Altar stays - for now

Nathalie Brown stands at the door of the Teschemakers Chapel, near Oamaru, to prevent Dunedin...
Nathalie Brown stands at the door of the Teschemakers Chapel, near Oamaru, to prevent Dunedin stonemasons from entering yesterday. Photo by Sally Rae.
A bucket of tools made it to the front steps of the Teschemakers Chapel near Oamaru yesterday - but no further.

An interim enforcement order issued by the Environment Court meant work could not start on removing the chapel's altar.

Resource consent must now be obtained from the Waitaki District Council to remove and transfer the marble altar to the Holy Name Church in Dunedin.

Work was scheduled to start yesterday.

The altar has been given by the owners of the chapel contents, the Dominican Sisters, to Holy Name Parish.

Susie Scott applied for an injunction on Sunday night and, at 11am yesterday, news that an interim enforcement order had been issued by Judge Jon Jackson was greeted in the chapel with whoops of joy.

Opponents of the removal gathered from about 6am.

A wooden cross was tied to a tractor which blocked the road to the chapel.

Three Dunedin stonemasons arrived and stayed by their vehicle, parked on the side of the road.

A truck carrying scaffolding arrived mid-morning.

When project manager Paddy Bleach, from Naylor Love Construction, arrived, Waitaki Mayor Alex Familton told him the community deserved space to make approaches to try to save the altar.

Mr Familton also phoned Fr Mark Chamberlain, of Holy Name Parish, to see if some time could be given to resolve issues.

However, Fr Chamberlain said last night the council had had plenty of time and opportunity to resolve the issue.

"The Dominican Sisters offered a proposal to establish a trust for the chapel and donate all the sacred objects, with the exception of the altar, to the trust.

Alex was on that group and he and the group never got back to the sisters.

"The main thing, for us as Catholics, is that the altar is a sacred object, not an artefact. It's where the bread and wine which become the body of the Lord is placed.

"It was gifted to us and we accepted it. It hadn't been used for 13 or 14 years as an altar, but when it comes to Holy Name it will be used every day for Mass.

"It is a spectacular altar and would go very well in Holy Name."

Ms Scott, whose grandfather, Peter McCarthy, gave the 28-bedroom house and 10ha at Teschemakers to the Dominican Sisters in 1911, and a further 40ha in 1918, was in the chapel when she received a call to say the order had been issued.

Thrilled by the decision, she said the altar was a permanent fixture so a resource consent was needed to remove it.

Under the Waitaki district plan, the chapel is listed as a category B protected item, so any demolition, removal, alteration or addition required a consent.

The stonemasons who were initially turned away from the chapel yesterday returned about 11.45am and were informed of the enforcement order.

They headed for the chapel, carrying a roll of plastic and a bucket of tools, and altar supporter Nathalie Brown would not let them in the door.

Another supporter, Wayne Stringer, advised them they would be breaching the order if they started work.

Lawyer Phil Hope arrived at 12.10pm and served the order on Naylor Love Construction through Mr Bleach.

Orders were also served on Fr Chamberlain and Trustees Executors (for chapel owner Nikken Seil).

Ms Brown, an Oamaru writer who has spent the past week seeking support for the retention of the altar in the chapel, said she was "utterly delighted".

She plans to continue with a public meeting, set down for Friday at 6pm at the North Otago Club.

Removing the altar from the chapel would be like trying to "rip down" a building in Oamaru's historic precinct, she said.

Annie Beattie said it would amount to "taking the heart of the place", while Forrester Gallery director Warwick Smith said it was a treasure that needed to be retained for future generations.

Gerry Kennedy, who now lives at East Taieri, spent 13 years at Teschemakers, in the days when it was a Catholic boarding school for girls.

She could not believe the "magnificent" altar could be considered separate from the chapel.

If it was taken out, the chapel would be "destroyed", she said.

The altar was the "hub" of a church, like a kitchen was the hub of a house.

"You don't sell your house ... [and] take the kitchen out," she said.

Mrs Kennedy believed the Holy Name Church, where the altar had been gifted, was an "inappropriate" home for it; Karen Howlett felt Holy Name was a "church with no feeling".

Bronwyn Judge, of Oamaru, described the chapel as the "female equivalent" of the Hall of Memories at Waitaki Boys High School, encapsulating "femininity, beauty and art".

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