Stories
A unique window into St Faith’s
September 26, 2023 | Stories
The image of Karaiti (Christ) wearing a korowai with taniko-woven borders is positioned in such a way that Karaiti appears to be walking across the waters of Lake Rotorua.

By Niki Partsch 

ŌHINEMUTU ROTORUA: A beautiful and unique feature of this often-frequented house of worship has undergone a recent conservation clean, bringing the shine back to this much-admired glass artwork. 

This story features in our Reporter Reads series:

Listed in 2017 as a Wāhi tūpuna, St Faith’s Anglican Church is built on land gifted by Ngāti Whakaue at Ōhinemutu on the shore of Lake Rotorua. It sits between Tamatekapua, the whare tupuna (ancestral meeting house), and Muruika, the Soldier's Cemetery.   

Occupied for over 400 years, the depth of history in and around Ōhinemutu is of great importance to Ngāti Whakaue and other Te Arawa hapū.  

St Faith’s rich Māori interior style is attributed to Frederick Augustus Bennett, the first Māori Bishop of Aotearoa New Zealand. Following his death in 1950, he was interred beneath the sanctuary.  

Like the nearby whare tūpuna, the interior is supported with carved pou (pillars) and lined with beautifully woven tukutuku panels. The church pews, altar, and internal framing are also adorned with whakairo, and there are painted kōwhaiwhai patterns on friezes around the church and the rafters in the Galilee Chapel. Many skilled local whānau including tohunga whakairo (master carvers) Tene Waitere and Te Wheoro Poni contributed their time and effort to this work.  

One of the most photographed features in St Faith’s Church is in the Galilee Chapel. Margaret Lesley Martin (nee Sewell) designed the image of Jesus wearing a korowai with tāniko-woven borders. The image was then etched into glass by Ian McPhee who worked for Johnson Glass in Auckland and placed into a north facing window.  

This depiction has been enjoyed by many thousands of people since it was included as part of the church extensions in 1966. It is positioned in such a way that Jesus appears to be walking across the waters of Lake Rotorua.   

During late autumn, our Kaiwhakahaere Tautiaki Taonga and Kaupapa Māori, Ellen Andersen, and Jim Schuster, Pouārahi Traditional Arts, completed a careful conservation clean of the etched window.    

“The church is filled with so many types of taonga, and although this window is just one component of the church, it took quite some time to plan this work,” says Ellen. 

“The treatment process was slow and detailed, but it is a real privilege to assist in the care of a place like St Faith’s.”  

Te Hāhi o te Whakapono / St Faith's Anglican Church Ōhinemutu courtesy of itravelNZ (Flickr)
Te Hāhi o te Whakapono / St Faith's Anglican Church Ōhinemutu (List No. 9705) courtesy of AMCSviatko (Flickr)

For a time, there were two churches sitting side by side. The earlier building was Te Hahi o Te Whakapono - The Church of the Faith, which was built in the mid 1800s and later moved to make way for the current building. It continued to be used as a Sunday School and a church hall until it was destroyed by ‘The Great Storm’ in the summer of 1936. The storm was in fact an unnamed tropical cyclone which bought high winds and extreme flooding causing loss of life and severe damage across the country.    

Designed by architect E. La Trobe Hill, the exterior of the later build, St Faith’s, is Elizabethan in style with Gothic detailing and Victorian filigree ironwork. The style aligns with other new builds in the Rotorua area during the early 1900s. The later extensions of the east and west chapels were designed by architect G. Lane.    

A variety of windows have been used including Tudor, arched, lancet and rose. One stained glass window has a pare kawakawa (green fern frond), a traditional Māori symbol of mourning, and a cross which commemorates those who died in the First and Second World Wars.   

St Faith’s church has become a place of great significance to the Anglican diocese of Aotearoa, its parishioners, the people of Ōhinemutu, and the descendants of those who founded the church.  

Kaitiaki Ann Somerville is pleased with the outcome, saying, "It’s a privilege to be a kaitiaki of this beautiful church. Such a pleasure to watch Ellen and Jim at work."

New Zealand Heritage List/Rārangi Kōrero
Te Hāhi o te Whakapono / St Faith's Anglican Church
Partsch, Niki (author)

Niki Partsch | Kaitohutohu Whanake - Māori Heritage Advisor
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