Located in the south Kona district, overlooking the historic Kealakekua Bay, is the conventionally named St. Benedict Roman Catholic Church. Originally built in 1842 in Kapalua, and then moved to its current location around 1880, this beloved site is known by locals and guests alike as simply the Painted Church of South Kona.
The church’s own industrious Belgian priest Father John Berchamns Velghe is responsible for painting the 3D depictions from the Bible and the lives of the saints all over the interior of the sanctuary’s walls. This physical depiction of Biblical tales was immensely helpful in teaching lessons to churchgoers who were unable to read the scriptures for themselves.
Amazingly, Father John was not only responsible for the artistic depictions but also the building of the church itself. Add to this, the fact that Father John achieved this without any professional training and through the use of ordinary house paint on ordinary wood, and the site is that much more impressive to behold.
Interestingly enough, there are two painted churches that call the Big Island home, the second also being located in Kalapana. It is called the Star of the Sea painted church. It was built later than the original and then moved in 1990 to save the impressive construction from an advancing lava flow. It is now located on Highway 130 between mile markers 19 and 20. The jewel of south Kona, though, the original painted church is located 40 to 45 minutes outside downtown Kona and can be accessed via Hwy 160.
Visiting the painted church of Kona is a great way to spend some time on the Big Island. Aside from the scenic drive, you will enjoy getting to the site, the church is also located near two of the best snorkeling sites on the island, Captain Cook and Two Steps. It is also in close proximity to Pu’uhonua o Honaunau National Historic Park.
Meaning “place of refuge,” Pu’uhonua o Honaunau National Historic Park is aptly named as it was the site visited by Hawaiians who either broke the law and fled in an effort to avoid punishment or for warriors to go who were defeated in battle. The park also contains many interesting archeological sites, including temple platforms, royal fishponds, and the Hale o Keawe, a reconstructed Hawaiian temple.
Visiting both the park and the painted church makes a great day of adventure and enjoyment of the rich cultural and historical underpinnings of the area. You can also gain easy access while in the area to Kona Coffee Living History Farm, which is another noteworthy, interesting stop. This is the nation’s only living history coffee farm in existence and the farm is open to explore with an admission fee.
Visiting the painted church on the Big Island along with these other sites is a great way to spend a day in the area. The church interestingly enough is still hosting Mass services, so you can even come for mass if you would like while visiting the beautiful site. Of course, even if you just want to pursue the interior and appreciate the breathtaking art that is displayed all over the interior of the building, it is still worth a visit.
While visiting, put yourself back generations prior when Hawaiians were not likely to know how to read and image them learning the miracles outlined in the scriptures from the colorful artistic renderings of the incredibly talented yet untrained Father John. It’s also worth noting that the pristine white outside exterior of the church is also a beautiful site set against the tropical backdrop of the tropical Hawaiian paradise. Therefore, the site is worth visiting for sure!
-This quaint hillside structure, surrounded by a tropical garden features the painted church of Kona.
-Catholic songs are played with a guitar and ukulele instead of a traditional organ during services.