A longstanding historic landmark built over 170 years ago with the hands of over 1000 men with a unique interior of both Maori and European design but also a sad history stands the Rangiatea Church in Otaki on the Kapiti Coast.
Formally one of New Zealand’s oldest Maori Anglican churches, Rangiatea church was originally built in 1851 under the leadership of Chief Te Rauparaha and the Anglican missionary Octavius Hadfield (one of the first priests to be ordained in New Zealand).
After missionaries arrived in New Zealand in the 19th century and around the time when large numbers of Maori began converting to Christianity, missionaries were without the manpower nor materials to build their own churches and thus relied upon Maori to build houses of worship. As a result a lot of early churches incorporated elements of Romanesque architecture and elements of Maori art and architecture to produce new and striking styles.
Prior to the construction of Rangiatea church, Chief Te Rauparaha had returned from Australia where he saw large churches being built and challenged Chief Te Pohotiraha, (whom was also the guardian of sacred soil bought to New Zealand by Maori when migration occurred from Polynesia in 1350)
The challenge was accepted and some of that soil was taken and buried under the alter of Rangiatea.
Before construction began, huge totara logs had to be floated down the rivers at Ohau and Waikawa, north of Otaki. One of these logs became the ridgepole (the timber laid along the ridge of the roof) signifying one true God, while the other three logs were used a central pillars signifying the Holy Trinity. More totara was used for form the rest of the rafters (painted with Kowhaiwhai patterns) pillars and wall slabs while native flax, reed and supplejack (an endemic vine) were used for the intricate Tukutuku panelling. Even the curved sanctuary railing was carved in Maori design with each post featuring a different design. At the time, stylised figures were not used because they were deemed to be offensive to some Europeans in a place of worship. However, six demigods were included in a pulpit installed in 1950. Window fenestration and the flooring were completed by English carpenters.
The church was eighty feet long, thirty-six wide and forty high accommodating up to 900 people and services began in 1849 before construction was completed.
Extensive restorations were completed through its history starting in 1886. In 1911 buttresses were added to the exterior of the church and the shingled roof was replaced with a corrugated one.
As one of the last of the whare style churches in the country at the time, tragedy struck when an arsonist (deemed a Maori radical) burned the church to the ground in October 1995.
It took years for the church and parish to decide whether to rebuild and in what form, but in 2003 following consultation and with funds raised by the community the decision to reconstruct the church from the original plans using the same traditional method and materials was made, although with added sprinklers for protection. It was built on its former site at an estimated cost of around 3 million and opened its doors again to the public November 2003.