Historic Churches in Hawaii: Kawaiahao

Kawaiahao Church in Honolulu
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Three historic churches mark the introduction of Christianity to Hawaii. Although all three are near one another in downtown Honolulu, each has a distinct character. Kawaiahao Church is credited with being the first Christian church built on Oahu.

This historic congregational church is listed along with the nearby Mission Houses as a National Historic Landmark. It was designed by the Reverend Hiram Bingham and built between 1836 and 1842. The current building is often referred to as the “Westminster Abbey of the Pacific.” It replaced several earlier structures made of thatched grass and lined with mats. This building was known as the “Stone Church” but it is actually made of giant slabs of coral quarried from ocean reefs. 14,000 thousand pounds of coral rock were quarried from under water by hand, as native Hawaiians dove 10 to 20 feet to chisel the pieces. The coral was raised to the surface and transported by canoe, then hauled to the construction site.

King Kamehameha III contributed generously to the construction of the church and Hawaii royalty often attended services there. For dedication ceremonies on July 21, 1942, the church grounds overflowed with four to five thousand worshippers, according to the church website. Portraits of Hawaii royalty hang on the walls of the upper level of the church, beginning with Kamehameha the Great. Services each Sunday still include prayers and hymns in the Hawaiian language. These are traditional Christian works that were translated into Hawaiian.

The church welcomes visitors to the Sunday services. Following the service, local docents provide tours. The church invites people to move to the wood pews in the front of the church following the service to indicate you are interested in the tour. Photographs and videos are permitted before or after the worship services, but not during.

The Kawaiahao Church was constructed at about the same time as the Roman Catholic Cathedral of Our Lady of Peace. Later, King Kamehameha IV and Queen Emma established the Anglican Cathedral Church of Saint Andrew, which replaced Kawaiahao Church as principal center of royal worship.