3 New Zealand Cathedrals

Largest expanse of stain glass in Southern Hemisphere is in Auckland’s cathedral; designed by Nigel Brown

No one associates cathedrals with the new world. If you go to Europe you reserve time to see Notre Dame in Paris or St Paul’s in London. I am one of those odd people who checks out a cathedral while in New Zealand.

New Zealand has been inhabited by people for the shortest time of anywhere in the world. And for much of that time the Maori built fort like structures, but no cathedrals. Not until Europeans arrived with their ideas of suitable places to worship, and then every New Zealand city worth its salt needed a cathedral (or two as often the Roman Catholics followed suit).

Holy Trinity’s newest chapel

On this trip I have seen three Anglican cathedrals so far: Holy Trinity in Auckland, the temporary cathedral in Christchurch, and St John’s Cathedral in Napier. The history of New Zealand and the Anglican church are intertwined in the life of Bishop Selwyn. His portrait is generally found in each cathedral–unless they’ve been destroyed by earthquake.

The cathedral in Christchurch was recently felled by the February 2011 earthquake, but the Napier cathedral was also destroyed by an earthquake and fire in 1931. Unfortunately the quake struck while holy communion was in progress. As it states in the display at the back of the cathedral, “One parishioner, Edith Barry, (Mrs. T. Barry) was pinned beneath the falling beams and when she could not be extricated and fire began to rage through the stricken city she had to be given a merciful injection of morphine by Dr. G.E. Waterworth.” (Who said visiting churches is dull?)

St John’s Cathedral in Napier was rebuilt in the 1970s. It is very conducive to worship and has some lovely stain glass. It is not as grand as the cathedral in Christchurch was before it was damaged in 2010 and destroyed in 2011.  Sunday services are held at 8:00 and 10:00 a.m. I attended the later service and can vouch for the very talented choir.


We arrived in Christchurch just in time to attend the evensong service at the transitional cathedral, or Cardboard Cathedral at 4:30 p.m. The boys’ choir sang beautifully and the service was a blessed reminder that while the earth may heave, there is still some continuity and community that remains. The cathedral is constructed out of specially treated cardboard–hence the nickname “cardboard cathedral”. It was only meant to last five years and it has already been four. It will need to last much longer it seems as no one can resolve a way forward with some wanting to rebuild the former cathedral and others wanting to start afresh. Might I suggest a compromise? Consider the Coventry Cathedral where they incorporated some of the old cathedral that remained after the Blitz into the new modern design to beautiful effect.


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