San Michel Cathedral

Beez Neez now Chy Whella
Big Bear and Pepe Millard
Wed 12 Jun 2013 22:57
San Michel Cathedral, Rikitea
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Our first trip ashore and the Gendarmerie closed for lunch it seemed very appropriate to visit the cathedral to say thank you for our safe passage, neither of us expected such a beautiful building. Mangareva is the cradle of Polynesian Catholicism. Driven by the Missionary Honore Leval the cathedral of San Michel is a symbol of his single-minded obsession. Laval ordered the construction of dozens of churches as well as the cathedral, a convent and a school. Between 1840 and 1870 hundreds of religious edifices were constructed with only man power and rudimentary tools. The objective was to create a place for God and a religious education for some 4,000 souls. Laval was authoritative and zealous yet profoundly spiritual and was able, with the help of his fellow Priests, to convert the entire population of the Gambier in less than seven years. His rule though was less than benign. If someone disobeyed his wishes, he would simply be excommunicated. Laval had spiritual authority over the Gambier and soon he would also have civil power. He set up a code of law to govern the archipelago that he dictated to King Gregorio (Maputeoa was his given name) which covered everything: laws about foreigners, sales on credit, adultery, theft, blasphemy etc. He even built a prison that was apparently always full. Many of the merchants and sailors sent complaints to the authorities in Tahiti, to such a point that in 1871 the Bishop of Tahiti, asked Laval to leave the Gambier and join him in Tahiti.

Having to leave everything after having suffered thousands of hardships, working so hard to build religious edifices and spending each day beside the Mangarevans - Laval was ripped apart and felt he was being held prisoner in Tahiti. He lamented, "Is this how they repay me for 36 years of missionary work?” 

Laval died in Tahiti in 1880 in sorrow. He is buried in the Mission Cemetery in Papeete despite his wishes to die next to "his Catholics" his ultimate wish was not accorded to him by the Bishop Tepano Jaussen. After Laval's departure in 1871 the population was estimated at 2000; twenty years later, there were only 500 people left in the Gambier. Diseases such as tuberculosis, leprosy and alcoholism brought on the deaths of three quarters of the fragile population.
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Rikitea Rectory across the path from the cathedral is a well-maintained and occupied by the parish priest.



San Michel is constructed of fired limestone, this neo-gothic Catholic church fell into a poorly way until it was renovated.


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We were in awe and surprised at how ornate the interior was.


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The beautiful altar is inlaid with iridescent mother-of-pearl.


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The crucifix adorned with oyster shells.


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Golden Mother and Child.


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Shell ‘curtains’ behind the Lady altar and one of the fancy candelabras.


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So simple but so traditional.


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