St Gabriel's Church (Catholic)

Warawara Forest Road, Pawarenga

  • St Gabriel's Church (Catholic), Pawarenga. View looking northwest with Makora pa topped by Te Aupouri obelisk to the left.
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand. Taken By: Stuart Park. Date: 23/08/2004.
  • St Gabriel's Church (Catholic), Pawarenga.
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand. Taken By: Stuart Park. Date: 23/08/2004.
  • St Gabriel's Church (Catholic), Pawarenga. Scissor trusses and high altar, with sacristy behind, looking southeast.
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand. Taken By: Stuart Park. Date: 23/08/2004.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 1 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 76 Date Entered 27th June 2008

Locationopen/close

Extent of List Entry

Extent includes the land described as Pt Pakinga B No 1 Blk (CT NA388/38), North Auckland Land District and the building and grave markers known as St Gabriel's Church thereon, and their fittings and fixtures. (Refer to map in Appendix 1 for further information).

City/District Council

Far North District

Region

Northland Region

Legal description

Pt Pakinga B No 1 Blk (CT NA388/38), North Auckland Land District

Location description

St Gabriel's Church (Catholic) is located on a rise a short distance to the west of Warawara Forest Road approximately 500 m south of its junction with Pawarenga Road.

Summaryopen/close

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.

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

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.

AESTHETIC SIGNIFICANCE OR VALUE:

St Gabriel's Church has outstanding aesthetic significance for its elegance, high visibility and spectacular location.

ARCHITECTURAL SIGNIFICANCE OR VALUE:

St Gabriel's Church has architectural significance as one of a group of churches of related design, constructed under the influence of the Mill Hill Fathers. It can be considered especially significant as one of the earliest Maori Catholic churches in the northern Hokianga still on its original site and as one of the best-preserved early Maori Catholic churches in the Hokianga region.

SOCIAL SIGNIFICANCE OR VALUE:

St Gabriel's Church has considerable social value as a place of gathering for over a hundred years.

SPIRITUAL SIGNIFICANCE OR VALUE:

St Gabriel's Church has considerable spiritual value, having been used as a place of worship and other religious activity for over a hundred years.

(a) The extent to which the place reflects important or representative aspects of New Zealand history:

St Gabriel's Church has important connections with the development of Catholicism in New Zealand, including the influence of Maori converts and the promotion of church-building by Pakeha missionaries. It is linked with international developments in the spread of the Catholic faith, particularly in the British Empire and other colonised lands. It is important for reflecting the north Hokianga's role as an early centre for the Catholic faith.

(b) The association of the place with events, persons, or ideas of importance in New Zealand history:

St Gabriel's Church is closely associated with prominent individuals in the region, including Tamaho and Kaperiere Te Huhu and Father John Baptist Becker.

(d) The importance of the place to the tangata whenua:

The siting of the building in an elevated position on Taiao Hill above the local marae, reflects the importance of the place to tangata whenua. The place has considerable significance to tangata whenua for its association with traditional religious identity and its commemoration of many members of the local community including notable ancestors.

(e) The community association with, or public esteem for the place:

St Gabriel's Church embodies a strong sense of communal pride and identity, reflected in its ongoing upkeep and use. It is also a building much admired by the wider New Zealand community.

(f) The potential of the place for public education:

As a local gathering place, the building has some potential for public education about the history of local tangata whenua and the development of Catholicism in the northern Hokianga.

(g) The technical accomplishment or value, or design of the place:

The church is much admired for its aesthetic and distinctive design, which includes its striking bell tower and apse, and timber interior.

(h) The symbolic or commemorative value of the place:

St Gabriel's Church and its churchyard have commemorative value for marking the resting place of numerous ancestors of local people.

(k) The extent to which the place forms part of a wider historical and cultural complex or historical and cultural landscape:

The building forms part of a broader historical and cultural landscape that includes Makora pa and a monument to the birthplace of Te Aupouri. In the broader context, the church is one of five churches visible in the Whangape Harbour and Pawarenga valley landscape.

SUMMARY OF SIGNIFICANCE OR VALUES:

This place was assessed against, and found it to qualify under the following criteria: a, b, d, e, f, g, h, k.

CONCLUSION:

It is considered that this place qualifies as a Category I historic place because:

-it has outstanding aesthetic significance for its elegance, high visibility and spectacular location;

-it is special as one of the earliest Maori Catholic churches in the northern Hokianga still on its original site and as one of the best-preserved early Maori Catholic churches in the Hokianga region;

-it has important links with the development of Catholicism in New Zealand, and the north Hokianga's role as an early centre for the Catholic faith;

-it is closely associated with prominent individuals in the region, including Tamaho and Kaperiere Te Huhu and Father Jean Baptist Becker.

