Queen Emma's Chapel: Christ Church, Kealakekua, Hawai'i

By Bates, J. Barrington | Anglican and Episcopal History, June 2014 | Go to article overview

Queen Emma's Chapel: Christ Church, Kealakekua, Hawai'i


Bates, J. Barrington, Anglican and Episcopal History


The largest island in a Pacific Ocean chain named "Sandwich" by the English explorer James Cook in the 1770s, Hawai'i is most often referred to as "the big island" today. In three separate voyages, Cook sailed thousands of miles across largely uncharted areas of the globe, mapping lands from New Zealand to Hawai'i in the Pacific Ocean.

Cook was killed in Hawai'i in a fight with native Hawai'ians during his third exploratory voyage in the Pacific in 1779. He left a legacy of scientific and geographical knowledge that has influenced his successors well into the twentieth century. His role in opening areas of the Pacific to colonization and its subsequent effects on indigenous peoples have been the subject of both political and scholarly debate. The spot where Cook landed on the big island is to this day marked with a memorial.

With Cook's exploration party came a chaplain and services of the Church of England. Although viewed suspiciously at first, Anglican presence in Hawai'i became more permanently established in 1862 when King Kamehameha IV and Queen Emma joined the Church of England. Both Queen Emma's grandfather and her mentor were English, and she was raised in an Anglican home. Some thought her English blood made her unfit for the Hawaiian monarchy. That same year, at the age of twenty-six and already queen for six years, she was christened Emma Alexandrina Frances Agnes Louder Byde Rooke Young Kaleleokalani-quite a change from the aboriginal version: Emalani Kalanikaumakaamano Kaleleonälani Na'ea.

The two monarchs supported the Anglican Church throughout the islands with gifts of land, and by founding St. Andrew's Cathedral in Honolulu. Reportedly a fast friend of England's Queen Victoria, Queen Emma also founded a hospital and a girls' school in Honolulu.

Several miles south of the city of Kona on Hawai'i's west coast, Christ Church is the oldest church building in the State of Hawai'i, having been built in 1867. The first vicar, the Reverend Charles Williamson, studied theology, mathematics, and Hebrew at St. Augustine's Missionary College in Canterbury, England. He was also accomplished in carpentry and medicine, and these skills proved as useful to him as theological ones in this cure. On arrival in Honolulu, he was particularly impressed with the ecumenical spirit, as Presbyterians, Methodists, and American Episcopalians all worshipped together.

Shortly afterward, he arrived in the town of Kona, on the west side of big island, and set about planting a church. But he found no happy ecumenical spirit on Hawai'i: no one would sell him land, as the Calvinists exhibited "an unpleasant feeling approaching almost to hatred" against Anglicans.1 Three British expatriates owned land in nearby Kealakekua that had been abandoned to weeds and wild guava; this two-acre parcel they lent to the young vicar. The church was built on the crest of a hill with a view of the ocean, an elevation desirous for comfort, as it was neither as hot as the beach nor as cool as higher climes. Williamson's experience as a carpenter proved invaluable. He reported, "1 am proud to say that fully one-third of the work has been done with my own hands, working beneath a summer tropical sun, with, I thank God, no injury to my constitution."2

Williamson and his two Hawai'ian assistants built a foundation of lava rock, reinforced with ohia logs, a native wood. The church itself was constructed of Douglas fir, which conifer was named for the Scot David Douglas. He had introduced Douglas fir into cultivation in the Pacific Northwest in 1827, and apparently travelled to Hawai'i with saplings. Only the second European to reach the summit of the Mauna Loa volcano, Douglas died in mysterious circumstances in 1834 while climbing the sister volcano Mauna Kea. To this day, a small stand of Douglas fir marks a place known as Ka lua kauka ("Doctor's Pit"), the spot where he died.

Services at Christ Church were conducted even before it was completed. …

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