Anglican Ash Wednesday

Anglican Ash

The graveyard surrounding New Zealand’s oldest church in Russell tells the story of life and death upon the sea. Photograph: © Jeffrey Cardenas

With Flying Fish secure at anchor in Te Wahapu Bay near the New Zealand township of Russell, I am feeling especially blessed as a priest in the Anglican Christ Church prints a mark of ashes across my forehead.

In this lovely old church, history comes alive from the earliest years of Māori and European contact in the Bay of Islands. Musket holes from the 1845 war between them still mark the exterior of the church. Russell, then called by its original Māori name of Kororāreka, was a rough seaport known as “The Hellhole of the Pacific.” Brothels and grog shops lined the waterfront. Gunshots could be heard across the bay.

Missionaries felt that Kororāreka needed a little bit of religion. They purchased land in 1834 from Māori chiefs and agreed that Māori and Europeans should have equal rights of burial. The fundraising subscription list for the church still survives with names of missionaries, settlers, traders, and explorers including Captain Robert Fitzroy and Charles Darwin of H.M.S. Beagle.

Legend has it that Kororāreka is named after a soup made from the little blue penguin (Eudyptula minor) which was given to a Māori chief wounded in battle. Feeling better, he was believed to have said, “Ka reka te korora – How sweet is the penguin,” leading to the town’s name. Today, little blue penguins still come ashore after dark on the beach at Russell to nest under the floorboards of waterfront buildings.

Among the graves in the churchyard are those of Tamati Waka Nene (a Ngapuhi chief largely responsible for the Māori’s acceptance of the Treaty of Waitangi and peace with the Europeans), Hannah King Letheridge (the second European girl to be born in New Zealand, despite her grave marker stating she was “The First White Woman Born In New Zealand”), and men from H.M.S. Hazard who fell in the battle in 1845.

But on this day as the Anglican priest dips his finger into a glass bowl of ashes–the charred remains of local New Zealand palms–and presses a cross over my bowed forehead he says, “From dust you came, and from dust you will return.”

I understand these earthly sentiments of the Anglican Ash Wednesday but my feelings of mortality fall more in line with a verse written on the original oak headstone of the perished seamen from H.M.S. Hazard. Situated on the grounds of Christ Church in Russell, it marks the final resting place of six men who died defending the town formerly known as Kororāreka.

On that headstone are the words of 19th century poet Felicia Hermans: “Go, stranger! Track the deep. Free, free the white sail spread! Wave may not foam, nor wild wind sweep…”


The 123-year-old gaff-rigged cutter Undine ghosts across the Bay of Islands near Russell. Photograph: © Jeffrey Cardenas

Please subscribe at the bottom of this page so that you don’t miss a new post, and please share this post with others who might enjoy following the voyage of Flying Fish

To see where Flying Fish has sailed in the past year click here:

Text and Photography © Jeffrey Cardenas 2019

All rights reserved

15 thoughts on “Anglican Ash Wednesday

  1. Thanks Jeffery. It is a bright chrisp day in the Southern Appalachians after near six weeks of record rain. The South Holston is running full and fast in an effort to lower the lake above. May peace be with you. Edd

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hope You are well.I enjoyed your latest on Russell.My wife recently had a total knee replacement and then we both got the full blown flu.Hasn’t been a very happy five weeks.Hope you are enjoying New Zealand.I believe Jenny is coming to visit you soon.Take Care PHIL Roche

    Sent from my iPhone


    Liked by 1 person

  3. Poinient and heart – felt. I feel I am there with you listening to the wind feeling the surge of energy that runs thru you between sail and tiller. Be safe my friend your not alone.


  4. Once again thank you for sharing Jeffery, so cool you got your ashes at the Anglican Church. Also love the photo of the 123 year old schooner.
    Safe passage to you.
    Byron Clark

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s