Church spat on sad day for city

CHARLIE GATES
Last updated 05:00 23/02/2013

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It was shattered two years ago and now Christchurch's iconic Anglican Cathedral is being left to die "without the dignity it deserves", Bishop Victoria Matthews says, in a claim slammed by opponents as "tasteless" and out of touch with the "culture of Christchurch".

In a statement released on the second anniversary of the February 22 quake, the bishop said a legal row meant precious artefacts could not be saved and the building could not be made safe.

Jim Anderton, chairman of the trust bringing the legal challenge, described Matthews' comments as "tasteless".

"Maybe it is a sign she doesn't understand the culture of Christchurch," he said.

"When she talks about preserving the dignity of the church and treating the building with respect what she actually means is she wants to destroy it. Since when is destruction dignity? The building does not have to be destroyed."

Cathedral leaders decided in February last year to largely demolish the cathedral, bringing the walls down to a height of about three metres.

Matthews said the items were in jeopardy, describing the damage as "an act of violence against a building and the stories and history that it contains of Canterbury and of the Christian faith".

It was "gutting and upsetting to see that due to the ongoing legal process we are unable to retrieve treasured items from inside the cathedral and make it safe", she said.

"A building that glorified God, that was our ‘mother church', we are now unable to give it the dignity it deserves," she said.

"A building that was used to tell and glorify God, and was a place of hope and life for the community, is now wasting away a slow death and that is no way to treat a once-sacred building."

Anglican diocese media officer Jayson Rhodes defended Matthews' timing.

"The focus for today is people's lives that were lost and that is what the release says," he said. "On a day that we remember what was lost two years ago, the statement makes it clear that people are the priority."

The statement is headlined "Frustration as cathedral treasures waste away".

The second paragraph states: "[Matthews] says it must always be remembered that people are first rather than buildings and lives were lost and people seriously injured in the February 2011 earthquake. Alongside that was the loss of homes and treasured buildings."

The Great Christchurch Buildings Trust, which is headed by Anderton and former MP Philip Burdon, challenged the demolition decision in the High Court.

A preliminary judgment in November put a hold on demolition, but said the church was not required to replicate the building as it was before the Canterbury earthquakes.

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TIMELINE

February 22, 2013: Bishop Victoria Matthews says the cathedral is "being left to die with no dignity" because of ongoing legal wrangles about its fate. November 2012: Demolition work is put on hold after an application for a judicial review was granted by the High Court. In granting the review, Justice Chisholm ruled the Anglican Church must formally commit to rebuilding a cathedral in the Square, but it was not required to replicate the cathedral. May 2012: Several thousand people protest against the demolition. April 2012: Demolition begins with the west wall of the tower. March 2012: Bishop Matthews confirms the Christ Church Cathedral is to be demolished.

- The Press

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