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ChristChurch Cathedral (Christchurch, New Zealand)

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Title: ChristChurch Cathedral (Christchurch, New Zealand)  
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Subject: South Island, Pavlova (food), Frederick Wollaston Hutton, History of the Canterbury Region, Religion in New Zealand, Christianity in New Zealand
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ChristChurch Cathedral (Christchurch, New Zealand)

"Christchurch Cathedral" redirects here. For the Roman Catholic cathedral in Christchurch, see Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament, Christchurch. For other cathedrals, see Christ Church Cathedral (disambiguation).

ChristChurch Cathedral
ChristChurch, Cathedral Square in 2006

Coordinates: 43°31′52″S 172°38′13″E / 43.531°S 172.637°E / -43.531; 172.637

Location Christchurch Central City
Country New Zealand
Denomination Anglican
Heritage designation Category I
Designated 7 April 1983
Architect(s) George Gilbert Scott
Benjamin Mountfort
Architectural type Gothic Revival style
Bishop(s) Victoria Matthews

ChristChurch Cathedral is an Anglican cathedral in the city of Christchurch, New Zealand. The cathedral was built in the second half of the 19th century, and is located in the centre of the city, surrounded by Cathedral Square. It is the cathedral seat of the Bishop of Christchurch in the New Zealand tikanga of the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia.

The February 2011 Christchurch earthquake destroyed the spire and part of the tower and severely damaged the structure of the remaining building. The cathedral had been damaged previously by earthquakes in 1881, 1888, 1901, 1922 and 2010.

In late March 2012 work began demolishing the building.[1] A temporary replacement cathedral is being built.[2]

On 15 December 2012 demolition was halted on the cathedral, following the issuing of a judgment by the High Court of New Zealand, which granted an application for judicial review of the decision to demolish made by the church.[3]


The origins of ChristChurch Cathedral date back to the plans of the Canterbury Association which aimed to build a city around a central cathedral and college in the Canterbury Region based on the English model of Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford. Henry John Chitty Harper, the first Bishop of Christchurch, arrived in 1856 and began to drive the cathedral project forward. In 1858 the project was approved by the diocese and a design was commissioned from George Gilbert Scott, a prolific British architect who was known for his Gothic Revival churches and public buildings (he later went on to build St Pancras railway station in London, England, and St Mary's Episcopal Cathedral in Edinburgh, Scotland). Scott himself never visited Christchurch, but handed over the oversight of the project to Robert Speechly.[4]

The cornerstone was laid on 16 December 1864, but financial problems in the fledgling city saw its completion delayed between 1865 and 1873. At the start of the project, Christchurch was still a small town (its male population numbering only 450) and raising funds for the construction of the cathedral proved to be difficult. Commentators of the time voiced their disappointment at the lack of progress – the novelist Anthony Trollope visited the town in 1872 and referred to the "vain foundations" as a "huge record of failure".[4]

In 1873 a new resident architect, New Zealander Benjamin Mountfort, took over the project and construction began again. Mountfort adapted Scott's design, adding tower balconies and the west porch and decorative details such as the font, pulpit and stained glass.[4] The initial plans called for wooden construction, but were changed with the discovery of a source of good quality masonry stone locally. Banks Peninsula totara and matai timber were used for the roof supports.[5]

The nave, 100 foot (30 m) long, and tower were consecrated on 1 November 1881, but the transepts, chancel and sanctuary were not finished until 1904.[5] The Christchurch Beautifying Society planted two plane trees to the south of the cathedral in 1898.[5]

The Rhodes family, which arrived in Canterbury before the First Four Ships, provided funds for the tower and spire. Robert Heaton Rhodes built the tower in memory of his brother George; and the spire was added by the children of George Rhodes. The family purchased eight bells, a memorial window, and paid for renovations as required. In May 2012, the Rhodes memorial window depicting Saint John the Evangelist was recovered from the cathedral's north wall.[6]

The cathedral spire reached to 63 metres (207 ft) above Cathedral Square. Public access to the spire provided for a good viewpoint over the centre of the city, but the spire has been damaged by earthquakes on four occasions. The tower originally contained a peal of ten bells, cast by John Taylor & Co of Loughborough, hung in 1881. The original bells were replaced in 1978 by 13 new bells, also cast at Taylors of Loughborough.[7]

In 1894, the widow of Alfred Richard Creyke arranged for the western porch of the cathedral to be built in his memory.[8] On the south side of the cathedral's nave there is also a Watts-Russell Memorial Window in memory of her first husband.[9]

The cathedral underwent major renovations during 2006–2007, including the replacement of the original slate roof tiles.


