Today, at 4:30pm, many were expecting to hear the final decision about what would happen to the Christchurch Anglican cathedral in the Square, damaged in the earthquakes that destroyed so much of Christchurch. The Great Christchurch Building Trust have sought to see the building brought back essentially to as it was pre-quakes. The owners, the Church Property Trustees (CPT), were in favour of a new, contemporary building. The acrimonious controversy (which has involved the courts) was affecting the central-city rebuild, so Auckland lawyer Miriam Dean QC was appointed by the Government to broker a deal between church leaders and heritage campaigners. Today’s announcement was not the decision many expected: The Anglican Church agrees to investigate reinstating the earthquake-damaged Christ Church Cathedral.
Outward Visible Signs
If nothing else, the energy and controversy around the Christchurch cathedral building is a lesson in sacramentality – objects can be outward visible signs of an invisible reality. Objects can be multivalent, affecting people differently. We cannot say, “it is only a building”, “it is merely a cathedral”, “it is just stone and glass”.
And there is another lesson, then, as we go on to rebuild Christchurch: buildings affect our soul (whether you believe in souls or not). Our city was green and gothic. Now we have to find a newer expression. Endless rectangles of (safe-and-inexpensive) steel and glass, with straight canyons channeling the cold Easterly, cannot become the Christchurch of the future.
I mostly assume a post-Christendom paradigm. But a lot of things belie my assumption. I regularly minister in what appears to be a far more Christendom context. The city where I serve is (I’m pretty sure) the world’s only Anglican-foundation city (hence, the province’s name, Canterbury, with the city named after our cathedral). All our main streets are named after Anglican Communion dioceses.
NZ has two national anthems. Both are addressed to (the Christian) God. Parliament begins each day with a (Christian) prayer (the Speaker’s investigation into changing the prayer resulted in no change).
So Christchurch’s identification with the cathedral at the centre goes deep.
Creating contemporary church buildings
CPT, after an international tour of cathedrals and churches, had decided for a contemporary building. Counterintuitively, it seemed to many, the exterior, seen by “non-churchgoers”, was significantly different to the familiar profile, for example, on the city’s logo, while the footprint of the interior was identical to that of the inherited 19th-century model.
If we were to be restricted to something akin to that footprint, I expressed my hope there would be consideration of more “in-the-round”, flexible worship space, what came to be known as “Option 3B“. In the event, Option 3 moved from being the decided option, to a “placeholder” for some contemporary building, to now, following today’s announcement, where reinstating the building to its pre-quake look is seriously back on the table.
Blog posts on this site on church architecture.
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