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Christchurch cathedral to be demolished

Christchurch cathedralThose who have been reading between the lines will not have been surprised at the announcement today by Bishop Victoria Matthews that the Christchurch Anglican cathedral is to be demolished. The building was deconsecrated on 9 November, not something normally done to a building if it is to undergo repairs. The diocesan website already had a form asking questions like, “What features would you like to see in a Cathedral building which would support this ministry and mission?” The Christchurch Star newspaper already had the information printed prior to the announcement.

The decision is not without its controversy, including online petition for demolition not to proceed, a city councillor saying he, with others, will form a human ring around it to prevent demolition from happening, stories of international expertise being turned down, senior clergy and church laity strongly holding to repairing and replicating what was there, and images of a ruin at the beach with, this week, the bishop supporting the idea of transforming cathedral square into an artificial beach complete with massive movie screens. Early on, the mayor vowed the cathedral would be rebuilt. Both from within the church and from outside it, people have muddied the waters by being unclear what they mean by “rebuild”. In the mind of many it meant repair or replicate.

The cathedral is iconic for Christchurch. Look at the logo of the city: green park and gardens, the river, and… the cathedral’s profile.

This is the bishop’s full message:

Dear Friends,

I am writing to inform you of last evening’s meeting and the decision reached about the next step for our beloved Cathedral.

The Standing Committee and Church Property Trustees voted to bring the ChristChurch Cathedral down to a safe level. This is understood to be between two and three meters in height with some parts of the walls necessarily being lower for safety reasons. This means the footprint will be preserved but that there will be extensive controlled demolition and controlled deconstruction. For reasons of safety and the likelihood of ongoing seismic activity, we will not be preserving any of the walls intact. What this plan does allow is the safe retrieval of taonga and heritage items from the ruins. To give one example, we anticipate the safe retrieval of the remaining stained glass windows over the next couple of months. The process of bringing down the Cathedral to a safe level will take most of the balance of the year.

This is very different from the plan presented last October, due to the seismic events of 23 December. CERA has insisted that we present a new plan to ensure the building is safe and we agree with their requirement.

I am sad to have to relay this decision but I believe it is the way forward. There are of course other voices and alternative opinions but I have relayed to you the decision of the Cathedral Project Group, which is the group that has the delegated authority to make recommendations about the future of the Cathedral to the Cathedral Chapter, CPT and Standing Committee. The decision was made with much prayer and deliberation and has the support of each of the various groups. It is also the decision that has the highest support from CERA for safety reasons. The demolition and deconstruction will be carried our with care and great respect for a wonderful sacred space that has been damaged beyond repair.

My prayers and the prayers of many around the world are with you at this time. It is now up to all of us to show that we are the living Cathedral of Christchurch; and that we carry within us and live out the Gospel of Jesus Christ wherever we go and wherever we are. In the midst of this sad outcome let us not neglect to witness to the hope within us due to God’s love, grace and mercy.

In Christ,


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17 thoughts on “Christchurch cathedral to be demolished”

  1. This is a disgrace. That it is happening without consultation on the orders of discredited hopeless and unsympathetic persons such as Brownlee is doubly disgraceful.

    This will probably induce severe grief reactions in 10s of thousands of people whose feelings ought to be respected.

    You may recall that Brownlee wanted to knock all the heritage buildings in Chch down in the first few months after the feb quake…. there is no hurry for any rational reason. Just because of pushy people.

  2. Mark Aitchison

    This is going to be really, really hard for some people in Christchurch to take.

    There is a huge opportunity for the quality of communication between Anglicans and everyone else to be be raised to cope with this, and maybe that will start an era of better understanding between those who walked through the doors and those who only ever walked past. I wonder if that vocal opponent of the decision, who spent decades on a ladder outside the Cathedral, could be persuaded to say a few words here about what he sees the problem to be??

  3. I, personally, as a retired priest in the Diocese, feel that the bishop and the Cathedral Chapter have made the right decision. Photographs taken in the last few days have revealed more damage. And with the ongoing prospect of more quakes, the building needs to be dismantled – a procedure which the bishop has promised will happen – No bulldozers, no wrecking balls; just a painstaking dismantling – with an eye on what might be recovered from the ruins that will be of future value in a new cathedral.

