Kawaiahao Church in downtown Honolulu is widely known as the “Westminster Abbey of the Pacific.” Dedicated in 1842, this history-laden church is one of the most beloved structures in all of Hawaii.
The church itself traces its origin to 1820. On April 23rd, just three days after the first contingent of Christian missionaries arrived on Oahu, the Reverend Hiram Bingham gave his first sermon on Hawaiian soil. One of the Bible passages he shared was from the Book of Luke: “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.”
The missionaries endured an arduous five-month journey from Boston, Massachusetts. Their trip was inspired by Henry Opukahaia, a Hawaiian convert who studied at Cornwall Mission School in Connecticut. It was Opukahaia’s dream to bring Christianity to the Hawaiian people. He never got to see his dream realized, however; he died of typhus in 1818, at the age of 26.
The congregation’s initial houses of worship consisted of four huts made from pili grass. Finally, in 1836, King Kamehameha III called a meeting of chiefs to develop plans for a new stone church. Bingham himself contributed to the design. Construction work began a year later.
It took five years and the labor of more than a thousand men to build the church. They collected wood from their own lands and hand-carried coral reef rocks from the ocean. It’s estimated that more than 14,000 stones were used, including a half-ton boulder cut from a ledge in Waianae and brought to the island’s southern coast by canoe.
Many members of Hawaiian royalty are a part of the church’s rich history. It was at Kawaiahao Church in 1843 that Kamehameha III uttered the phrase that would become Hawaii’s official motto: “Ua mau ke ea o ka aina I ka pono” (“The life of the land is perpetuated in righteousness”). The church was also the site of King Kamehameha IV’s coronation as well as his wedding to Queen Emma.
Today, Kawaiahao remains one of the few remaining churches in Hawaii to offer services in the Hawaiian language. The church is listed on both the State and National Registers of Historic Places.
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