Daily Post Photo Challenge: unlikely

Shot of damaged and deconsecreated Chistchurch Cathedral; through chainlink fencing. The Cathedral was extensively damaged by earthquakes in September 2010 February 2011, June 2011 and December 2011. Image: Su Leslie, 2018

Christchurch Cathedral; extensively damaged by earthquakes in September 2010, February 2011, June 2011 and December 2011. Image: Su Leslie, 2018

Christchurch Cathedral has a long history of “unlikely.”

It was first planned (and land set aside) in 1850, the year in which the first four ships carrying European settlers began to arrive in the area. (1)

It was a hugely ambitious project for a city that existed largely on paper, and it took a decade for plans to be drawn up (by British architect George Gilbert Scott, who never actually visited the site). Scott’s original plan was for a wooden church in his signature Gothic Revival style, but the then Bishop of Christchurch, Henry Harper, wanted a stone building. Revised plans were drawn and the cornerstone was laid in December 1864.

Lack of money — hardly surprising in a settlement of less than 1000 European settlers — held the project up for almost another decade, and it must have seemed unlikely that fledgling Christchurch would ever get a cathedral.

Christchurch Cathedral was consecrated 1881, and finally completed in 1904. (2)

Christchurch Cathedral, shored up after the tower and Rose Window collapsed in earthquakes. Image: Su Leslie, 2018

Christchurch Cathedral, shored up after the spire and Rose Window collapsed during the 2011 earthquakes. Image: Su Leslie, 2018

But New Zealand is not called “the shaky isles” for nothing, and earthquakes have repeatedly damaged the building — beginning in 1881, within a month on consecration.

During the terrible period between September 2010 and December 2011 when the Christchurch area suffered repeated, large-scale (and fatal) quakes, damage was so extensive that the cathedral had to be completely abandoned.

The February 2011 quake, which claimed 185 lives, completely destroyed the church spire and initially there were fears that up to 20 people may have been inside at the time (it was a tourist attraction). Thankfully, that was not the case.

Since 2011, there has been an on-going battle over the future of the cathedral — between the church which wanted to demolish it, and heritage groups arguing the building is an important part of the city’s heritage and should be preserved.

For a long time it’s seemed unlikely that Christchurch Cathedral would be re-built. But in September 2017, after intervention from the New Zealand government, the uncertainty ended and it was announced that the cathedral will be re-instated. (2)

Daily Post Photo Challenge | unlikely

As an aside: two separate lines of the Big T’s ancestors arrived in New Zealand on the fourth of those ships, the Cressy, in December 1850.

  1. Early Christchurch, a brief history. Christchurch City Libraries
  2. Christchurch Cathedral, Wikipedia


28 thoughts on “Daily Post Photo Challenge: unlikely

  1. Much as I like the idea of restoring such an historic building, my cynical head thinks it would be a waste of money as it is most likely to come down again in another earthquake. Rather just leave it as a ruin. We love our ruined churches/abbeys/monasteries here and leaving them as a ruin keeps that sense of the past 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • I agree actually — though I recognise that I’m not a local, and perhaps don’t appreciate the depth of feeling Christchurch people have towards their cathedral. The restoration will likely be very earthquake-tolerant, but the deal was only done when central government offered to part-fund. I have an issue with public money being spent on a church when there is so much poverty and need in NZ. And so many people in Christchurch still suffering the effects of the quake in very immediate ways. 😕

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Unlikely – Fairies | What's (in) the Picture?

  3. My first thought was, oh yes, that’s great it’s going to be rebuilt – preserving heritage etc. Then I read Jude’s comment and I see her point. A (safe) ruin can be a memorial in the way the ruins of the original Coventry Cathedral are.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. How very sad. As the daughter of an architect, I have a strong sense of attachment to buildings, especially older buildings that were loved by a community. I understand the desire to renovate, but I hope they do more to make it earthquake-proof.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Normally I’m all for rebuilding as it is an important part of the city’s and its people’s history but when I read that public funds are going to spend for it I changed my mind. All over Europe Catholic churches are abounded by the church because they allegedly don’t have the money to maintain or repair the various buildings. I’m not Catholic but as an art historian feel it’s a shame to give up so much history by the institution itself.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It was the church here too that wanted to demolish the cathedral and build a new one — for much the same reason. I also struggle with the tension between wanting to preserve culture and heritage and worrying about the other things that public money could be spent on.

      Liked by 1 person

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