    Other iconic church buildings in the city have already been demolished, and the diocese has much more to think about than a costly resurrection of what has been an iconic building. What is needed now – after the cathedral’s de-consecration – is an earnest ‘looking forward’ to what might be put in its place that is earth-quake proof, and as a potent symbol of faith in the future of the City and the Church here in Christchurch.

    My birth-place in Coventry, after the destruction of its mediaeval Cathedral during World War II, took the opportunity to ‘do something different’, and the resultant new Cathedral bears witness to a resurrection body that can endure. There is life after death. That is our raison d’etre!

  4. This is typical for Bishop Matthews from what I can see in previous news reports, speaking up for blessing same-sex unions for example, whilst voting against them in practice.

    It is very clear from afar that the rebuilding of the Cathedral is important to many people as a symbol of the rebuilding of Christchurch, of the rebuilding of life in the face of ongoing seismic activity, so even if it has to be rebuilt or preserved brick by brick on another site then that is what should happen.

    Coventry Cathedral was rebuilt alongside the war-damaged ruins of the old building and it’s one of the most powerful Christian sites in the world today http://www.coventrycathedral.org.uk/

    To refuse international fundraising assistance to respond to the will of the people most affected is not the example of humility which would be useful here, not just to preserve the beloved building but to preserve the image of the Anglican Church as connected and responsive to the community.

    Thinking of you all one year on.

  5. My condolences, Bosco, for your many losses. I recall the tragic loss of your daughter whom you loved so dearly. And the losses and disruptions of all these earthquakes. And now the beautiful Cathedral, so iconic of Christchurch….

    Again… in Lent.

    There are no words that can bring any of them back. But they are in your heart. And you are in God’s heart. Even more so… given these sufferings:

    “There are places in the heart that do not yet exist; suffering has to enter in for them to come to be”.

    Leon Bloy

    May The Peace of God reign in your heart.

  6. I’m sorry to hear that the cathedral will be demolished. I know little about the process that resulted in this decision, but it appears that communication during the period could have been better. I pray for all involved, especially those who grieve the demolition of their beloved cathedral.

    June Butler

  7. Extremely troubling news; how can there be a Christchurch without your cathedral?

    I don’t know enough of the pros and cons to evaluate the decision, but I do notice +Victoria’s announcement is written in typical bishop-speak, with liberal use of the passive voice (“this is understood,” “the decision was made”), euphemisms (“seismic events”) and what Americans call buck-passing (“the group that has the delegated authority”). Add plenty of pietisms (“My prayers are with you”) and you’ve got a first-rate episcopal letter.

    Just once I’d like to read, “We don’t have the faith, courage, leadership or money to do better, so we’re going to tear the place down.” Then at least the People would know what and who they were dealing with.

  8. I agree with Fr Ron. As I watched the news on Feb 22, 2011, I burst into tears at the sight of the cathedral tower falling. My sister quickly reminded me that people were dying. There was much thanksgiving when we learned that no-one was killed in the cathedral itself. I only worshipped in the cathedral on 2 occasions but already loved it so I understand the sadness of many who live and worship in Christchurch. However I am reminded of the 2 men killed in an aftershock while repairing the organ in another of the city’s churches. Human life is much more important. Save the sacred treasures and try to keep some reminder of the beautiful building but move on to a new future. I was inspired on a visit to Coventry and just last month visited the lovely cathedral in Napier built after the destruction in the 1920’s. I have admired Bp Matthews’ leadership in all of this upheaval despite my opposition to her covenant views.
    Brian (Dunedin)

  9. I’m still trying to figure out my own feelings about this. It’s like saying goodbye to a dear friend who’s been on life support, and the tragic decision to turn that off. We will all miss her.

  10. Brother David

    I am saddened by the loss of a beloved building. I am more saddened by the vileness of the comments directed at +Victoria. I do not often agree with her beliefs and decisions, but I have respect for them and I believe that she makes a decision such as this with much prayer and consultation.

    It is possibly miraculous that this building, built of these materials, stood as long as it did when one sees how easily it has come down, and how dangerous that would have been and how much life would have been lost had it occurred during a Sunday service. I hear what seem very selfish, unkind remarks about this.

