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The little church on the slopes

HOME & AWAY
By - | September 6th 2012

Despite being Catholic, the small church plays host to people of diffrent denominations for prayers and weddings, writes JAMES WANZALA

On Mai Mahiu — Naivasha Road, lies a little jewel; it could be the smallest church in Kenya — and possibly Africa. Italian Prisoners Of War (POW) built the Catholic Church, situated on the slopes of the Rift Valley, in 1942 under the strict supervision of British colonialists. 

The pentagon-like shaped church interior has four small wooden pews, an altar with a pulpit and measures approximately 15feet x 8 feet. Just like its bigger counterparts, the church has three normal doors for access.

The inside walls are covered with Latin words scrawled on the upper end of the walls and reads, Venite Ad Memone (Come to me my people), Haec Est Victoria Quae Vincit Mundum Fides Mustra (This is the victory that has won the world by our faith), Benedicite Coeli Domino Benedicite (Blessed be the sky and blessed again) and finally Universa Germinatia In Terra Domino, which translates to, everything will germinate in the sky and also on the earth.

The picture behind the altar is of baby Jesus and his parents Mary and Joseph surrounded by the angels drawn in early 1943 by Navitatis NDJC. The drawing symbolises the victory achieved by the religion across the world. This is just part of many other Latin words and symbols that decorate inside and around the church.

Holy trinity

According to Ann Nyakio, a caretaker, the three stairs at the church entrance symbolises The Holy Trinity; The Father, The Son and The Holy Spirit and it also has two crosses on the roof which has a compass and it symbolises that, the church will stay as long as the world will turn around it.

“The main reason for the construction of the church was that the Italians were Catholics and the British were Anglicans so the former needed their own place of worship. The British allocated them a small piece of land where they started building the church in groups during breaks from road construction,” says Nyakio.

She further narrates how many Italians succumbed to diseases and attacks from wild animals, which included poisonous snakes that allegedly live in the area to date.

There are graves outside the church where the deceased were laid to rest and a mausoleum has also been erected in form of a cemented cross courtesy of Christine Nyagitha, a well wisher in honour of the fallen Italians.

Nyagitha also financed the construction of a new pillar at the church’s entrance gate last year, which is expected to house anyone wishing to conduct private prayers.

Italian job

Today, the church is under management of the Italian Embassy, the Kenyan government and wellwishers are also pumping in their resources to conserve this religious icon, which is open to all members of the public for free. Christians and Hindus are allowed to worship, but Muslims can only visit.

Ironically, the place is commonly referred to as msikiti (Kiswahili for mosque) by locals according to Nyakio since it resembles a mosque.

“Area residents refer to this place as msikiti because the church resembles a mosque and also people used to worship while on their knees before the four pews were brought in. Different communities and dominions conduct their prayers here as well as weddings and even photo shoots reflecting its rich magnificent flora and fauna,’’ explained Nyakio.

The doors are open as early as 6 am and close at 5pm since the little church has no power supply. People who visit the church for prayers are at liberty to come along with their own Bibles since the Italian ones that were there were stolen a few years back when robbers broke in and made away with some valuables including a clock, gate and windows.

Church donations

Today, the Italian Bible has been replaced with an African bible, which has been put on the altar together with two candles that flicker during prayers and a stature of Jesus Christ.

 The offerings collected is used to buy fresh flowers to decorate the church interior or taken to a nearby orphanage.

“The offertory we receive here from visitors and worshippers is used for buying fresh flowers that we put on the pulpit and the rest is taken to the Valley Light Children’s Home in Mai Mahiu town,” says Nyakio, who has been working at the church as a volunteer for the last 13 years. Two other people, Timothy Michero and Pius Maina, assist her but today Francis Mburu, a well-wisher, who has pledged to support the sanctuary till end, pays them.

A regular worshipper at the church, Charles Ndirangu, says that the church is not only a place of worship but also a tourist attraction site.

“Most local and foreign tourists make a stop here to worship or take photos so that they can share them with their family members, relatives and friends back home. Truck drivers who use the busy road also stop here for a word of prayer or a visit,’’ said Ndirangu.

The church is next to a police post and an office of the County Council of Nakuru where Ndirangu works.

It is, nonetheless, a charming spot to seek solace before you screech off to your destination.

 


 

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