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The Cyclopedia of New Zealand [Canterbury Provincial District]

Christchurch Cathedral

Christchurch Cathedral. Even when Christchurch existed only on paper and in the minds of a few people in England, it was thought that the city would not be complete without a cathedral. In the original survey of the city of Christchurch, therefore, a prominent site was set apart for the sacred edifice. Indeed, the founders of the province went further than this. The actual cost of the building was provided for; but only on paper, and when the financial prospects of the Canterbury Association were obscured by failure to sell a large portion of the Canterbury block, nothing further was done at that time, and the Pilgrims came without the wherewithal to build a cathedral. When Bishop Selwyn visited them shortly after their arrival, he held the first service at Lyttelton in a loft over a goods store, reached by a ladder, the seats being extemporised by resting planks on sugar barrels. On Christmas Day, 1856, Dr H. J. C. Harper, the first Bishop of Christchurch, was enthroned at the Church of St. Michael and All Angels, which then became the procathedral. But the desire for a real cathedral, such as they had seen often in the Old Country, was strong within the breasts of the early colonists. Therefore, in 1859, the Diocesan Synod appointed a Commission for the erection of the cathedral. The Provincial Council had appropriated a sum of money to assist in the erection of churches. A portion of this was placed at the disposal of Bishop Harper, and he set aside £1000 as the nucleus of the Cathedral Fund. In 1862 a further step was taken when Sir George Gilbert Scott, R.A., at the instance of the Commission, prepared plans. Then in October, 1863, a public meeting was held to consider the pressing need for additional church accommodation. Those who attended were very enthusiastic, and it was decided to commence the erection of the nave of the cathedral. Active canvassing was carried on, and it was not long before the sum of £16,000 had been promised. In 1864 Mr R. Speechly came out as the local representative of Sir Gilbert Scott, the architect. Then the foundations of the entire structure were laid, in the same year, on the fourteenth anniversary of the arrival of the first settlers, Bishop Harper conducting the ceremonies.

Soon after this admirable start, however, Canterbury was overtaken by a period of depression. The work at the cathedral, therefore, had to be stopped, as there was no money to carry it on. In 1873, Anthony Trollope, the well-known novelist, in his account of his visit to this colony, sarcastically referred to the “huge record of the Canterbury Association's failure, which the town of Christchurch contains. In the centre of it,” he said, “there is a large waste space in which £7000 have been buried in laying the foundations of a cathedral; but there is not a single stone or a single brick above the level of the ground. The idea of building the cathedral is abandoned. It was a sad sight to me to look upon the vain foundations.” But in that same year the Commission made a fresh and energetic start. Citizens, settlers, and strangers gave liberally to page 186
Christchurch Cathedral.Dutch, photo.

Christchurch Cathedral.
Dutch, photo.

the fund, which rapidly grew to large dimensions. The result was that on the 1st of November, 1881 (All Saints' Day), the nave, capable of seating about 900 persons, a temporary apse, and a tower and spire, were ready, and the consecration service was conducted by Bishop Harper, in the presence of many church dignitaries and the leading members of the laity. A temporary cancel was erected, and since the date just mentioned, services have been held in the cathedral every day. Prior to 1881, the sum of £46,000 was spent on the building. Besides that, large sums have been bestowed for the purpose of beautifying the interior. The whole expense of building the tower was met of the late Mr. R. H. Rhodes, in memory of his brother, Mr. George Rhodes. The spire was erected by Mr. George Rhodes's children. In 1888 a severe earthquake shook down about 30 feet of the spire, and the cost of restoration also was borne by Mr. G. Rhodes's family. The spire is 95 feet high; the balconies on the tower are 120 feet from the ground; the height from the ground to the top of the cross is 215 feet. It may be stated that the cross, the arms of which are several feet long, has been trebly-gilt with fine copper, and the ornament has been constructed so that at all hours of the day the rays of the sun are reflected from some angles.

There are ten bells in the tower. The total weight of the peal is 137 hundred weight and 24 pounds, and the bells have been tuned to the key of D. Eight of them were given by Mr. R. H. Rhodes, and the two smallest by Mr E. P. W. Miles. The latter bear the following inscription:

We, two little Bells to complete the chime,
Were nearly left out too late,
When, Miles to the rescue, but just in time,
Added us on to the Eight.

