fr. Espinosa solicited financial aid from the German Mission and when he took a leave of absence, Fr. Locsin carried on the reconstruction until its completion and blessing on October 30, 1986.
The church is considered uniquely situated in the middle of the district plaza, unlike the others that are only built beside or near their town squares.
Another distinct feature of the church is its altar, which is supported by Solomonic or helical columns inspired by the St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.
The altar centerpiece is a large wooden cross with the image of the crucified Christ. Enshrined in the parish is the third oldest Sto. Niño image in the country, after the Sto. Niños of Cebu (1565) and Tondo (1572).
Town records were only able to identify its curates (parish priests) from 1581, but it is believed that the community before this time was under the Augustinians and seculars that Legaspi was known to never travel without.
Msgr. Amadeo Escañan showed a written list of town curas which noted that it was very likely the town was under the care of the religious group that accompanied Legaspi from 1567 to 1580.
It is even believed, he said, that Legaspi brought with him the Sto. Niño image enshrined in the parish, which is officially accepted as the third oldest in the country.
An account of this Iloilo City district’s story written by Atty. Rodolfo G. Alcantara says it is very likely that Arevalo’s possession of the image may have occurred earlier than 1581 for Legaspi had used the Sto. Niño image to spread devotion to the faith in Cebu and could have done the same in Panay.
Sto. Niño devotion
The accepted account, however, is that it was Peñalosa who brought the image with him from Spain when he founded Arevalo in 1581.
Alcantara said in his book “A Brief History of Arevalo and the 1581 image of the Sto. Niño” that devotion to the Child Jesus in Panay began in Arevalo.
Arevalo, which became the capital of the settlement in Panay in 1582, was one of the few places in the Philippines to be named in Spanish. It was incorporated as a district of Iloilo City on July 16, 1937.