Welcome to St Benedict’s Painted Church
Overlooking beautiful and historic Kealakekua Bay, St. Benedict’s Painted Church is a fascinating place to visit on your journey to the Big Island of Hawaii. Located in the famous Kona coffee growing region, it is the jewel of South Kona, at a place called Honaunau. While it is an important historical site, it is still a vibrant parish, with outreach programs to take care of those in need and to provide medical services for our local community.
The Catholic church has been a part of life in South Kona since 1842. The first church was located on the shore of Honaunau near the City of Refuge and was known as St. Francis Regis chapel. By the mid 1880’s most of the folks had moved away from the beach to the cooler climate and more fertile soil to be found a bit higher on the slopes of Mauna Loa. Father John Berchmans Velghe, A Sacred Hearts father from Belgium, arrived in 1899 and decided to follow the local residents up the mountain slope. The folks dismantled the church and with the help of mules, moved it to its present location.
With repairs and additions the church looked like new. In August 1902 Bishop Ropert from Honolulu visited the relocated church, consecrated it, and named it in honor of St. Benedict, the father of Western monasticism. St. Benedict wrote the rule that is still followed today in most communities of monks.
Father Velghe, a self-taught artist, painted the interior walls of the church. His three dimensional interior painting was inspired by the gothic cathedral of Burgos in Spain. His painting of scenes from the bible and the lives of the saints were very important teaching tools in a time when many people couldn’t read and write. Throughout church history cathedrals and churches have been adorned with paintings, stained glass windows and statuary that told stories from the old and new testaments and about the lives of
heroes from both Hebrew and Christian tradition.
St. Benedict’s Church, with its unique art work, is listed in the Hawaii State Register of Historic places and the National Register of Historic Places.
Fr. Velghe’s health deteriorated and he had to return to Belgium in 1904, he was never able to finish the church. You can note the unadorned panels, still uncompleted.
In December of 1983 restoration work began on the deteriorating church, in collaboration with the Bishop museum in Honolulu. In February of 1985 the restoration was complete and the parish celebrated. On the hundredth anniversary of the dedication of the church in its present location, in 2002, more renovation was completed. A large plywood altar had been constructed after the changes initiated by the Second Vatican Council in the 1960’s, this enabled the priest to celebrate mass facing the congregation. This was replaced by a koa wood altar crafted by a parishioner, that was
smaller and more in proportion to the size of the sanctuary. A matching pulpit was also crafted of this precious Hawaiian wood. The statues were refurbished and the carpet replaced. St. Benedicts sparkled once again. There is a mission church in St. Benedict’s parish, St. John the Baptist in Kelliakekua.
The Paintings Above and Beside the Altar
This is a representation, in minute and specific detail, of the cimborio, or light dome (lantern), of the cathedral at Burgos in Spain. Father John had attended the novitiate of his congregation at Miranda de Ebro, which was located only 35 iniles from Burgos. No doubt he had been impressed by the grandeur of the great cathedral and had sketched it in his mind during his sojourn there.
The colors used in the painting of the cathedral rose, blue and reddish brown, harmonize and blend well with the colors Fr. Velghe employed in the sky and palm fronds on the vault over the nave of the church., the tropical flair locates the church here in the Hawaiian islands.
The panel pictures, beginning at your right, next to the altar, are as follows:
1) Eve discovers the body of her son. Abel, who was murdered by his brother Cain. This IS a copy of “Eve Findmg the Body of Abel” by Eduard Von Gebhardt (1830-1925)
2) This panel is a representation of a good death. At the upper left are heavy geometric forms which were intended to suggest a cell and the rays of light proceeding from under the grilled door,
3) Hell, a century of penetrating sunlight has cracked the paint and discolored this panel. Despite the deterioration of this painting, a lusty Satan still looks toward heaven as he stretches his huge arms over his victims, a weeping,
naked, tormented people.
On the left side:
1) Appearance of the Cross to St. Francis: In this panel St. Fr’ancis is seen receiving the stigmata, the wounds of Christ. This beloved saint identified with the suffering of Jesus on the cross, and was able to see the presence of the Lord on the Faces of all who suffered.
2) Temptation of Christ: This helps us understand the depths of God’s love for us. Jesus truly understands our suffering and our temptations. The disproportion between the figure of Christ and the mountain on which he stands, the distant town with its turrets and trees drawn smaller than surrounding trees, are all medieval. Most clearly drawn from medieval sources is the naked, bat winged, deviL
3) Handwriting on the Wall – This is taken from the book of Daniel in the Hebrew scriptures. King Belshazzar of Babylon has refused to worship the true God, and has used the vessels from the Jerusalem Temple for a feast. This act of desecration has condemned him. The King and Queen are depicted along with the prophet Daniel, who points to the handwriting on the wall. This is the origin of the expression “read the handwriting on the wall”. The words are written in Hawaiian and state “You are found wanting”, “Your kingdom ceases” and “You shall die”. Indeed, the scriptures tell us that the king died that very night.
