Cultures Converging at Rangiatea Church

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I'm not necessarily a very religious person. Yes, I was raised as a Catholic, and yes, I have been to the Vatican. But my religiosity doesn't extend all that far.

But I still love churches. Churches are often some of the most architecturally interesting and beautiful buildings you'll find in any city around the world. I've visited my fair share of old, new, rustic and elaborate churches all over the world. But the most unique? It might have to be Rangiatea Church in Otaki, New Zealand.

Rangiatea Church, Otaki, New Zealand

Originally built in 1849, Rangiatea's architecture represents a unique blend of native Maori and English church design. Yes, that's right — there are Maori churches in New Zealand. When Europeans first began colonizing the country, they also began converting the island's native inhabitants to Christianity. But the churches in Maori communities have retained some of their cultural roots.

On the outside, Rangiatea Church looks like any other white-washed wooden church in the world. But on the inside, Maori design and tradition comes alive.

Rangiatea Church, Otaki, New Zealand

The ridge pole of the church was fashioned from a single totara tree, representing the belief in the one true Christian God, while the three central pillars of the church are said to symbolize the Holy Trinity.

The painted design on the rafters is the mangopare, or hammerhead shark pattern, which signifies power and prestige. On the walls, tukutuku panels of intricately woven flax display the purapura whetu, or star seedling pattern, which is said to be based on the Milky Way.

Rangiatea Church, Otaki, New Zealand

This church is unlike any I have ever visited. It's two cultures — European and Maori — converging into one church.

Rangiatea Church, Otaki, New Zealand

The church differs from traditional Maori places of worship, which are often covered in intricate carvings of mythical figures and Maori ancestors. The Christian missionaries considered these carvings to be innappropriate for a house of worship, however (suggesting that carvings of human-like figures could lead to idolatry), which is why the inside of Rangiatea is painted and not hand-carved.

Which only makes it more interesting. I've been on Maori maraes before, which usually consist of buildings covered in amazing carvings and paua shells. But Rangiatea is very different.

Rangiatea Church, Otaki, New Zealand

Sadly, the original church was burned down in 1995. At the time, Rangiatea was 146 years old and the oldest Maori church in New Zealand. Today, the church has been restored almost exactly as it was before it was burned.

Rangiatea Church, Otaki, New Zealand

I would go so far as to say it's one of the most interesting churches I've ever been to.

Have you ever visited any churches that meld Western designs with native ones?


Note: A big thanks to the great folks who take care of Rangiatea Church, for giving me special permission to snap a couple of photos inside.

"It's a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and, if you don't keep your feet, there's no telling where you might get swept off to." - JRR Tolkien

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26 Comments on “Cultures Converging at Rangiatea Church

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  1. There’s a beautiful old church in Grecia, Costa Rica that I found an interesting blend of old and new, both inside and out. The Cathedral de la Mercedes is a gothic style church made from metal pieces. Wish I knew how to attach a picture here…

    Your NZ church pictures are BEAUTIFUL. Love the interior!

      That church in Costa Rica definitely sounds interesting!

      And I’m glad you liked these photos of mine. Thanks for checking them out!

    Because of my background in art history, I love visiting churches and checking out the architecture. This one is really interesting! Thanks for sharing!

      I can understand your interest in churches as someone interested in art history! Most have really good artwork of some sort, even if it’s not expected (like in this example).

    Wonderful! How’s that for unique? It’s great to see the two cultures come together in this church. I’ve been to marae before as well but have never seen anything like this church.

      Definitely unique! And definitely not something you’re likely to find outside of New Zealand. If you end up visiting the Kapiti Coast on your next NZ trip, be sure to stop in to see this church for yourself!

        Absolutely! After all the great things you’ve reported about the Kapiti coast, how could I possibly not. Again, great insider tip!

          Awesome! I’m sure you’ll love the Kapiti Coast, too – especially if you get nice weather like I did.

    Beautiful church beautiful photos. I would be way to intimidated to photograph the inside or should I say to ask if I could. Thank you or posting this. I am always enthralled by your postings.

      Thanks so much, Jen. It helped being a blogger on this NZ trip (and especially on the Kapiti Coast), because everyone was so eager to be helpful! Plus, I think they were so grateful that I asked permission to take photos at Rangiatea instead of just snapping away that they were happy to let me.

    Thanks for this Amanda. This was one of our special sites on the Kapiti Coast I was hoping you would see, and you’ve done a really good job of writing it up and with great photos.

      I was really glad Carla took me there during our day in Otaki. It sounded interesting when it was first suggested to me by Janie, and it definitely did not disappoint!

