Inside the rebuild of Christ Church Cathedral

Work to reinstate the Christ Church Cathedral is now well under way, but it could be eight years before it reopens.

The cathedral was damaged in the September 2010 earthquake and reopened soon after. However, the February 2011 earthquake devastated the building.

Much of the work going on now is to stabilise the building. Photo: Logan Church / NZH
Much of the work going on now is to stabilise the building. Photo: Logan Church / NZH
The cathedral lay in ruin for years while a decision was made as to what to do with it. In 2017 the Synod voted – by a narrow majority - to reinstate the building. This came after the then-National government offered a $10m cash contribution and a $15m loan – a $10m grant was also pledged by the Christchurch City Council.

The building had long stood as a symbol of the lack of progress for the city's rebuild, but now, more than 10 years on from the first earthquake, work was well under way on the site, overseen by the Christ Church Cathedral Reinstatement Trust.

The Herald was taken on a tour of the cathedral site by project director Keith Paterson to see what work was being done.

Much of that work involved stabilising the structure.

At the front of the building – the west wall – timber bracing had been put up. That wall, including its large rose window, collapsed following the quakes. Facing timber had also been installed in preparation for permanent stabilisation frames.

On the southwest transept, the first part of stabilisation work was under way.

Keith Paterson, project director, estimates the project could take seven to eight years. Photo:...
Keith Paterson, project director, estimates the project could take seven to eight years. Photo: Logan Church / NZH
That involved creating heavy foundations to support steel frames that would reach to the top of the transept.

Then, long steel bars would be drilled into the wall to connect the frames to the building – core samples had been taken from the wall to check for voids.

On the other side of the building, similar work was being completed, with large foundations put in place to support a structure that would clamp on to the building.

Paterson said the building also needed to be cleared of vermin.

"We have a pigeon problem.

"Unfortunately they have inhabited the building for the last eight years and have contaminated it."

Pigeons were not the only natural encroachment that had to be dealt with - parts of the roof had collapsed on the northern side of the building resulting in "an internal garden".

Aside from the stabilisation work, efforts were being made to preserve the heritage of the building – including its contents.

Heritage professional, Jenny May, holds up a piece from the rose window. Photo: Logan Church / NZH
Heritage professional, Jenny May, holds up a piece from the rose window. Photo: Logan Church / NZH
Heritage professional and cathedral lay canon, Jenny May, was able to enter parts of the building alongside Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) in the weeks following the quake to retrieve some items.

"All of our silver chalices...our processional crosses, the bishop's crosier...things that were very important to the church," she said.

But much remained.

"There is a huge range of material that is in there – there is also a lot of material the condition of which we don't know because a lot of rubble was moved around in the nave by USAR when they were making sure nobody had been killed or trapped."

Part of May's job involved making sure items found in this stage of the reinstatement were carefully removed, recorded, and stored.

The missing west wall was originally home to the large rose window - now it is home to pigeons....
The missing west wall was originally home to the large rose window - now it is home to pigeons. Photo: Logan Church / NZH
She said there had been some "incredible" finds along the way, including pieces of the intricate rose window that sat in the west wall.

"I was standing with the stonemason...he was going through one pile I was going through another, he held up a piece and said to me 'look at this' and I said 'I think I've found the other half of this'...he handed it to me and we put them together and we had a whole face," she said.

There was still a big question mark over how much the project would cost. An estimate in 2017 was around $104m, made up of the church's insurance money, the Crown and council contributions, grants, and fundraising efforts.

The former Anglican bishop, Victoria Matthews, initially wanted to demolish it and build a replacement, at the time saying there were much greater concerns facing the church, including child poverty and climate change.

The interior of the Christ Church Cathedral before it collapsed. Photo: Logan Church / NZH
The interior of the Christ Church Cathedral before it collapsed. Photo: Logan Church / NZH
It was expected the final cost would be more than $104m and while Paterson would not say what the updated cost figures were, he said that information would be released next month.

He said it was also not possible to state a firm timeframe for how long the work would take.

"The nature of the work is artisan and it's not conventional construction. As a result, one thing has to be done before the next and that is why it's a wee bit tricky to predict just exactly how long it will take... but my best estimate is about 7-8 years.

"At the moment sitting here in the square is a symbol of a lack of progress - what we can see is progress has started."

 

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