ChristChurch Cathedral, Christchurch

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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 a deconsecrated Anglican cathedral in the city of Christchurch, New Zealand. The cathedral was built in the second half of the 19th century and located in the centre of the city surrounded by Cathedral Square. It was 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 on demolishing the building.[1]

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 Diocese of Christchurch.[2] However, in early December 2013, the Supreme Court rejected a final bid to preserve the quake-damaged ChristChurch Cathedral, meaning that the diocese is free to demolish the building and continue with plans for a replacement.[3][better source needed]

Since 15 August 2013, the cathedral community has been worshipping in a temporary building, known as the Cardboard Cathedral.


Architect George Gilbert Scott

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]

ChristChurch Cathedral prior to 1894 without the western porch

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, who 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 George Rhodes' children. The family purchased eight bells and a memorial window as well as paying 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 had 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 and 2007, including the replacement of the original slate roof tiles.


ChristChurch Cathedral, before the 1901 earthquake damaged its spire
ChristChurch Cathedral after the 2011 earthquake collapsed its spire (note the round rose window)

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 1 September 1888 North Canterbury earthquake. The stone spire was replaced.[10]
The top of the spire fell again as a result of 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 25 December 1922 Motunau earthquake.[11]
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 nave of the cathedral in 2010

The high altar's 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 George Selwyn, Bishop Henry Harper and Bishop John Coleridge 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 – the 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[edit]

The cathedral at night

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]


ChristChurch Cathedral in September 2012 showing partial demolition (this is still the current situation)

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. A 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 claimed 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[2] 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 diocese 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 diocese should have an opportunity to reconsider and complete its decision having regard to the interim judgment.

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

Transitional cathedral[edit]

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


Dean Peter Beck with a member of the US Armed Forces


  1. ^ "Work on cathedral demolition under way". Retrieved 24 April 2012. 
  2. ^ a b
  3. ^ "Anglican Taonga : New Zealand's Anglican News Leader". Retrieved 11 January 2014. 
  4. ^ a b c "Cathedral History". Christchurch Cathedral. Retrieved 27 February 2011. 
  5. ^ a b c The Cathedrals of Christchurch, Christchurch City Libraries
  6. ^ "Rhodes Window saved". The Press (Christchurch). 4 May 2012. p. A14. 
  7. ^ a b c "The Nave – Northern Side / Inside the Cathedral / About / Home". ChristChurch Cathedral. 1 November 1981. Retrieved 2 March 2012. 
  8. ^ Smith, Jo-Anne (1 September 2010). "Watts Russell, Elizabeth Rose Rebecca – Biography". Dictionary of New Zealand biography. Retrieved 19 March 2011. 
  9. ^ "The Nave – Southern Side". ChristChurch Cathedral. Retrieved 5 June 2010. 
  10. ^ a b c "Cathedral no stranger to quake damage". Brisbane Times. 22 February 2011. Retrieved 22 February 2011. 
  11. ^ "Our Shaky History". Environment Canterbury. Retrieved 21 October 2011. 
  12. ^ "Cathedral re-opens after clearance". 22 September 2010. Retrieved 2 March 2012. 
  13. ^ Christchurch Cathedral. "Christchurch Cathedral : Emergency Architecture, New Zealand". Retrieved 11 January 2014. 
  14. ^ "First look inside collapsed Christchurch Cathedral",, 22 February 2011. Retrieved 22 2011February.
  15. ^ "Cathedral damage worse than feared". TVNZ. 28 May 2011. Retrieved 20 August 2011. 
  16. ^ "65 dead in devastating Christchurch quake". 23 February 2011. Retrieved 24 September 2011. 
  17. ^ Interview, Radio New Zealand, broadcast 22 February 2011.
  18. ^ 'We may be witnessing New Zealand's darkest day': PM says 65 killed in quake, The Sydney Morning Herald, 22 February 2011.
  19. ^ "Christchurch quake: 'No bodies' in cathedral rubble". BBC News. 5 March 2011. 
  20. ^ "Landmarks suffer further damage". 15 June 2011. Retrieved 15 June 2011. 
  21. ^ Gates, Charlie (16 June 2011). "Cathedral future now uncertain". The Press. Retrieved 24 September 2011. 
  22. ^ "Swarm of quakes hits Christchurch – national". 23 December 2011. Retrieved 2 March 2012. 
  23. ^ "The Apse / Inside the Cathedral / About / Home". ChristChurch Cathedral. Retrieved 2 March 2012. 
  24. ^ Christchurch Cathedral. "Christchurch Cathedral : Emergency Architecture, New Zealand". Retrieved 11 January 2014. 
  25. ^ "West Porch / Inside the Cathedral / About / Home". ChristChurch Cathedral. Retrieved 2 March 2012. 
  26. ^ "125th Anniversary Campaign / Support Us / Home". ChristChurch Cathedral. Retrieved 2 March 2012. 
  27. ^ "Cathedral Church of Christ (Anglican)". Register of Historic Places. New Zealand Historic Places Trust. Retrieved 19 March 2011. 
  28. ^ Charlie Gates. "Christ Church Cathedral To Be Partially Demolished...". Retrieved 2 March 2012. 
  29. ^ "Cathedral to be deconsecrated". Retrieved 31 October 2011. 
  30. ^ Christchurch Cathedral. "Christchurch Cathedral : Emergency Architecture, New Zealand". Retrieved 11 January 2014. 
  31. ^ "Christ Church Cathedral to be pulled down". Retrieved 24 April 2012. 
  32. ^ a b Manhire, Toby (2 March 2012). "Christchurch's quake-damaged cathedral to be demolished". London: Guardian News and Media Limited. Retrieved 27 March 2012. 
  33. ^ "Christchurch cathedral to be demolished". Liturgy. Retrieved 22 April 2012. 
  34. ^ "Church leaders back bishop". Retrieved 22 April 2012. 
  35. ^ "Anglicans talk of super-cathedral". 3 News NZ. 9 September 2012. 
  36. ^ "Calls for protection as Cathedral demo crane arrives". New Zealand Herald. 27 March 2012. Retrieved 27 March 2012. 
  37. ^ "Cathedral can be saved – engineers". Retrieved 20 April 2012. 
  38. ^ Restore the Christchurch Cathedral website
  39. ^ "Anglicans mum on cathedral petition", NZ Herald, 21 April 2012.
  40. ^ "Work on cathedral demolition under way". The Press. Retrieved 27 March 2012. 
  41. ^ "Crane begins tower's demolition". Retrieved 23 April 2012. 
  42. ^ "Judge Puts Christ Church Cathedral Demolition On... –". Retrieved 11 January 2014. 
  43. ^ "Underway at Last" Cathedral website[dead link]
  44. ^ "Site blessed for cardboard cathedral". Retrieved 23 April 2012. 
  45. ^ Mann, Charley (16 April 2012). "Work to start on cardboard cathedral". Retrieved 20 April 2012. 
  46. ^ Mead, Thomas (29 November 2012). "Fundraiser started for Cardboard Cathedral". 3 News. Retrieved 27 July 2013. 
  47. ^ "Sullivan, Martin Gloster". Dictionary of New Zealand biography. Retrieved 30 December 2012. 
  48. ^ "Barbadoes Street Cemetery Tour". Christchurch Library. Retrieved 30 December 2012. 

External links[edit]