The Anglican and Episcopal churches on November 28 celebrate the Feast of the Holy Sovereigns, a day to celebrate the lives of Hawai`i’s King Kamehameha IV and Queen Emma.
In 1855, Prince Alexander Liholiho, a grandson of Pai`ea Kamehameha, first ruler of the united Hawaiian Islands, succeeded his uncle Kauikeaouli, Kamehameha III, becoming King Kamehameha IV. A year later, the royal bachelor married Emma Rooke, granddaughter of John Young, who had been an adviser to Kamehameha the First, and a great-grandniece Pai`ea Kamehameha.
As youths, Alexander Liholiho, and his brother, Lot Kapuāiwa, had made a tour of America, Europe, and Britain. Well treated in Europe and Britain, they experienced racial prejudice and bigotry in the US. On assuming the throne, Kamehameha IV felt a kinship with the British monarch and Church of England, preferring a church which supported the monarchy over one which wanted to abolish it and make Hawai`i a possession of the United States. So, the king and queen wrote to Queen Victoria of England, inviting the Church of England to send missionaries to his kingdom.
Bishop Samuel Wilberforce recommended that the mission include a bishop who could organize the church in Hawai’i. A mission was formed, and the Revd Dr Thomas Nettleship Stanley was consecrated bishop for Hawai’i in Lambeth Chapel on the fifteenth of December, 1861. The new church was chartered as the Hawai’ian Reformed Catholic Church and became the official royal church of Hawai’i, with lands donated from the royal family’s own holdings.
They had hoped for the new Bishop to christen their son, Prince Albert Edward Kauikeaouli Kaleiopapa a Kamehameha. Queen Victoria was to be Prince Albert’s godmother (by proxy) at his christening in Honolulu. Unfortunately, the little heir to the Hawaiian throne died at the age of four.
The king never got over the loss. He and Emma devoted themselves to their people’s material and spiritual welfare. The King himself translated the Book of Common Prayer into Hawaiian, adding a preface explaining “the new teaching”. They were particularly concerned for the healthcare and education of their people. When the legislature struck down an ambitious public healthcare agenda proposed by the king, the royal couple lobbied local businessmen, merchants, and other wealthy citizens to provide funds. Their efforts were overwhelmingly successful, and culminated in the establishment Queen’s Hospital (now Queen’s Medical Center) in Honolulu, as well as a “leprosarium” for the treatment of leprosy patients on the island of Maui.
A year after the loss of his little son, the king passed away during an asthma attack, Emma at his side, desperately trying to breathe for him.
Since Kamehameha had died on the feast of Saint Andrew, the first cathedral in Hawai’i was named for and dedicated to that apostle. The cathedral has served as the cathedral for the Episcopal Diocese of Hawai’i since the annexation of the islands to the United States.
After a brief try at politics, Emma dedicated the remaining years of her life to her hospital and other charitable works, and passed away in 1885.