Head South to the Big Island’s Painted Church


St. Benedict’s Painted Church in South Kona

Back in November we took a trip down to the Big Island of Hawaii. In the middle of my recap the holidays hit and then a number of other trips took priority. I am now revisiting our tales from this bastion of Mother Nature’s beauty and temper at work.

Cruising down Route 11 Dek dropped off to sleep. We had spent another water-filled morning at Kahalu’u Beach Park splashing away and wearing out our little guy. Now it was mom and dad’s turn to explore. Our first stop was an unexpected one but still exciting. We were headed to The Painted Church in South Kona.

St. Benedict Roman Catholic Church is an active parish, but also a historical site, overlooking the Kealakekua Bay. It wasn’t at the top of our list of things to see but we were here, we had a sleeping boy and we figured we might as well make the most of our time. With the engine still running so Dek wouldn’t wake up, Mike and I took turns peeking into this tiny white house of worship to see why it had made it into a guidebook.

It didn’t take long to realize the importance of this structure. The interior was like no church I had ever seen on the mainland. It was not a majestic basilica in Florence or a towering cathedral of France. It was a simple wooden building, much like some of the white wash churches you would see in New England except for one thing. The entire interior was adorned with paintings; floor to ceiling.

The ceiling reflects many of the island’s natural elements

As the church literature states:

This present church was erected in 1899 by Father John Velghe. Without any professional training and using house paint on ordinary wood he beautified the church with his paintings. In those days few Hawaiians could read and so he taught with pictures-most successfully.

Temptation of Jesus

The Handwriting on the Wall at the Feast of King Belshazzar

Cain and Abel

Biblical scenes played out in the side panels. The starry sunset sky glowed brilliantly above us. The altar would make even the least devote want to sit through a Sunday service just to take in the beauty of such a space.

I’m not sure how Dek would have taken to the church. He would have loved the cemetery, but that is only because he would have wanted to touch every headstone, beaded necklace and flower. Inside he might have torn up and down the aisle. Then again, he often surprises me. Maybe he would have just stood on a bench and checked out one of the paintings for a few minutes.

Graveyard sculptures

As I pulled away from the church with a sleeping Dek in the backseat I wondered what other hidden gems the island had to offer. I was glad we had taken this little detour on our drive south. It wasn’t a natural wonder Mother Nature had given us, although she had certainly left her make by aging the paintings quite a bit. It was a little piece of man tucked away for all to see, celebrating the island’s beauty and what wonders it still had in store for us.

The church altar

Know Before You Go

  • The Painted Church, 84-5140 Painted Church Road, Captain Cook, Hawaii
  • Entrance is free, but any donations go to maintaining the church and restoration of the artwork, which is damaged by weather, sun, insects and human visitors each year.
  • Weekly Masses: Tuesday, Thursday and Friday at 7am, Saturday at 4pm and Sunday at 7:15am
  • This is an active church. Be respectful of service times. Visitors are welcome to participate in the services, but don’t walk the aisles just to check out the artwork when services are in session.
  • There are restrooms in an adjacent building that you can access from the outside.

Mass cards, medals and rosaries are available to purchase outside

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Showing 11 comments
  • katespi

    Such a beautiful church. We were there November 2010, and stayed very close by at a VRBO place called “the tropical hideaway”. Wish we were there now!

  • cravesadventure

    What a beautiful place – thanks for sharing!

  • BobR

    Those murals are great.

  • Jade

    I love the painted ceiling! I would love a painted ceiling just like that in my house!!

  • InsideJourneys (@InsideJourneys)

    What a beautiful church! Certainly a priest who thought outside the box. Love it!

  • Country Skipper

    Love the ceiling. It’s beautiful!

  • Dick Jordan

    Will have to make this a stop on my next trip to the Big Island.

  • Leigh McAdam (@hikebiketravel)

    I saw this church when I was on the island years ago – but wasn’t into blogging and couldn’t be bothered to pull out my camera. It may have been drizzling. A nice reminder of how truly lovely it is.

  • Lisa

    What a beautiful surprise to find paintings like that inside such a modest-looking church – I expect most people don’t bother to see it when visiting the Big Island. And the graveyard looks almost as interesting as the church! Great photos!

  • Cheryl Howard

    Really love the ceiling of this church, so very beautiful! <3

  • Nancie M

    These murals are fantastic. It’s always nice to find unexpected surprises like this when you’re out exploring!

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