Linksopen/close

Construction Professionalsopen/close

Shannon, Robert

No biography is currently available for this construction professional

Additional informationopen/close

Historical Narrative

Erected in 1899, St Gabriel's Church is a visually striking expression of Catholic Maori identity overlooking Whangape Harbour from an elevated position beside Makora pa. Makora was the birthplace of Te Aupouri iwi, but lay within the territory of Te Uri o Tai hapu of Te Rarawa by the early nineteenth century. Catholicism took root there under the influence of Tamaho Te Huhu (?1799-1869), ariki of Pawarenga. Tamaho Te Huhu was one of the first Maori converts in New Zealand to be baptised in the Catholic faith and was a signatory to the 1835 Declaration of the Independence of New Zealand. Catholicism was actively promoted in the region by Bishop Jean Baptiste Pompallier (1801-1871), who established New Zealand's earliest Catholic missions in the Hokianga from 1838, before moving to Kororareka in 1839.

An early church may have been built at Pawarenga in the 1880s, when support for Maori catechists in the Hokianga region, such as Te Huhu's younger brother Kaperiere (Gabriel) (?1822-1921), was provided by an itinerant Pakeha priest James McDonald (1824-1890). Ordained in Dublin, McDonald was closely associated with Bishop Pompallier and subsequently became vicar-general for Maori in the Auckland diocese, a responsibility later adjusted to encompass a reduced area north of Auckland. More substantial ties between outlying areas such as Pawarenga and the main body of the Catholic Church were established in the 1890s with the arrival of the St Joseph's Missionary Society. Also known as the Mill Hill Fathers, the Society was part of a British-based movement to spread Catholicism among indigenous peoples and the underprivileged, with missions in America (1871), India (1875), Pakistan (1876) and elsewhere. The first two Fathers in New Zealand, one of whom was John Baptist Becker (1856-1941), arrived in the country in 1886. Becker was active north of Auckland from 1890-1891. By 1900, several new churches in the Hokianga had been built as symbols of renewed faith, of which one of the largest and most expensive was St Gabriel's.

Surrounded by a small churchyard containing the burial place of Tamaho Te Huhu and others, the timber church was erected by Robert Shannon, a flax miller from Kaitaia. Paid for by its Maori congregation, its kauri components are also said to have been sawn by the local community, who raised the finance by gum-digging at Waiharera. The building was evidently intended to be a prominent landmark within the landscape, looking out across the Whangape harbour towards Mehopa (also known as Mesopotamia) where several Anglican churches were erected. Incorporating a tall tower and bell turret at its north-western end and a canted apse at the southeast, it was strongly influenced by Gothic Revival design and bore close similarities to other churches influenced or built by the Mill Hill Fathers at the turn of the century. Its graceful interior included diagonally-boarded wainscoting, a boxed pew in the south-western corner of the nave and slender scissor trusses supporting a steeply-gabled roof. A balustraded rail separated the nave from the sanctuary and its associated altar and sacristy.

The church may have been opened by Father Becker in the last week of October 1899, having been described the previous month as near completion. St Gabriel's became a parish church in 1915, when Becker settled in Pawarenga. A timber presbytery was built on land adjoining the church in the same year. This was occupied until 1956 and subsequently removed or demolished. Father Becker himself remained the parish priest until 1921. Ongoing burials in the churchyard included that of Kaperiere Te Huhu, who may have been a driving force behind construction of the church and who died in the same year as Father Becker's departure.

During the 1920s, Catholic activity in the parish appears to have expanded. In a schedule completed by Father Becker, possibly in the early part of the decade, the parish is described as having 411 Maori and 78 European inhabitants of which half were considered to be Catholic. Noted for his interest in promoting Catholicism in rural districts, Bishop Henry Cleary (1859-1929) visited the church in 1920, when he confirmed 54 children. In 1923, leading members of Ngati Haua hapu of Whangape were received into the Catholic Church at Pawarenga after a disagreement with their Anglican leader. New places for worship were built elsewhere in the parish including at St Peter's Church, Whangape (1925) and Our Lady of the Lourdes at Rotokahi (1927). A school and convent at Pawarenga were also erected in 1927.

In the 1950s, paintings depicting the Stations of the Cross were hung in the interior, and are believed to have been created by an early twentieth-century Dutch artist. Some reblocking of the subfloor may also have occurred. The church was repaired with community support in 1982-1983, when electricity was also installed. The reopening mass held at the church on 3 January 1984 was attended by about 500 people.

