Graham Reid | | 2 min read
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
of them are quite breathtaking. And new ones are being built all the
But high above Apia in Vaoala is the
Shrine of the Three Hearts, an enormous, airy and very beautiful
Catholic church with a commanding view of the land below and, on a
clear day, the endless blue sea under a warm sky.
Up here the cooling breezes blow and
the immaculately kept building – a striking white with wide open
doors on two sides, and built at equally 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 symbols and images of the Bible in
their own style.
Just as there are images of a black
Madonnas and a blond Jesus, and nativity paintings where the
background is clearly Tuscany or Northern European, visitors to the
Shrine of the Three Hearts may be struck by how localised the images
are in the lovely stain-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. Around them are gathered a dove, a
sheep (so far so good), a rooster and a pig, the latter two being
familiar local animals (and one of them a damned annoyance as it
crows throughout the night).
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 massive
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 as people wish to see themselves in the narrative.
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 in to
daily life. To understand that is to have better understanding of
Samoa and its people.
For other travel stories by Graham Reid, see here for his two award-winning travel books.