On the island of Mangareva in the heart of the Gambier Islands, stands the impressive cathedral of Saint Michel of Rikitea. Visit the interior and admire the mother-of-pearl decoration. The unique architecture of this 19th century religious building displays a different aspect of Polynesian history.

The arrival of catholic missionaries in Mangareva had an immense impact on the island. The most obvious evidence of this is St Michel Cathedral. Completed in just two years, the cathedral was inaugurated in 1841 and the two bell-towers were added in 1847 and 1848. This imposing religious edifice is built of coral stone covered with lime. The face of the building is whitewashed with red trimming and the interior has 18 ochre columns which support the vault. Cross the central nave and you can admire the mother of pearl marquetry in a flower design on the altar. The pulpit is also decorated with incrusted mother-of-pearl flowers and the teeth of sperm whales.

A religous tour of Mangareva

St Michel Cathedral is a Roman style building 150 feet long, 18 wide and 21 high. The cathedral was restored in 2011 and is now classed among the historical buildings of French Polynesia. In the cathedral’s basement lie the remains of Père Caret, a French missionary. The cathedral is an architectural masterpiece that is well worth visiting and its restoration brought a second lease of life to the parish of Rikitea on the island of Mangareva.

As well as the cathedral, there are several other religious buildings in the Gambier Islands, such as the churches of Notre Dame de la Paix and Saint Gabriel. Notre Dame in Akamaru is a site of pilgrimage in honor of the Virgin Mary and a mess is held here each year, attended by catholics from all over The Islands of Tahiti. Saint Gabriel is on the island of Taravai and is the most recent of the churches built in the Gambier Islands.

Other places of worship

There are places of worship all over French Polynesia . You’ll come across temples, churches and cathedrals as you travel round the islands. Religion of one kind or another has always been a major part of Tahitian culture, even well before the arrival of the first missionaries.

There are religious buildings dedicated to the Christian God in all the islands. Some of them are catholic and others protestant. And of course, there are also the vestiges of religious sites dedicated to other gods throughout French Polynesia. These are the marae that you can still visit today and which bear witness to the important role that religion has always played in Tahitian culture.

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