It would have been one of the country’s spectacular churches, if not the most beautiful were it not for a natural cataclysm that razed it to the ground. Oton’s once majestic church, in the form of a Greek cross, was unique as it was the only one with such a plan and architecture blending Byzantine with Gothic and classical elements.
The town of Oton was established by the Augustinians in 1572 after Cebu and Manila and was the center of their administration in Iloilo. In fact, the former name of the province is a namesake of the town. It’s name is the hispanized version of ogtong, meaning reef or tidal flat which is a main feature of the area and was then the encomienda of Don Miguel de Loarca.
The history of church building is a bit hazy but its first prior, Fray Martin de Rada was said to have built a church of good quality which was eventually destroyed during a Dutch attack in 1614. It was only in the 19th century that we get to know of a church being constructed during the curacy of Fray Demetrio Cobos who was parish priest from 1844-1854 that the first stones were laid.
Fray Diego de Hoz continued the project when Fray Cobos died in 1854. Fray Joaquin Fernandez, named in charge of construction in 1883 finished the edifice. The grand church was consecrated and blessed in 1892 by Fray Nicolas Gallo.
The edifice was spared during World War II but an earthquake on 5 January, 1948 destroyed it. It has never been rebuilt and only two bells, dated 1817 and 1887, and a portion of the wall, now built with a grotto, remain of the structure. The ruins of the old church can still be found in the area.