Samoa: Christ story told Pacific-style

By Graham Reid

A muscular Joseph and Mary with a frangipani flower adorn the stained-glass windows in the Shrine of the Three Hearts in Samoa. Photo / Graham Reid
A muscular Joseph and Mary with a frangipani flower adorn the stained-glass windows in the Shrine of the Three Hearts in Samoa. Photo / Graham Reid

Samoa is hardly short of a church. To the casual eye, it seems as if each village has its own Catholic, Mormon, Methodist, Assembly of God and whatever else building, many are quite breathtaking. And new ones are being built all the time.

But high above Apia in Vaoala is the Shrine of the Three Hearts, an enormous, airy and beautiful Catholic church with a commanding view of the land below and, on a clear day, the endless blue sea.

Up here, the cooling breezes blow and the immaculately kept building - a striking white with wide open doors on two sides, and built at breathtaking cost by all accounts - is a place for reverence, worship, solitude and some beautiful hymn singing.

And as with Christians everywhere, the Samoan people have made over the images of the Bible in their own style.

Just as there are black Madonnas and a blond Jesus, and nativity paintings where the background is Tuscany or northern European, visitors to the Shrine of the Three Hearts may be struck by how localised the images are in the lovely stained-glass windows.

The holy family features a muscular Joseph, Mary with a frangipani flower behind her ear and a baby Jesus who are Samoan in appearance.

Elsewhere there is a Christ who looks like a stern Pacific warrior, figures at the base of the cross who look familiar from the streets of the villages and towns, a huge wooden cross and Pacific decorations, and painted on another window is woman at a kava bowl and a handsome man being bathed in the light from heaven above.

These images - as with those in Spain or Mexico, Italy or Russia - remind you how malleable the story of Christ can be.

The many and diverse churches of Samoa - often open and welcoming to polite visitors - are the backbone of a nation where faith is taken seriously, and is integrated into daily life.

To understand that is to have better understanding of Samoa and its people.

CHECKLIST

Getting there: Air New Zealand and Air Pacific fly regularly to Samoa.

Further information: For general information on tourism and accommodation in Samoa see samoa.travel.

- NZ Herald

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