The Star of the Sea Painted Church is located in the Puna District on the Big Island of Hawaii. The Star of the Sea Churchis also known as Kalapana “Painted Church”. Located near the end of Hwy 130 in Kalapana, this 85-year-old wooden church is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and has survived many earthquakes, tsunami threats, volcanic eruptions, and lava flows.
The Painted Church is very unique. Outwardly, it looks like a cute little local church and you can't see how amazing it really is. Inside, however, the walls and ceiling is covered in well-preserved, beautiful hand-painted murals and paintings. The colors are vibrant and the paintings tell a fascinating story.
History of the Paintings
The church was built in 1928 by Father Evarist Matthias Gielen, a Belgian Catholic priest. The church was constructed in the colonial revival architectural style— a style that was very typical for wooden churches built in Hawaii during the missionary era. Father Gielen painted the upper portion of the church interior. His beautiful paintings cover the vaulted ceiling, across the central nave, also above the altar and the portico area. These paintings depict various scenes and religious characters from the Catholic Book of Catechism. Supposedly, Father Gielen did all his artwork at night by the light of an oil lamp.
The lower part of the church was painted in 1941, by an artist named George Heidler. His paintings cover the wooden panels along the aisles on both sides of the church, as well as the altar area. Heidler's paintings tell the life story of another Belgian priest, Father Damien De Veuster, who came to Kalapana in 1864 to begin missionary work until 1873 when he went to the Island of Molokai to oversee a leprosy colony. (more about Father Damien)
In 1949, Father Joseph Edward Avery, another pastor of the Star of the Sea Church, commissioned George Lorch, an artist from Hilo to do a series of murals or frescos, adding to the existing panels. George Lorch’s style of painting was more detail oriented, with a flair for trompe l’oeil (an optical illusion) that created a three-dimensional look. Many of the murals done by George Lorch have Scriptural text painted on them—all in the Hawaiian language. 1
Escaping the Lava Flow
The Painted Church was originally built on the shoreline of Kaimu Black Sand Beach. This beach was famous for the fine black sand and lush coconut palms that lined the picturesque Kaimu Bay.
In 1990, the Pu'u O'o -Kupaainaha eruption from Kilauea sent lava advancing down the slope toward Kaimu Black Sand Beach. The eruption burned a fiery path of destruction through Kalapana village. After much debate and in a last minute effort to save the church, local officials and parishioners decided to move it to a safe location. The whole structure was lifted off its foundation and placed on a trailer truck.
Thanks to the dramatic rescue of the Painted Church and its unique, irreplaceable artwork was saved. If the move of the church had no been made, it would have been destroyed and buried under lava.
As a Wedding Venue
The Star of the Sea Painted Church offers a unique location for small weddings. Maximum capacity is 44 people, but smaller weddings would probably fit better. It is a beautiful church but the murals give the illusion that it is bigger than it is.
The aisle between the pews is fairly narrow and does not allow for two people to walk side by side (in case that matters to you).