In recent years, St Gabriel's Church has been the subject of much admiration from the wider New Zealand community for its aesthetic appeal, based on its dramatic siting and the simplicity of its design. Artists attracted to the church have included the celebrated photographer, Robin Morrison (1944-1993). In 1991, St Gabriel's was described in a seminal work

The church and its churchyard remain in regular use by its congregation and the local community. The church building is one of the earliest Maori Catholic churches in the northern Hokianga still on its original site, and is one of the best-preserved early Maori Catholic churches in the Hokianga region.

Physical Description

St Gabriel's Church, is one of five churches visible in the Whangape Harbour and Pawarenga valley landscape, in the northern Hokianga. It is prominently located on a ridge on Taiao Hill, overlooking a marae and the Whangape Harbour. The building, adjoining the site of Makora pa, is set in a relatively open landscape against a backdrop of hills, estuary, cabbage trees and Macrocarpas . An obelisk on the pa marks the birthplace of Te Aupouri iwi. The church building is surrounded by a rectangular churchyard, which contains numerous grave markers. Most of these are of stone, although some are of timber. They include markers to Tamaho Te Huhu, Kaperiere Te Huhu and other significant individuals. Many of the inscriptions are in te reo Maori.

The rectangular building, constructed of local kauri, is comprised of three sections. A canted apse, attached to one end of the building, accommodates a small sacristy. At the other end of the church is an elegant octagonal turret and bell tower, at the base of which is the main door to the building and a small entrance vestibule. . Timber buttresses divide the main body of the 12.2m x 6.7m (40' x 22') building into five bays, which encompass the nave. Gothic Revival influences are evident in the church's pointed-arch windows and main entrance doorway. The sacristy and belfry, the latter until recently topped by a large cross, mark the church out as a distinctively Catholic structure.

The church sits on a three-layered concrete block base on a reinforced concrete footing. It is has vertical board and batten cladding and a corrugated iron roof. The belfry is sheathed in copper.

Internally, the church is lined with wide tongue and groove kauri boards. The nave incorporates a wainscote of diagonally arranged timbers and a boxed pew of similar design in its south-western corner. The church doors, set within pointed-arch frames, are also panelled with diagonal boards. Slender scissor trusses support the roof. The triangular archway to the apse incorporates trefoil timber tracery.

A turned balustrade delineates the sanctuary area and has a rectangular timber post on either side of its central opening. On the lower step of the high altar is a simpler altar that was added in 1983, and which is in use today. Large paintings of the Stations of the Cross hang on the side walls. The simple timber pews are of open design with an angled rail for a back-rest. Apart from the central aisle and the area around the altar, which are carpeted, the timber floors consist of exposed kauri boards.

Notable Features

Registration covers the structure, its fixtures and finishes. It also includes recent modifications. The building is associated with buried archaeological deposits.

Construction Dates

Other
-
Possible earlier church on the site and early grave markers

Original Construction
1899 -
Construction of church

Modification
-
Some timber piles replaced by mass concrete blocks

Modification
1982 - 1983
Reblocking on reinforced concrete footing Bottom plate replaced Roof, spouting and ridging replaced. Electricity provided.

Modification
1982 - 1983
Replacement of rotten timber in exterior walls, buttresses and floors Replacement of bottom plates

Construction Details

Timber, with concrete footings and corrugated iron roof. The belfry roof is of copper.

Completion Date

25th June 2008

Report Written By

Martin Jones, Joan McKenzie and Stuart Park

Information Sources

Anon.

Anon.

The Story of Mill Hill in New Zealand 1886-1966, Putaruru, 1966

Morrison, 1994

Robin Morrison, A Journey: Twenty Five Black and White Photographs of Churches and Sites in the Northland Area of New Zealand, Auckland, 1994

Shaw, 1991

Peter Shaw, New Zealand Architecture: From Polynesian Beginnings to 1990, Auckland, 1991

Simmons, 1982

E.R. Simmons, In Cruce Salus: A History of the Diocese of Auckland 1844-1980, Auckland, 1982

Historic Places in New Zealand

Historic Places in New Zealand

Anne Herbert, 'A Community Renaissance', No.6, September 1984, pp.13-14

King, 1997

Michael King, God's Farthest Outpost - A History of Catholics in New Zealand. Penguin Books, Auckland, 1997.

Porter, 1983 (2)

Frances Porter (ed.), Historic Buildings of New Zealand: North Island (2nd edn.), Auckland, 1983

Other Information

A fully referenced registration report is available from the NZHPT Northern Region office.

Please note that entry on the New Zealand Heritage List/Rarangi Korero identifies only the heritage values of the property concerned, and should not be construed as advice on the state of the property, or as a comment of its soundness or safety, including in regard to earthquake risk, safety in the event of fire, or insanitary conditions.