The Canterbury region has experienced many earthquakes over the years and, like many buildings in Christchurch, the cathedral has suffered varying degrees of earthquake damage.

A stone was dislodged from the finial cap, immediately below the terminal cross, by an earthquake in late 1881, within a month of the cathedral's consecration.[10]
Approximately 8 metres of stonework fell as a result of the 1 September 1888 North Canterbury earthquake. The stone spire was replaced.[10]
The top of the spire fell again as a result of the 16 November 1901 Cheviot earthquake. This time, the stone construction was replaced with a more resilient structure of Australian hardwood sheathed with weathered copper sheeting, with an internal mass damper.[10] The repairs were funded by the Rhodes family.
One of the stone crosses fell from the cathedral during the 25 December 1922 Motunau earthquake.[11]
The 4 September 2010 Canterbury earthquake caused some superficial damage and the cathedral was closed for engineering inspections until 22 September 2010 when it was deemed safe to reopen.[12] Some further damage was sustained in the "Boxing Day Aftershock" on 26 December.[13]
2011 February
The 6.3-magnitude earthquake on 22 February 2011 left the cathedral damaged and several surrounding buildings in ruins. The spire that had withstood damage in the September 2010 quake was completely destroyed, leaving only the lower half of the tower standing. While the walls and roof of the cathedral itself remained mostly intact, the gable of the west front sustained damage and the roof over the western section of the north aisle, nearest the tower, collapsed.[14] Further inspections showed that the pillars supporting the building are severely damaged and investigations of damage to the buildings foundations will determine whether the cathedral can be rebuilt on the present site.[15]
Preliminary reports suggested that as many as 20 people had been in the tower at the time of its collapse.[16][17][18] However, a thorough examination of the site by Urban Search and Rescue teams subsequently found no bodies.[19]
2011 June
The cathedral suffered further significant damage on 13 June 2011 from the 6.4-magnitude June 2011 Christchurch earthquake with the rose window in the west wall falling in[20] and raised the question of "...whether the cathedral needed to be deconsecrated and demolished".[21]
2011 December
The cathedral suffered further significant damage from the swarm of earthquakes that occurred on 23 December, the largest measuring 6.0 on the Richter Scale, during which what remained of the rose window collapsed completely.[22]


The high altar reredos was made from kauri planks from an old bridge over the Hurunui River and includes six carved figures: Samuel Marsden, Archdeacon Henry Williams, Tamihana te Rauparaha, Bishop Selwyn, Bishop Harper and Bishop Patteson.[23]

The pulpit, designed by Mountford, commemorates George Augustus Selwyn, the first and only Bishop of New Zealand. Mountford also designed the font, which was donated by Dean Stanley of Westminster Abbey in memory of his brother, Captain Owen Stanley of HMS Britomart, who arrived in Akaroa in 1840.[7]

The cathedral contains the throne and memorial to Bishop Harper – first Bishop of Christchurch and the second Primate of New Zealand – who laid the foundation stone of the cathedral in 1864 and preached at the consecration service in 1881.[24] In the west porch are stones from the Christ Church, Canterbury, Christchurch Priory, Tintern Abbey, Glastonbury Abbey, Herod's Temple, St Paul's Cathedral and Christ Church, Oxford.[25]

The north wall includes a mural dado of inlaid marble and encaustic tiles, donated by the Cathedral Guild in 1885, which includes fylfot motifs. A memorial window above the mural was donated in memory of Sir Thomas Tancred, Bt.[7]