      Glad to hear you think I’ve done it justice. 🙂

    New Zealand sure has some really pretty churches – particularly ones like this with the Maori interiors. I’ve popped into a few on my way round, and have always been impressed, although, like you, I do sometimes feel a bit weird about taking photos – and often you aren’t allowed to anyway 🙂

      This was the first Maori-Christian church I’d seen in NZ, and I was really impressed.

      And yes, there were signs in Rangiatea prohibiting photography of the inside of the church, but I asked nicely and was allowed to take a few shots since I said I wanted to write about it. The people who take care of the church were lovely.

    Churches present such fantastic photography opportunities, and they provide such a fascinating insight into the local culture. It’s no surprise that Ken Follett fell so in love with them that he wrote two (pretty damn good) books about them, haha

    Surprised that you’re only using a point and shoot. The photos are spectacular.

      Churches always kind of pose a bit of a conundrum to me, though, when it comes to actually photographing the interiors. I feel weird doing it in most churches. Almost like I’m peeking in on something private and trying to snap a picture of it. But, in this case, I knew I had to show just how unique this church is!

      And yup, just a point and shoot! Thanks for the compliment, though. 🙂 I really do love taking photos.

    Wonderful pictures of a beautiful church. I really want to get into some photography and I was wondering what kind of camera you could recommend on a 500$ budget?

      Thanks, Leif! This church was so cool.

      As for photography, I am DEFINITELY no pro. I just use my Canon point-and-shoot (it’s a PowerShot SX210 IS), which has a few more bells and whistles than most compact cameras, but still fits in my pocket. I paid around $200 for it. There are so many good cameras to choose from, though. It depends what you’re looking for — if you want something that will fit in your pocket, you can easily spend less than $500 on something good. But if you want to do it right with lenses and expensive bodies, you’ll be hard-pressed to find anything for under $500, and I really wouldn’t know where to tell you to start!

      For $500 you essentially have three choices. You can go in at the very low end of the SLR market – $500 would get you a basic starter kit from Canon, comprising an SLR body and a fairly standard lens. You could then upgrade the lenses later if you felt you needed it. The advantages to this are the flexibility further down the line – the disadvantage is that you may end up needing to upgrade the body at some point and so have wasted your money. Additionally, an SLR can be a fairly bulky bit of kit to carry around.

      Next up, you could get something like the Canon Powershot G12 (sorry, I shoot with Canon, other brands are available ;)) which comes with many of the benefits of a larger sized camera, in terms of optics and image quality, and is probably easier to use. For your money, you could get something at the upper end of this style of camera.

      Finally, you could go for something in the standard point and shoot area. For travel photography, you may find that this sort of thing is perfect – often cameras can be found which are waterproof, rugged, can do video as well as stills, and even GPS tag your photos. You’d struggle to spend as much as $500 in this area, as the market is so competitive.

      Hope this helps a bit. You need to decide how seriously you are planning to take your photography and then buy accordingly 🙂

        I’m using the 20x optical zoom Canon SX is 10 and looking at going to the SXis30 to get 35 times optical. I don’t want to go to DSLR with the extra lenses and having to carry all that around. The SXis10 fits in a baggy jacket pocket and the SXis30 will also but gives that extra zoom to get good bird pics.
        Gee the choice of point and shoots is amazing these days.
        To help anyone make achoice try this site and browse the camera models and the reviews from users. Really helpful.

      I use the Canon G 11 (the slightly older version of the G 12 that Laurence mentioned). It was recommended to me by a couple photographers. It cost me $480 with tax, and that came with a small kit, like a bag, tripod, etc. It’s great, but you have to spend a little time getting to know its options. I love it, mostly because I didn’t want to spend a lot of money and I can’t carry around any large equipment because I travel with my kids and have to carry around their crap.

    I’m not super religious, but I still like ducking into churches on my travel. I always take a moment to take a seat, say a quick prayer and just feel uber grateful for the life that I’ve been given–one where I can see beautiful churches all over the world! I’ve also found that churches are often a great–and free–escape when it’s super hot outside or raining or you’re just sick of walking…never hurts to take a seat and reflect a bit in a beautiful surrounding. Love this church–so unexpected inside!

      It’s always good to take a moment to reflect and be thankful for what you have, regardless of what religion you do (or do not) believe in. And you’re right — churches are usually free and a great way to escape the heat, rain, or travel fatigue!

      I’ll admit that, upon seeing the outside of this church, I was confused as to why I was going to see it. But my jaw just about hit the floor as soon as I walked inside! It’s so pretty.

    great images – thanks.

      Thanks, Wayne! I had to get special permission to take photos inside the church, so I’m glad you like them!

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