A popular folktale claims it was because of an old man who was hard of hearing and dwelt by the banks of an unnamed river that this coastal town became known as Siaton.
The story continues that a band of Moro traders in search of drinking water approached him and he thought they were asking for his name. He replied “Si Aton” and that is how the place came to be called Siaton.
When the Augustinians arrived in Siaton in 1580, they found that the inhabitants were mostly nomadic, moving from place to place to look for livelihood. The book “Handurawan: Visita Iglesia Negros Y Recoletos” said the missionaries organized settlements, opened the Cartilla school where reading, writing, counting and catechesis on the Catholic faith were taught.
They also built the first chapel for worship in 1802 and set aside space for social gatherings that in time the people began to stay put. Frequent pirate raids prompted the Augustinians to move the settlement down the eastern river border and a second chapel was built there in lower Calumpang in 1827.
Siaton existed beginning in 1777 but was organized into a parish under the patronage of St. Nicholas of Bari only on April 7, 1848 through a Diocesan Decree issued by Bishop Romualdo Gimeno of Cebu. That same year, the spiritual administration of Siaton was turned over to the Recollects.
According to Handurawan, the current St. Nicholas of Bari Parish Church was a reconstruction of the one destroyed by a strong typhoon in 1875. Fr. Manuel Cabriada, who served as parish priest from 1858-1859 and 1860-1872, initiated its construction but completion was credited to his successor, Fr. Julian Adan.
Handurawan described the church lost to the typhoon as having “steel roofing, magnificent flooring, and embellished with necessary fixtures.”
It also says in the book that the first church built in Siaton was associated with the town’s second parish priest, Fr. Tomas Mezquita, who served from 1849-1852. It was finished by his successor Fr. Celestino Romero.
A strong earthquake that hit the town in 1925 toppled the bell tower and almost destroyed the church, leaving only the facade intact. Rehabilitation of the structure was undertaken by a series of Recollect curates who served in Siaton up to 1960.
Fr. Gregorio Samanes in particular, parish priest from 1951 to 1958, renovated the church and reconstructed the belfry. He was also responsible for changing the orientation of the church; where it used to face the sea, it now faces the mountain.
Siaton has been under the jurisdiction of the Diocese of Dumaguete since 1955 after it was separated from Cebu.