One of the most impressive spots this writer visited on the great adventures in Hawaii was a stop at the “Painted Church” in the south Kona district (Honaunau). It is officially called the St. Benedict Catholic Church. It was originally built in 1842 in Kapaleua, but moved to its present location around 1880 to service the growing coffee plantation population.
The church gained notoriety as the “Painted Church” because of a talented Belgian priest named Father Jean (John) Berchmans Velghe. Father John, a self- taught artist, decided he would paint, with ordinary house paint, the interior of the church with depictions from the bible and the lives of the saints. It was a great way to send the messages of the bible in a time when many people in the area could not read or write.
St. Benedict’s Church is listed in the Hawaii State Register of Historic Places and the National Resister of Historic Places. The adjacent cemetery has been in use from the early 1900’s to present. The dearly departed have a fabulous ocean view from the hillside.
Our guide told us about some of the paintings. The striped pillars had verses written in Hawaiian that he described as words to an exorcism –words that would protect the parishioners each Sunday they came to mass. The palms trees on the ceiling showed green palm fronds facing the altar—and the dead fronds away from the center piece. He spoke a bit about the two most discussed panels of paintings on the walls.
DEATH– This panel is actually 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. If you live a good life, you will have a good death in spiritual life.
HELL– Satan looks toward heaven as he stretches his huge arms over his victims, a weeping, naked, tormented people. Our guide told us that scientists cannot figure out why this is the only painting that is deteriorating. There have been scientific tests on the paint and officials from the Vatican have tried to explain the phenomena. Is it because of a century of penetrating sunlight cracking the paint or is there some other hidden meaning? You be the judge when you view this wonderful work of art.
If you go: Heading north on Highway 11 turn Makai near mile marker 104 and onto highway 160. After about one mile you will come to Painted Church Road on your right. Continue up the hill for about a quarter of a mile and the church is on your right.
St. Benedicts Church “The Painted Church”
Address: 84-5140 Painted Church Rd
Captain Cook, HI 96704