On the tenor bell, No. 10, which is the heaviest, being over 32 hundredweight, there is the following inscription:

Through all the Roads of life, the best
We'll strive to be your guide;
And let our notes do your behest
By tolling far and wide.
We've crossed the seas to this fair land,
To do God all the honour;
From clime to clime we'll ring our chime,
And tell of Rhodes, the donor.

It may be stated that in the year when the cathedral was consecrated, a Bellringers' Society was formed; it has been in existence ever since, and has about fifteen members. Probably the most impressive works inside the cathedral are the Selwyn Memorial Pulpit and the cenotaph or monument erected by public subscription in memory of Bishop Harper. The pulpit is a beautiful piece of workmanship. It is constructed entirely of stones found in the diocese. Four sculptured panels, in white alabaster, represent historic scenes in the life of Bishop Selwyn. One of the panels shows the Bishop preaching to the Maoris. Another represents a scene that occurred in 1856. When Bishop Harper arrived in New Zealand, Bishop Selwyn was at Lyttelton with his yacht, the “Southern Cross.” In those days, traffic was a very serious undertaking. The new Bishop had a large family and much luggage. To expedite matters, Bishop Selwyn sent some sailors asnore, and, cutting down some branches of trees, they roped them together, and made sledges, which were loaded up with Bishop Harper's household goods and then dragged over the Bridle Path to the Christchurch side of the hill. Bishop Selwyn himself took part in the work, and in the panel he is represented with a rope in his left hand, while with his right he grasps that of Bishop Harper. The third panel is entitled “The Church Constitution is Settled” (A.D. 1857). It represents Bishop Selwyn declaring that the constitution of the Church of the Province of New Zealand has been settled. The scene took place at Parnell, Auckland. An assembly for the formation of the New Zealand Church met in a small wooden church building. Just after the meeting had broken up, the Bishop, standing on the doorstep, and calling back some of the members, raised his hand and said—”Well, then, we understand the constitution is settled.” It is this incident which is represented by the panel. On the right of Bishop Selwyn are Sir William Martin, Mr. Swainson, and other laymen, and on his left Bishop Abraham and Bishop Hadfield. The fourth panel is “The Consecration of Bishop Patteson, 1861.” Besides the central figures, the scene represents Bishop Abraham, Bishop Hobhouse, and Sir William Martin.

The Harper Memorial cenotaph was raised by public subscription at a cost of £600. Upon the cenotaph there is the sculptured effigy of the departed Primate, an a recumbent page 187 position, in episcopal attire, and bearing the primatial crozier.

The Cathedral organ was selected by the Rev. Professor Sir F. A. G. Ouseley, and was built by the builders of the Westminster Abbey and Sydney Town Hall organs, Messrs Hill and Sons. It contains forty-four stops and 2054 pipes. In the choir stalls there is accommodation for sixteen men and twentyfour boys, and there are also stalls for twelve clergymen. These stalls, which will form part of the permanent choir when the cathedral is completed, were the gift of Mrs John Studholme. The eagle lectern, which is of carved oak, was the gift of Mrs Harper, wife of the first Bishop of Christchurch. Most of the stone columns and the stained windows were the gifts of churchmen and churchwomen. The stone work of the western doorway and of the rose window was carried out with funds raised by the Cathedral Guild. The northern column at the eastern end of the nave is in memory of Dr. Barker, one of the Canterbury Pilgrims, and was erected by members of his family. The northern porch was erected by the late Archdeacon Wilson, and a wellwisher in England contributed largely to the southern porch. The western porch was the gift of Mrs Creyke, and was erected in 1895 in memory of her husband, the late Mr. A. R. Creyke.

In 1901, a contract was let for the erection of the transepts, at a cost of £9100, and this work is now (1902) in progress. A determined effort is being put forth to raise £7000 to complete the whole structure, by combining with the present contract one for the erection of the chancel. In 1901, Canon Pollock, who had recently arrived from England, volunteered to undertake the work of conducting an active canvass to raise the Cathedral Completion Fund, as it is called. With that end in view he invited the cooperation of leading citizens of all denominations. A public meeting was held, and a strong committee was formed to carry out the work. The result is that a considerable sum of money has been subscribed, and the promoters hope that before the contract for the transepts is completed, a further one, to erect the chancel as well, will have been signed, and the completion of the cathedral will be practically an accomplished fact. When finished, the Christchurch Cathedral will undoubtedly be one of the handsomest and most monumental buildings in the Southern Hemisphere.