Disappointment as Bishop decides to demolish Chch cathedral

From Checkpoint, 7:30 pm on 5 August 2019

An architectural historian has criticised the announcement to demolish one of Christchurch's most well-known churches.

Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament, Christchurch

Photo: Supplied / Peter Fleming

Not to be mistaken for the central city's well-known Anglican cathedral, the Catholic building rests on the east of central business district and was set to be restored after the earthquakes.

However, the city's new bishop Paul Martin has said the rebuild cost of $149 million was too much and was keen to see a new cathedral in a prime, central city location.

Built in 1905, the headquarters of the Catholic Church in the city was damaged in the 2011 earthquakes and has sat in a state of disrepair for eight years.

Known by historic architects as one the most beautiful cathedrals in the Southern hemisphere, what's left sits in ruins.

It's held up by Roman pillars with two concrete angels perched up high and the mosaic face of Jesus on the window of the entrance door.

"If we can't refurbish this then I am keen to move into town. Certainly, the site in Victoria Square is one we are interested in, but we haven't secured that," Mr Martin said.

The Diocese has been given authority over the decision because the building failed to pass a 12-point test set by the now disestablished Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (CERA).

"It is nearly nine years since the first earthquake and during that time we have spent millions of dollars investigating the site and the building and looking at more than 20 different options for what could be achieved.

"But, ultimately, we were unable to find a functional and financial solution."

At the centre of the decision was the cathedral's inability to pass Section 38 of CERA notice issued in 2015. It gave the diocese the power to demolish the building entirely if it was found it could not pass the 12-point test.

The late bishop, Barry Jones, hoped he might be able to save the nave of the church and build more modest bell towers, but that too could not pass the test.

"Just saving the nave and rebuilding on a modest scale was estimated to cost in excess of $91 million, while to fully restore, it is estimated that it would cost at least $149m," Mr Martin said.

But Dr Anna Crighton of Historic Places Aotearoa criticised the outcome.

"My personal reaction is shock. It needn't happen. Anything can be restored if there was a will for it to be restored.

"The previous bishop [said] he was going to have it restored but unfortunately he passed away."
Christchurch councillor Deon Swiggs said although it was tragic, he was pleased a decision had finally been made.

As for the Anglican Christchurch Cathedral, which was possibly the city's most well-known church, work to restore to it was underway.

"The grounds have been cleaned which is a real good start because they were looking terrible for far too long."