With my interior design background, I always take a special interest in any unique and interesting architecture. The Painted Churches of the Big Island certainly fall into that category. If you are an architecture and/or art lover, these churches are definitely a must see. Be aware, these churches don't give away any of their secrets on the exterior, it's necessary to go inside to discover their beauty!
Funny story, on one of our visits to St. Benedict's, my husband was out in their amazing garden mostly trying hard to stay out of my way. :-D He was enjoying the quiet and the birds when a car hurriedly wheeled into the parking lot. This guy jumped out of the car and loudly proclaimed, "I'm not sure why they call this the Painted Church, it's just white!" Before my husband could tell him to go inside, he was back in his car and had sped away.
St. Benedict Catholic Church, also known as the Painted Church dates all the way back to when Catholicism first came to South Kona in 1842. At that time, the church was sitting on the shore of Honaunau. However, by the mid-1880s, most Hawaiians had moved up the slopes of Mauna Loa for cooler temps and more fertile land. In 1899, when Father John Berchmans Velghe, a Sacred Hearts Belgium priest arrived, he decided to follow the residents up the volcano. He dismantled the church, moved it to its present location and repaired it to look like new.
In 1902, the church was consecrated and named to honor Saint Benedict.
Father Velghe, a self-taught artist did all the painting himself using ordinary house paint! Inspired by the Gothic Cathedral of Burgos in Spain, Father Velghe painted the area around the altar to replicate Burgos Cathedral. At the time, the pointed arch vaulted ceiling was considered a great architectural achievement. He painted the sky and palm fronds on the ceiling to give the church a distinct tropical Hawaiian flair. Each of the vaulted ceilings six supporting octagonal columns are painted to resemble marble with a white ribbon, bearing one of the mottos of St. Benedict’s medal. Above each window is a small panel containing a cruciform rosette, supported on each side by a twisted five-fingered shape derived from the fan ribbed groins once again reminiscent of Burgos Cathedral. There are 3 large ornate murals on each side of the church, reflecting scenes from the bible and religious life.
Sadly, Father Velghe’s health deteriorated and in 1904 he returned to Belgium leaving the painting at the back of the church unfinished.
St. Benedict Painted Church is listed on both the Hawaii State Register of Historic Places and the National Register of Historic Places. It is still an active church; check their website for mass times. It is available for public viewing during the day.
While I was on island, it was almost a three hour drive for me to attend mass here, otherwise, I would have love to have visited for the Hawaiian language mass that is said on the 2nd Sunday of each month at 7:15am.
St. Benedict Catholic Church is located at 84-5140 Painted Church Road, Captain Cook, Hawaii
Star of the Sea Church also known at the Kalapana Painted Church was built in 1928 by Belgian Catholic priest, Father Evarist Matthias Gielen as a mission of Sacred Heart Church in Pahoa about 10 miles away.
Constructed out of reclaimed lumber from older dilapidated churches this tiny pale green church is fairly plain on the outside, while the interior of the church is completely covered with beautiful vibrant murals.
Father Gielen is responsible for all the detailed paintings on the domed ceiling. It is said he painted those at night by the light of an oil lantern.
Two other artists are responsible for the rest of the murals:
In 1941, George Heidler from Athens, Georgia, painted the wooden panels (columns and drapery swags) on both sides of the church and also the altar area. These paintings tell the story of the life of Father Damien De Veuster who from 1864 to 1873 did missionary work in Kalapana. You may not have recognized him by his complete name but Father Damien is better known for overseeing the leprosy colony on the island of Molokai. After 16 years on Molokai, Father Damien contracted leprosy and eventually died from the disease in 1889. Father Damian was canonized by the Catholic Church in 2009 as Saint Damien of Molokai, the patron saint of lepers and outcasts.
In 1949, Father Joseph Avery, another priest of the church, commissioned the final artist, George Lorch, from Hilo to do a series of frescos inside the existing panels. These frescoes depict traditional beliefs and teachings of the Catholic Church and are more instructional in nature. They feature things like the Seven Sacraments, the Holy Virgin Mary, the Saints and the Angels. George Lorch also painted the trompe l’oeil painting behind the alter.
This is one of his paintings. It teaches how to pray the rosary. The instructions and prayers are all written in the Hawaiian language.
The Star of the Sea Church has had an interesting history. Originally built on the shoreline of Kaimu Black Sand Beach about 25 yards from the ocean, it was moved in 1990 to save it from advancing lava flow. It ended up abandoned along the side of the road and sat on wooden blocks for six years until a new permanent location could be found. During that time, the paintings suffered damage by weather and termites. It finally found its new home in 1996, but attempts to repair the church were to costly. It was finally placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1997 in order to save it.
Star of the Sea Church is located in at 12-4815 Pahoa Kalapana Rd, Pahoa, also known as Highway 130 it is between mile marker 19 and 20.
This church is no longer active. It is open to the public from 9 to 4 every day.
A little known fact to tourists, there is a third painted church on the Big Island. I only discovered it after I had gotten back to the mainland. St. Theresa Church is located at 181355 Volcano Highway, Mountain View.
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All images found in The Art Gallery are available for purchase as fine art prints, on home decor and clothing.
I am the 8th photographer in 4 generations of my family. Back in 2006, my husband accepted a job traveling and I jumped at the chance to go with him. We have spent the last 11+ years traveling the United States.