On the Mai Mahiu road that where you find the smallest Church, as you drive from Nairobi, along the Rift Valley escarpment, some distance before you get to Naivasha, there is a very tiny catholic church that was built in 1942 by Italian Prisoners of War (PoW).
The walls of the “Travelers’ Chapel” which measures 15 by 8FT are shrouded in a lot of mystery and myth. The word goes round of a ticking clock that can be heard but no one has ever seen. It has even been said that those who erected the structure hid their jewels and wills in the church concrete columns setting off enthusiasts on a hunt for ‘hidden treasure’.
Mai Mahiu Catholic Church, popularly referred to as the ‘Travellers Chapel’, is the smallest church in Kenya and only slightly bigger than America’s Our Lady of the Pines, the world’s smallest, which measures 12 by 12FT.
During the Second World War, British and Imperial forces captured more than half a million Italian soldiers, sailors and airmen. These Italian Prisoners of War are the ones who built the Mai Mahiu Catholic Church in 1942 under strict supervision from the British.
The construction of the church is itself an interesting story. Since the Italians were Catholics and the British were Anglicans, they could not mingle in prayer so the POWs were allocated land to build their own place of prayer.
Believe it or not, they achieved this fit while working in shifts during breaks from the construction of the Mai Mahiu road! Many of them, like their companions who built the Italian War Memorial Church in Nyeri, died from Malaria and attacks by wild animals, including poisonous snakes that apparently live in the area to date.
The pentagon-shaped Mai Mahiu church is awash with Latin inscriptions and symbols mostly found above the stained glass windows and the entrance doors.
Some like 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) and Benedicite Coeli Domino Benedicite (Blessed be the sky and blessed again), capture the triumphant mood of the moment.
Others like Universa Germinatia In Terra Domino, which means ‘everything will germinate in the sky and also on the earth’, are a complete mystery.
As you get inside the church, you begin to encounter its numerous symbolisms. The 3 stairs at the entrance symbolize the Holy Trinity; The Father, The Son, and The Holy Spirit. Two crosses and a compass on the roof symbolize that the church will stay for as long as the world will turn around it.
Today, the Mai Mahiu Catholic Church is managed by the Italian Embassy, the Kenyan government and well-wishers who put in their resources to conserve this religious scenic feature. The church is open to the public at no cost from 6:00 AM to 5:00 PM. Interestingly, Christians and Hindus are allowed to worship but Muslims can only visit.
It is a popular venue for weddings and photoshoots. Unfortunately, since robbers stole the original Italian bibles which were here, you will have to come with your own. Besides the bible, other valuables including a clock, the gate, and windows were also stolen.