Jonathan Mane-Wheoki

Jonathan Mane-Wheoki and the waka huia at St Michael and All Angels, Christchurch

Last Saturday I was privileged to concelebrate for a Requiem Mass for Jonathan Mane-Wheoki at St Michael and All Angels. Appropriately, the waka huia with its strong connection to Jonathan was back up after being down since the quakes.

Kua hinga te tōtara i Te Waonui a Tāne.

This is a Māori saying, “A tōtara (a great tree – a chief, a great person) has fallen in the great forest of Tāne”. Jonathan was such a person.

You can read (and hear) more about Jonathan here, here, here, and here.

As well as honouring Jonathan, this post is yet another invitation to reflect on inculturating liturgical practice. It follows well the recent post on the koru crozier.

A waka huia is a Māori container in which people store(d) their most prized possessions. Beautifully carved, they were (and are) suspended from the ceiling of Māori whare (house). At St Michael and All Angels the waka huia is where the Blessed Sacrament is reserved. The Blessed Sacrament is clearly one of the greatest treasures for that church and community.

I am indebted to Fr Peter Williams for his description (at the Requiem Mass) of the history of the waka huia:

The outstanding monument to [Jonathan’s] achievement [at St Michael and All Angels] is the Wakahuia that hangs above the altar and is the safe repository of the Blessed Sacrament. The process leading to the raising of this unique treasure, is pure Jonathan. The new Vicar, Fr Kirkpatrick wanted to restore the Blessed Sacrament to its central place, as one would expect in a catholic Church.

A previous Vicar had installed a large domed tabernacle at the centre of the splendid 1950’s-baroque reredos that was built in the late 50’s. The Bishop of the time was unhappy about it, and in the five hours between the farewell to that Vicar in the early afternoon and the Induction of the new Vicar in the same evening, had the tabernacle removed and a very discrete aumbry cupboard installed in the North wall of the Pilgrims’ Chapel.

Fr Kirkpatrick wanted to restore the domed tabernacle, in line with the practice of most of the great anglo-catholic churches in the UK.

But there was the alternative tradition of the hanging pyx. You will see one hanging over the centre of the altar, under an ornate silver cone-shaped cover, in the photograph of All Saints Margaret Street, London that is in the funeral booklet. This was Jonathan’s spiritual home when in London.

Jonathan argued for the hanging pyx and agreement tended that way. But then his Maori awareness reminded him of the tradition of the wakahuia, which was a hanging repository of taonga in the meeting house. In a church and a nation that was exploring its bicultural identity, this seemed to provide a remarkable interaction of traditions in a beautiful and useful object.

The idea of the wakahuia as tabernacle grew, was agreed upon, and then designed, carved and raised up in the Church. After falling in the earthquakes, it has now been restored with engineering approval, and the Blessed Sacrament is at the heart of the sacred space again. That deploying of insight from Jonathan’s many worlds led to this taonga, which is unique and appropriate and fit for purpose and beautiful.


The church’s Visitor’s Guide has:

Te Tapenakara o Te Ariki, The Tabernacle of the Lord is sited at the apex of the chancel arch high above the principal altar. Made From totara and kauri, it was carved by Riki Manuel of Christchurch & its symbolism is drawn from both Christian and Maori sources: ears of wheat, bunches of grapes and vine leaves refer to the Eucharistic Elements. The three figures (one at each end and one on the lid) represent the Trinity. Hanging a Wakahuia high under the ridge, in such a safe place, is a worthy place for a sacramental reservation, bringing together English and Maori traditions of the hanging pyx – the method of reservation in the Middle Ages.

Its name originates from Maori Wakahuia (a feather box usually belonging to a person of mana/standing). Inside the wakahuia is a pyx, a small vessel containing the Blessed Sacrament, bread consecrated at the Eucharist, which is used by the clergy when administering Holy Communion to the sick at home or in hospital.

The Wakahuia was dedicated by the Bishop of Aotearoa and raised on 26th June 1994, marking the centenary of the first Maori university graduate (Sir) Apirana Ngata from Canterbury College (now the Ch-Ch Arts Centre) which was within the S. Michael’s parish. Ngata was known to have attended services at S. Michael’s.

The Blessed Sacrament was originally kept in a tabernacle on the high altar. The Bishop ordered its removal, and in 1953, it was subsequently kept in an aumbry in the Pilgrims Chapel. The Blessed Sacrament was transferred from the aumbry to the wakahuia during the midnight mass on 25 December 1994, being the 180th anniversary of the first Christian service held in the Bay or Islands, 1814.

The wakahuia is lowered during each Eucharist at the nave altar, and raised again alter communion.

You can read more about Jonathan and the waka huia in the Anglican Taonga magazine Advent 2013 (pages 36ff).

Professor Jonathan Mane-Wheoki was appointed a Companion of the NZ Order of Merit for his services to the arts.

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