The inside of the altar room in the Church of Transfiguration. PHOTO/JADE CVETKOV
One of Masterton’s most beautiful secrets is set to be revealed to the public for the first time in more than 30 years.
The Church of Transfiguration was built in 1980 for the Greek Orthodox community by Masterton’s George Pantelis, who owned a fish and chip shop at the time.
The church, on Paierau Road, is used for worship services up to six times a year by around 80 church members who travelled from Wellington, Palmerston North and Napier.
“The first time we had a service, 850 people came,” Mr Pantelis said.
“We had nowhere to put them.”
While most children wouldn’t even spare a thought to building a church, for Mr Pantelis, it was something he had aspired to his whole childhood.
“Give me paint, I cannot paint. Give me a pen, I cannot draw. Give me words, I cannot describe.
“I built a church because it puts it all together.”
He said the demand from the public to open the church had been so strong he had finally decided to restore the outside and start opening it to the public on set days throughout the year.
“I don’t want it to be a tourist attraction but I want to give people the opportunity to come and see it.”
To describe the initial feeling when entering the unassuming church as breathtaking would not be an overstatement.
Photographer Jade Cvetkov had been waiting all her life to enter the church she had heard so much about.
The masterpiece interior was painted by Martinborough artist Stephen Allwood, who was a student at the time.
The artwork was all Mr Allwood’s own creation, composed from scratch based purely on the books of the New Testament.
Some of the powerful images included the doubt of Thomas, Jesus feeding the multitude, the healing of a paralysed man, as well as a large painting of Jesus on the domed ceiling.
Mr Pantelis is very proud of the building’s beauty, referring to it as “a National Treasure” but made it very clear it did not belong to him.
“No, it is not mine, it is God’s.
“We don’t own anything on this earth that isn’t his.”
Now living in Queensland, Mr Pantelis travelled back to New Zealand with family friend Nic Karageorgiou and his son Emmanuel, who spent two days cleaning the church’s exterior before they could begin painting.
Emmanuel said he was a third generation painter who grew up listening to his Dad tell stories about the church.
He called it “an honour” to restore the building with his Dad – a job they were doing free of charge.
“It’s what we call in Sydney ‘a love job’.
“It comes from the heart.”
It is hoped to have public openings arranged in the next few months.