Nicknamed ‘Westminster Abbey of Hawaii,’ Oʻahu’s oldest church was built on the site where the first missionaries constructed a grass thatch church shortly after their arrival in 1820. The original structure seated 300 Hawaiians on lauhala mats, woven from hala (screwpine) leaves. This 1842 New England Gothic–style church is made of 14,000 coral slabs, which divers chiseled out of Oʻahu’s underwater reefs – a weighty task that took four years. The door is often unlocked during business hours.
The clock tower was donated by Kamehameha III, and the old clock, installed in 1850, still keeps accurate time. The rear seats of the church, marked by kahili (feathered staffs) and velvet padding, are reserved for royal descendants today.
The tomb of King Lunalilo,the short-lived successor to Kamehameha V, is found at the main entrance to the Kawaiahaʻo Church grounds. Lunalilo died from tuberculosis on February 3, 1874, after a short reign of a year. Due to his popularity and status as Hawaii's first elected monarch, he became known as 'The People's King.' He was an 'elected monarch' as King Kamehameha V, the last of the Kamehameha kings, died in 1872 without naming a successor.
The cemetery to the rear of the church offers a who’s who of colonial history: early Protestant missionaries are buried alongside other important figures, including the infamous Sanford Dole, who became the first territorial governor of Hawaii after Queen Liliʻuokalani was overthrown.