The Chapel of St Michael and St George was opened by the Governor-General, Sir Bernard Freyberg VC, on Remembrance Day (6 November 1949) and dedicated to Archbishop Campbell West-Watson.[26]

Heritage listing

On 7 April 1983, the church was registered by the New Zealand Historic Places Trust as a Category I historic place, with the registration number being 46. It is the only church designed by Scott in New Zealand. Its design was significantly influenced by Mountfort. It is a major landmark and tourist attraction, and for many it symbolises the ideals of the early settlers. There are numerous memorial tablets, memorial windows and so forth in the church, acting as a reminder to the early people and the region's history.[27]


It was announced on 28 October 2011 that the damaged structure would be deconsecrated and at least partially demolished,[28] although it was not clear whether any parts of the damaged building would be retained and included in a future building; this would depend on the state of the fabric as determined during the work.[29] ChristChurch Cathedral was deconsecrated on 9 November 2011.[30]

On 2 March 2012, Bishop Victoria Matthews announced that the building would be demolished.[31] She questioned the safety of the building and stated that rebuilding the cathedral could cost NZD $50 million more than insurance could afford and, therefore, that a new cathedral would be built in its place.[32]

The Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (CERA) backed the demolition due to safety concerns.[33] The decision was also supported by 70 local Christchurch churches and Christian groups.[34]

In September 2012, Bishop Matthews suggested sharing a new church with the city's Roman Catholic community, as their place of worship was also damaged in the quakes. The Roman Catholic diocese was not receptive to the idea, however.[35]


There has been opposition to the demolition of the building, with heritage groups including the UNESCO World Heritage Centre opposing the action. Local character the Wizard of Christchurch also made protests calling for the cathedral to be saved.[36]

Kit Miyamoto, an American-based structural engineer and expert in earthquake rebuilding, had previously inspected the cathedral after the September 2010 quake. He cited his experience in stating that restoring and strengthening of the building was both "feasible and affordable".[32]

In April 2012, a group of engineers from the New Zealand Society for Earthquake Engineering launched a petition seeking support of 100 colleagues to stop the demolition. They claim that legal action is also a possibility.[37] In the same month the Restore Christchurch Cathedral Group was formed and is seeking signatures for a petition to save the cathedral.[38][39]


In late March 2012 work began demolishing the cathedral. The initial work involves removing the cathedral's windows and tower.[40]

By 23 April 2012, nine windows had their stained glass removed and work had begun to slowly pull down masonry from the cathedral tower.[41]

On 15 November 2012 the High Court of New Zealand issued an interim judgment[3] granting an application for judicial review made by the Great Christchurch Buildings Trust, challenging the lawfulness of the earlier decision by the church to demolish the cathedral. This placed a stay on that decision, and halted demolition of the cathedral.

While accepting that the application for judicial review should be granted, the Court did not set aside the decision of the church at this stage. Because the church had indicated it wanted to rebuild on the site, its decision to demolish the building was "incomplete" but not unlawful. It was said that the church should have an opportunity to reconsider and complete its decision having regard to the interim judgment.

In granting the review, Justice Chisholm ruled the church must formally commit to rebuilding a cathedral in the Square, but was not required to replicate the cathedral as it stood pre-quake. Justice Chisholm did not set any time frame but ruled he wanted the review to take place "as soon as possible".[42]

Transitional cathedral

Main article: Cardboard Cathedral

Construction of a temporary cathedral started on 24 July 2012.[43] The site on the corner of Hereford and Madras Streets, several blocks from the permanent location, was blessed in April 2012.[44] Designed by architect Shigeru Ban and seating around 700 people, the transitional cathedral was expected to be completed by Christmas 2012, but the completion date was put back to July 2013, and then August 2013. The materials used in its construction include cardboard tubes, timber and steel.[45] The dedication service was held on 15 August 2013.

In November 2012 the church began fund-raising to pay for the NZ$5 million project, following a High Court judge indicating it may not be legal for the church to build a temporary cathedral using its insurance payout.[46]


See also


External links

  • News story featuring aerial photo showing fallen spire.
  • Another post-quake view of the cathedral.
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