The Interior Design of the Church
The church can best be described as a “gothic box”. The vault over the nave of the church was a great architectural achievement for its time and place. To build a vaulted gothic nave inside a small gable-roofed box was a daring idea that never would have occurred to a trained architect. It is shaped in a cross section like a pointed arch, it covers and supports the nave, and it is supported on each side by three columns. Each of the supporting columns is octagonal, and is painted red, splotched green and yellow to suggest marble. Encircling each column is a painted white ribbon, bearing, in the Hawaiian language, one of the mottoes of St. Benedict’s medal. The inscriptions are as
1) O ke kea hemolele kou malamalama. (The Holy Cross be my light)
2) Hele oe pela a Satana. (Begone Satan!)
3) He poino kou mea i ninini mai ai. (You have poured forth trouble. The inscription on the medal reads “Do not suggest to me thy vanities”)
4) Aole o Satana kou alakai. (Satan is not your guide. The medal reads “Let not the dragon be my guide”)
5) Ua oki oe me kou pau wale. (Stop with your perishable things. The medal reads “Evil are the things thou profferest”)
6) Nau no e inu kou poino. (Drink your own misfortune. The medal reads “Drink your own poison”)
Above the six pictures, just described, are painted lunettes. Each has a green background against which stand seven small gothic pinnacles in a grayish blue outline. Above them is a pattern of gothic tracery in yellow. The upper corners of each of these panels are filled with bright red spandrels. Since Father John did paint saints in the lunettes above
the picture of St. Francis, it would appear that he intended to paint pictures of holy figures in each of these niche like places between the pinnacles. He returned to Belgium before they were completed. Perhaps, one morning we will awake and find that he has returned to finish them.
On the left are Paul and Peter, on the right Joseph and John the Baptist. In the center, painted over the middle pinnacle, is a group of three figures. Christ, displaying the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, blesses two other figures and clasps the hand of a woman facing him. The Sacred hearts are the symbol of the religious order that Father
Velghe belonged to and represent the love of Jesus and his mother.
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 supporting the cimborio of the Burgos cathedral. This form is echoed throughout our church. The ceilings over the side aisles bear alternating triangles of dark blue and white. The
blue is suggestive of night, and metal stars are nailed throughout this area. The white expresses day. Lamps were formerly hung from the ceiling, but have been replaced by electric lights.
Father John had no formal training as an artist, natural talent shines through his work. It is even more remarkable that his materials were ordinary building wood and regular house paint. Even that was not easy to come by at the time of construction.
Our Church Community
Mass is celebrated most days at St. Benedict’s, the second Sunday of each month is the Hawaiian Mass, with readings and music in Hawaiian and a breakfast to follow. Many of our parishioners have been here in Honaunau for generations. Everyone is welcome, the spirit of Aloha permeates the parish community. We sponsor scouting troops, a senior citizens group, and a food pantry to help feed those in need. We provide supplemental groceries for several hundred people a month. A medical van comes once a week to provide medical and dental services to those who need them and lack insurance or the means to access them.
Our recently renovated parish hall provides a setting for larger gatherings. At Christmas and Easter, major feasts, funerals and weddings we need a larger venue. Our children have formed a halau, or hula troop, for special occasions. We warmly thank those who helped in the renovation, it is truly a beautiful worship space and a great benefit to our
You are invited to stroll up the mountain to see the stations of the cross capped by a replica of Michelangelo’s “Pieta”. Many parishioners are buried in our parish cemetery, we continue to bury people here in this over a century old graveyard.
You may encounter our parish cats, Beatrice and Benedict, as you walk the grounds. Benedict, of course, is named after our patron saint. Beatrice is named for one of Shakespeare’s great female roles in “Much Ado About Nothing”. Just like the play, Beatrice and her suitor Benedict both love and battle each other. You may also see
rabbits scurrying under the rectory. It is always lively here.
We are happy to welcome visitors to our church and our parish. We are continually upgrading our facilities to provide safety and comfort for all who visit. If you would like to help us to maintain this historic landmark, and to help with the many outreach ministries of our parish, you can place a donation in the box in the church or send it to us at:
84-5140 Painted Church Rd.
Captain Cook, HI 96704
Mahalo nui loa! Thank You very much!
Please enjoy your trip to our special islands.