Far North District
Northland New Zealand
Postal Code: 0496
|Cemetery notes and/or description:|
St Gabriel's Church is a visually striking expression of Catholic Maori identity, which is linked with the early Catholic conversion of Maori in the Hokianga and the later nineteenth-century activities of the St Joseph's Missionary Society. Erected at Pawarenga in 1899, the timber church occupies a prominent position beside Makora pa overlooking a local marae and the Whangape Harbour. Makora was the birthplace of Te Aupouri iwi, but by the early nineteenth century lay within the territory of Te Uri o Tai hapu of Te Rarawa. Catholicism was adopted by local communities following its promotion by Bishop Jean Baptiste Pompallier (1801-1871), who established New Zealand's earliest Catholic missions in the Hokianga from 1838. The faith took root in the Whangape area under the influence of Tamaho Te Huhu (?1799-1869), ariki of Pawarenga, who had been signatory to the 1835 Declaration of Independence of New Zealand and one of the first Maori converts to be baptised a Catholic. An early church may have been constructed at Pawarenga in the 1880s, initially supported by an itinerant Pakeha priest, James McDonald (1824-1890). Stronger ties with the main body of the Catholic Church were established in the 1890s with the arrival in the Hokianga of the St Joseph's Missionary Society, also known as the Mill Hill Fathers, who were part of a British-based movement to spread Catholicism among indigenous peoples. The Fathers stimulated the construction of several new places of worship in the region as symbols of renewed faith, including at Pawarenga.
St Gabriel's was one of the largest and most expensive of the new churches in the Hokianga to be built by 1900. It was probably opened in October 1899 by Father Jean Baptist Becker (1856-1941), who was a notable figure in the history of Hokianga Catholicism and one of the first two Mill Hill Fathers to arrive in New Zealand in 1886. Surrounded by a small churchyard containing the burial place of Tamaho Te Huhu and others, the church was paid for by its Maori congregation. Its kauri timber is said to have been sawn by the local community, who raised the finance by gum-digging at Waiharera. Erected by Kaitaia flax miller Robert Shannon, the Gothic Revival-influenced building was evidently intended to be landmark, incorporating a prominent tower and bell turret at its north-western end and a canted apse to the southeast. Its graceful interior included diagonally-boarded wainscoting, a boxed pew in the south-western corner of the nave and slender trusses supporting a steeply-gabled roof. A balustraded rail separated the nave from the sanctuary and its associated altar and sacristy.
In 1915, Father Becker settled in Pawarenga, when St Gabriel's became a parish church. A nearby presbytery was erected for his use, which has since been removed or demolished. In the early 1920s, the parish was described as containing 411 Maori and 78 European inhabitants of which half were considered to be Catholic. Following a mass conversion of Catholics from nearby Whangape in 1923 and other expansion, two further churches were opened in the parish. Ongoing burials in St Gabriel's churchyard included that of Kaperiere Te Huhu (?1822-1921), a younger brother of Tamaho Te Huhu, who is considered likely to have been a driving force behind construction of the church building. Widely admired for its substantial aesthetic appeal, the church and its churchyard has remained in regular use by the local community to the present day. Minor modifications have included repairs to the church structure in 1982-1983.
St Gabriel's Church is considered to have outstanding aesthetic significance for its dramatic siting and simplicity of design. The building has architectural significance as one of a group of churches of related appearance, constructed under the influence of the Mill Hill Fathers. One of the earliest Maori churches in the Hokianga still on its original site, St Gabriel's Church is historically significant for reflecting the spread of Catholicism in New Zealand and its close association with Maori in the northern Hokianga. St Gabriel's Church has considerable social and spiritual value, having been used as a place of gathering, worship and commemoration for more than a century.