Church rated tops

STURDY AND HISTORIC: The  Historic Places Trust has awarded  St Patrick's Union Church at Burkes Pass a Category One listing.
STURDY AND HISTORIC: The Historic Places Trust has awarded St Patrick's Union Church at Burkes Pass a Category One listing.

A "sturdy little building" in Burkes Pass has received the highest possible heritage ranking.

St Patrick's Union Church has been confirmed as a Category One building under the Historic Places Act.

According to the Historic Places Trust's report, the 140-year-old church appears to be "the only purpose-built union church still in use as a church and still situated in its original location".

"The church is one of the oldest remaining buildings in the Mackenzie District and is the first and only church erected in Burkes Pass," the report said.

"Being the first union church to be established in South Canterbury, St Patrick's Union Church inspired the erection of other union churches in the area. Its authenticity, location and ongoing use as a church differentiates it from others around the country."

The review also noted that the building was largely intact in its original form, and still contained the organ, lectern, font, brass cross, candle holders, timber chest and cast-iron burner. In addition, four of the pews are made from the eight original pews.

The church was previously a Category Two-listed building, but advocacy from the Burkes Pass Historical Trust led to the campaign to have its category increased.

Trust chairwoman Jane Batchelor said the group was delighted with the announcement.

"We're absolutely thrilled. It is something that is really overdue."

Mrs Batchelor said the building's survival alone was remarkable.

"It's an incredibly sturdy little building. It has been exposed to all sorts of extremes of weather in Burkes Pass and remained upright to this day.

"It is actually quite astonishing that it has survived so long. For most of its life, it has had no shelter."

The fact that several different religious denominations united to build the church in the 1870s was also significant, Mrs Batchelor said.

"It seems quite remarkable that they all got together for this common goal. They understood that it was needed not just as a place of worship, but as a place for the whole community to get together."

The Burkes Pass Historical Trust bought St Patrick's Union Church in 2001, after concerns that it was going to be moved.

"We were aware of part of its history when we purchased the church, but we have discovered a lot since then. The archives at the Hocken and Turnbull libraries have been very helpful," Mrs Batchelor said.

"But we want to ensure that it remains a living, working building. Tourists and locals who visit it really appreciate the experience, not least because it's in such a peaceful, remote, spot."

St Patrick's Union Church was already listed as a heritage building in the Mackenzie District Plan.

The Timaru Herald