    Living in a nation that suffered a devastating earthquake in my lifetime in our nation’s capitol, I know loss from this sort of natural disaster on a grand scale in both the loss of human life and the loss of historic buildings. I think some folks have the wrong concept of what an earthquake-proof structure actually is. It is not a building that survives unscathed and ready for continuing use. It is virtually impossible to build such a building with the technology and the materials that we have today. It is a structure that does not fall down on it occupants and kill them before they have opportunity to escape. And is most times totally useless and must be torn down and replaced afterward. Christchurch Cathedral could not provide that assurance, not before the quakes and not likely afterward, regardless of the price tag to rebuild.

    To those mightily unhappy, grieve your loss, but be civil and generous in your public comments, they cannot be taken back.

  11. As a citizen of Christchurch this news fills me with sadness, as a structural engineer it leaves me baffled. Even now there is a consensus within the profession that the building could easily be saved and fully strengthened. It would not be cheap or quick, and the procedure may be drastic, but it would not be difficult. It is as if the patient’s family has decided to turn off life support while doctors kept outside are saying a full recovery is still possible. This particular building is a powerful symbol for the city as a whole, and acts as a strong link between the church (the Anglicans, but other Christian churches too) and the city as a whole. The consequences of its loss may be much greater than many people realise. This is all very sad.

  12. There is no such thing as an earthquake-proof structure. Therefore any structure is to some extent an act of faith in an active seismic area.

    In the US we see this with California’s San Andreos Faultline, where twenty million people choose to live in this potentially catastrophic location yet building and development continue apace.

    All over the world people live alongside volcanoes, on flood plains, close by the sea…to say that one single building cannot be preserved due to risk flies in the face of the choices people make/have to make to stay located in potentially dangerous natural situations.

    In truth life is very fragile, every single day mother nature takes the lives of some of our fellow humans.

    We trust in God to give us strength and courage, and we find a way to do what we humans need to do!

    Thinking of you all; you are beloved around the world and in many prayers.

  13. Brother David

    Earthquake proof, earthquake resistant, that is playing semantic games to achieve some sort of one up for an opinion. Frail human beings make utterly stupid decisions daily regarding the idiotic places that they choose to live and folks senselessly die in horrendously tragic situations because of it. And in first world nations the survivors often go looking for someone to pin the blame upon and to monetarily compensate them when it was their loved ones who died. In developing nations we bury our dead and move on, hopefully learning not to repeat the mistakes of our forebears.

    I cannot agree that spending $100,000,000.00 to salvage that one building because of sentimentality would be wise stewardship of the church’s funds when the needs of all the buildings that must be replaced are taken into consideration. A new, beautiful, more spacious structure could be erected for a fraction of that cost better suited to the mission of the Anglican Diocese of Christchurch and her members, along with a number of other new church buildings.

  14. Bosco, I find it humbling to think that so many people outside of our quake-stricken city are aware of our situation and offer their sympathy and their prayers at this time. Thank you ALL.

    Today we heard the gospel of Mark 9:2-9, where Jesus was transfigured on the mountain top; and dear old Peter wanted to build three churches to commemorate the wonderful experience. However, his very human feeling was not met with divine approval – instead, Jesus took his disciples forward into another realm – where the Church was to become the Body of Christ – not a building.

    Yes, the cathedral was built to mark Anglican endeavour to build up the Body of Christ in Christchurch. But, in the end – as our Bishop so rightly reminds us – The Body of Christ is more clearly recognised through people. “Here is no abiding city”.

    Dear Bosco and Helen; Fond remembrances of your darling girl – this week. Blessings, Fr.Ron

  15. I support the decision taken by Bishop Victoria and her advisors after much thought and prayer. I am appalled at the viciousness of those who oppose the decision. God bless the Bishop and may the Holy Spirit bring grace and graciousness to all. Next stop: the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament.

  16. Brother David you commented earlier on ‘vileness of comments’…’utterly stupid decisions daily regarding the idiotic places that they choose to live’ seem to me unkind words which might apply to half the world’s population.

    27 people died here in the US due to random tornadoes just this week. I myself live in a hurricane prone zone close to the site of America’s worst ever natural disaster, a hurricane which drowned 6000 people in 1900.

    As you see yourself in Christchurch people do not just up and move when natural disaster occurs. On Galveston, the site of the hurricane in 1900, engineers subsequently raised the whole island several feet and built a sea wall which protects the coast to this day.

    Some of man’s greatest achievements occur in order to overcome huge difficulty.

    And people deserve and demand to be heard when they have strong views on what is important to them- that’s not ‘semantic games’ but the reality of human politics and psychology, and not least faith, which really does ‘move mountains’.

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