Christ Church , New Zealand

The Anglican cathedral of ChristChurch in the city of Christchurch, New Zealand, was built in the second half of the 19th century. It 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 and 2010.


The origins of Christchurch Cathedral date back to the plans of the Canterbury Association who 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 Speechley.

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".

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. 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 was used for the roof supports.

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. The Christchurch Beautifying Society planted two plane trees to the south of the cathedral in 1898.

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 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.

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

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.


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.

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.

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. 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.

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

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

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.

Building Activity

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