Telling the stories of the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, NZ and Polynesia

Cathedral coming down to 3 metres

Brian Thomas for Taonga News  |  06 Mar 2012  |  2 Comments  

Quake-crippled ChristChurch Cathedral will be brought down to a “safe level” – between 2 and 3 metres high.

Some walls may be lowered even further, for safety reasons, while none of the walls will be left intact. But the footprint will remain, and no bulldozers or wrecking balls will be used in the demolition.

Bishop Victoria Matthews released this information last Friday.

Mayor Bob Parker called the decision "heartbreaking" for many people in Christchurch. "We all have a sense of ownership in this building," he said.

"This has not been an easy decision for the church. It is not an easy decision for many of us to accept either."

Earlier, Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee applauded the decision, which was made at a special meeting of the Diocesan Standing Committee and Church Property Trustees.

Bishop Victoria said taonga and heritage items – including the stained-glass windows – would be removed over the next few months.

The process of bringing down the 130-year-old cathedral to a safe level is likely to take most of the year.

“This is very different from the plan presented last October, due to the seismic events of 23 December,” she said in a prepared statement to the diocese. 

“CERA has insisted that we present a new plan to ensure the building is safe, and we agree with their requirement. 

“I am sad to have to relay this decision but I believe it is the way forward. 

“There are of course other voices and alternative opinions but I have relayed to you the decision of the Cathedral Project Group, which … has the delegated authority to make recommendations about the future of the cathedral to the Cathedral Chapter, CPT and Standing Committee. 

“The decision was made with much prayer and deliberation and has the support of each of the various groups.

“It is also the decision that has the highest support from CERA for safety reasons. 

“The demolition and deconstruction will be carried out with care and great respect for a wonderful sacred space that has been damaged beyond repair.

“My prayers and the prayers of many around the world are with you at this time.

"It is now up to all of us to show that we are the living Cathedral of Christchurch; and that we carry within us and live out the Gospel of Jesus Christ wherever we go and wherever we are. 

“In the midst of this sad outcome let us not neglect to witness to the hope within us due to God’s love, grace and mercy.”

At a separate CERA media conference this morning, Gerry Brownlee told reporters church leaders had made a good decision and he admired their courage.

He said the real challenge now was to work out the shape of the next building or place that defines Christchurch.

'No bulldozers or wrecking balls'

Speaking to a media conference in the Botanic Gardens on Friday afternoon, Bishop Victoria said no bulldozers or wrecking balls would be used in the deconstruction.

She acknowledged "the high level of community interest and sense of ownership as the cathedral was both an iconic building and a place of regular worship by many.

“However, this is now a very dangerous building that needs to be made safe.

“Our priority is also to ensure people working on-site are safe – in fact, if anyone had been in the building on December 23rd they would have been put at a great risk of serious injury or worse."

Bishop Victoria said the diocese was facing a hard reality – “the cathedral is the revered 'Mother Church' but is not the only church in the diocese to have sustained damage, in some cases irreparable or too costly to repair."

She said cost had been a factor in the decision. “Currently, the Church Property Trust has estimated a $20-$30 million shortfall over the whole Anglican Diocese, which does not include the potential cost of any future damage.

“In regard to the cathedral specifically, the sums are staggering. A replica cathedral has been ruled out due to an estimated $100 million shortfall, while a new build incorporating some of the old would incur a shortfall of up to $50 million.

"We would not be responsible stewards if we ignored the financial realities – in this respect, we are facing a similar challenge as the Roman Catholic Diocese.

"We are now looking to the future and creating a beautiful, inspiring, safe new cathedral but we understand it will take some time for any of these decisions to be made.

“Meanwhile, we are committed to establishing a transitional cathedral in the central city to bring hope to Christchurch and provide a much-needed venue where the community can pray, reflect and gather for worship."

COMMENT ON THIS STORY: Thursday, 08 March

I wonder if Mayor Bob Parker’s stance re Save Our Cathedral is primarily a diversion from his own beleaguered position.

If Christchurch Cathedral is in some esoteric way Public Property, then if the public of Christchurch is willing to raise their rates to rebuild this city icon (determined by referendum and not Bob's say-so), then the Anglican Church should take their insurance pay-out, plus an appropriate payment from the city for its land, and go build what it wants elsewhere; leaving the City of Christchurch to fully fund this icon’s reinstatement to its pre-quake appearance.

It is possible to rebuild and reinforce very tall stone buildings to any earthquake code, but costs are significant. Further, estimates for such works are frequently too low once increased foundational reinforcement, etc, is ascertained.

While many stone Cathedrals and buildings were re-built following WWII, a significant difference exists between those circumstances and Christchurch’s. When WWII ended the bombing stopped, whereas there is no indication that Christchurch will not continue to experience life-threatening earthquakes. Thus, the situations are not analogous.

The Revd Ron Ashford - Avondale


Cliff Studman

A brilliant decision that I support. The most fitting memorial to Coventry cathedral is the (safe) remains of that building , destroyed in the 2nd World war. Ditto buildings in Germany. So a safe site leaving the remnants will be the most fitting memorial and significant as a historical reminder of the history of old Christchurch.

For the church it is time to move on. Cathedrals are yesterdays symbol of God, and we should be looking to a new way of expressing the majesty and glory of God that is relevant to today. Let us celebrate the past and look forward to an exciting new future, liberated from maintaining old icons of a time that is no more.

Alastair Thompson

I am very very sad to hear this news. I think the decision is deeply flawed as has been the consultation process and pressure from CERA which has led to it.

To secure public safety it would probably be cheaper as well as far more popular to build a semi-permanent fence around the site preserving what is there until the time when a decision must be taken arrives.

That time is not yet with us.

For CERA to have put pressure on the Church following the 23 December quake is in my view both deeply insensitive and seriously misguided.

This decision will leave scars in the minds of 10s of thousands of Cantabrians which will be there forever.

Alastair Thompson
Former Chorister
ChristChurch Cathedral 1978-1983