Catholic missionaries, in the form of French Marists, came to the Ile des Pins in 1848. Earlier Protestant arrivals (1841) were either eaten or fled the island.
By 1860 the Marists, under the leadership of Father Goujon, had managed to convert most of the islanders to Catholicism and a substantial church was needed. Luckily for Father Goujon, by this time the Ile des Pins had become a French penal colony, something that worked to the church’s advantage. The colony administrators provided Father Goujon with a steady supply of free labour, the convicts, to build his church, Notre-Dame de l’Assomption or in more common parlance the Mission Church, at Vao in 1860. The village followed the church.
The convicts were no friends of the church and had I had time to visit the Deportees Cemetery (Cimetière des Déportés) near Kuto I would have seen that the graves of 200 later deportees from the Paris Commune, who died in exile and were buried there between 1870 and 1880, lack headstones or other religious trappings, specifically at the request of the convicts.
As you make your way up the small incline to the church you will notice a very ornate iron cross. This was added in 1903 and is well worth a close look.
To the right of the church is a rather picturesque presbytery the entrance of which is flanked by two ornately carved totem polls. Nearby are the church’s two bells, the larger of which is marked Bollee & Ses Fils. Bollee was an accomplished 19th century French bell maker and inventor of steam cars. I suspect the smaller and less ornate of the two bells is a later addition or replacement.
Unfortunately, due preparations for a funeral service taking place when we visited, we were unable to see the inside of the church. From pictures I have seen elsewhere the panelled ceiling made from all the different timbers found on the island is the stand-out feature in an otherwise relatively plain and simple building.
This blog entry is one of a group (loop) of entries based on my trip to Ile des Pins, New Caledonia. I suggest you continue with my next entry – Art In The Pacific – or to start the loop at the beginning go to my introductory entry – No Hurries, No Worries.