Saturday, January 18, 2014

Historic Churches of Maui, Hawai'i

Huialoha Congregational Church, near Kaupo, first built c. 1859
Once in a while, I have to brush off that fancy degree I got in architectural history and pay a little attention to some buildings instead of the stuff that goes in them.  On a recent trip to Maui I was fascinated by many of the churches and other religious buildings found there.  
Ke'anae Congregational Church, begun c. 1860
In the 19th century Hawai'i was a magnet for American missionaries set on converting the natives to Christianity.  From the 1820s, members of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions sent numerous ministers and their wives to the islands to spread the good word and build houses of worship.  The missionaries were not architects and the results were pretty much boxes with steeples, built from local materials. 
Wānanalua Congregational Church, Hana, 19th century
Often their efforts look like they could be lifted from a small town in New England, which was probably exactly what they wanted. 
Ka'ahumanu Church, Wailuku, 1876
Ka'ahumanu Church clock tower
So many churches (and buildings in general) suffer from the harsh effects of the elements in Hawai'i.  The salty air and humidity corrode everything, plants and insects eat away at building materials and seek to return them to the jungle.  As a result, it is not unusual for a church to have been rebuilt, in part or in whole, over the years, much as many Japanese pagodas have been reconstructed.  The Huialoha church has had substantial repairs and you can see the corrosion and peeling paint on the tower at Ka'ahumanu (which is on the National Register of Historic Places, so it is definitely looked after).  
Holy Ghost Catholic Church, Kula, 1894
How cute is this little church?  Built in 1894, the Holy Ghost Church is upcountry in Kula (what up, Oprah?) and very unusual for its octagonal plan--rare to find this shape in any building let alone a Catholic church, which generally favored cruciform plans to facilitate the liturgy.  And the interior is charmingly pink!

Interior of Holy Ghost
Christianity definitely took hold in the islands and my impression is that many here are very religious (indeed, it feels a lot like the South in some ways--very strong Christian community, and if you weren't born here, you aren't from here!).  Lots of smaller denominations, revivals in tents and many religious shows on tv. 
Apostolic Faith Church, Lahaina, circa 1960 (?)
The big neon sign on the top of this building announces the main concern of the faithful at this local church in Lahaina.  The Apostolic Faith Church was founded in 1923 by missionaries and now has its headquarters in Honolulu and branches on neighbor islands. 
Prayer requests in Hana
When driving through Hana one evening, there were some lovely people waving at passing motorists and taking drive-by prayer requests.  A pick up (the local car of choice) would slow down and the driver would say something like, 'Pray for my mother-in-law, she has diabetes and she's not doing so well.'  The people holding signs would promise to pray for her, exchange 'God bless you's and shakas (local hand signal) and off the car would drive.  I'm not religious at all, but it seemed so nice and friendly, such a sweet way for ohana (family, community) to stay connected in the very small town of Hana.  

I am forced to leave aside any mention of native Hawaiian religious architecture, mainly because I’m an idiot and left going to see the huge, 14th-century Pi’ilanihale heiau until my last day on Maui, then made the mistake of going after the botanical garden closed at 2pm.  And temples and shrines of all sorts.  Next time...


  1. how interesting! I've never been to Hawaii so I had no idea about the ecclesiastical architecture there. I love your comment about the South too - it's so true, you are not from Charleston if you weren't born here like I was :-)

    1. There are *tons* more churches on the island, I edited out a lot. I found myself wondering what the church-to-population ratio is! Thanks for stopping by.