Parker's Cathedral plea spurned

19:43, Mar 04 2012

Bishop Victoria Matthews has spurned a personal plea from Christchurch Mayor Bob Parker to put the quake-damaged Christ Church Cathedral into public ownership so it can be restored.

Most of the cathedral will be taken down over the next year, leaving only walls about two or three metres high, it was announced yesterday.

Parker made the approach to Matthews after a press conference announcing the controversial decision.

"I have discussed that with the bishop. The church has no desire to release that land and has a great desire to maintain a cathedral on that site. There are a number of difficulties that would then occur. It is their land and their cathedral," he said.

"I am open to that idea and have raised it with the bishop informally, but it didn't go anywhere. It is that sense of ownership – the relationship between the church and that site. I wanted to make sure that all the alternatives have been canvassed."

Matthews said she refused the offer because the church was emotionally tied to the site. "That is not a possibility for the church. The cathedral needs to sit on Anglican land because of the whole notion of consecration. That is not the way we want to proceed," she said.


"We really like the site. Our members have said they can let go of the building because of the extraordinary damage, but they have all said: `Hold on to that site.'

"This site is very important to Christchurch and the Anglican church. That has been a place of prayer for all those years. One-hundred-and-thirty years for that building.

"Prayer has soaked into the walls and earth. You can't walk away from that."

Parker said he was "very sad" about the decision to bring down most of the cathedral.

"At the end of the day the church has made a decision and they have every right to make that decision. Like many people I would have hoped it could have been saved either in whole or in part," he said.

"I find it difficult to understand why there was not a compromise that could have been reached. I am very disappointed about the outcome."

Cathedral project manager Marcus Read said the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (Cera) was involved in the decision.

"One of Cera's fears is we would leave a building that would have to be made safe in iterations every time there was an earthquake," he said.

"Cera warned us that throughout the next year there will be a large number of demolitions going on in the area. They would have continued to shake the cathedral."

The cathedral will be taken down over the next year, with stained glass windows removed in the next few months, Matthews said. "There will be no bulldozers or wrecking balls. This will be done with the respect and love for a building that has served us so long and so well."

The remaining walls could become a "prayer garden" over the years it takes to design and build a new cathedral.


Heritage advocates and politicians have expressed sadness at news that most of the symbolic Christ Church Cathedral will be demolished.

The New Zealand Historic Places Trust (NZHPT) said it was disappointed the Anglican Church had decided on "the most destructive" option available.

Chief executive Bruce Chapman said deconstructing the building to only two or three metres would make it difficult to retain any sense of how it once was.

Despite further damage caused by the December 23 earthquakes, NZHPT's consultant engineer had been confident restoration or reconstruction was possible, he said.

"While we appreciate this may be a more expensive option, restoration or reconstruction in a strengthened form remains a possibility, and there is an opportunity to explore options to obtain the necessary local, national and international financial support."

The cathedral was "a place symbolic of the identity of Christchurch" and retaining the building would have helped attract tourists and enhance the city's economic recovery, Chapman said.

But Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee said a "good decision" had been made "given the state of the building".

"We've got to remember that the Christ Church Cathedral in Christchurch centre does somewhat define the city, so it's a very sensitive building. I think the real challenge now is to work what is going to be the shape of the building that defines us, or the place that defines us, going forward," he said.

"It's a been tough decision, a hard decision, but I commend the courage of those who've had to come to this realisation today."

Prime Minister John Key said the cathedral was an "iconic building" but the decision on its fate was up to the Anglican Church.

He did not know if government resources would be needed, because it had been "heavily insured" and the Anglican Church had "significant worldwide capability to raise money".

Several donations to the Government's earthquake fund were tagged specifically for the cathedral, including a single donation of $4 million, Key said.

Christchurch Central MP Nicky Wagner said the news was "deeply, deeply sad".

"It almost feels like the heart's been torn out of our city."

She thought it would have been a "tough decision", but was glad the church would try to retain and recover as much as possible.

"I believe there must be a cathedral in Cathedral Square. I'm not 100 per cent convinced as to what that should look like, but I know it's got to be safe and I know it's got to retain as much as possible."

Both of Wagner's sons had been in the Christ Church Cathedral choir, and she had fond memories of preparing afternoon tea there for all the boys.

"When you're a choir mum you sit in that place a lot. A bunch of ragtag, rowdy little boys would come in, have their Milo and biscuits, and then they would put on their choir robes and they would transform into cherubic little boys and sing like angels."


A senior Christ Church Cathedral leader says the quake-damaged building should be rebuilt.

Campaigners have rallied in a bid to save the cathedral after the announcement yesterday it would be largely demolished.

Humphry Rolleston, chairman of the cathedral's Canons Almoner, said the icon should be rebuilt in the same form.

Church leaders had an "enormous responsibility to protect the 14 decades of work, skill, time, donations and love given by thousands of Cantabrians" to the building, he said.

"A new rebuilt cathedral in the same form, constructed in wood and where appropriate stone, can be built.

"The cost of this repair and rebuild can be met within the cathedral's insurance cover.

"Fundraising could easily meet any unexpected shortfall. Professional costings for this work should be commenced immediately so there is no uncertainty. A new, exciting 21st century spire can be built," Rolleston said.

"There is no reason why construction cannot commence within 12 months. This is a time for sound, sensitive, strong and inclusive leadership."

The chairman of heritage campaign group Iconic, Dr Ian Lochhead, said he wanted to see the reasoning behind the decision. This would include peer-reviewed engineering reports, so Christchurch could be "absolutely confident" that deconstruction was the only reasonable option.

"We're simply being told this is the decision and not being given anything to assess that decision.

"For a building that is so much part of the identity of Christchurch I don't think that's enough really."

He believed the church would end up dismantling the entire building.

"The only positive one can take out of it is that they're going to recover as much as possible."

Christchurch city councillor Aaron Keown said the cathedral would be demolished "over my dead body".

"I would be in there chaining myself to the building to stop that and I know lots of other volunteers would come in to do that.

"Forget Lucy Lawless' little eight-person campaign, this would be a big one," he said.

"We'd form a ring around the building and not let them in. It shouldn't even be a discussion." Keown had been inside the cathedral after the December 23 quake and it was in "good shape". The damaged west side was ruined, but could be replaced with glass and the steeple rebuilt with wood.

The Wizard said the cathedral building and land should be put in the control of a public trust. "I think it should be given to the people of Christchurch, then we could raise the money. We can't trust the church to look after that building."

The Press