Telling the stories of the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, NZ and Polynesia

Canterbury's heritage churches hammered

A significant number of Canterbury’s most iconic churches are among buildings most seriously damaged by the quake.

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Taonga Reporters  |  07 Sep 2010  |

A significant number of Canterbury’s oldest, most iconic and best-loved churches are among the buildings most seriously damaged by Saturday's earthquake. 

Old masonry and brick buildings – constructed before the 1931 Napier quake ushered in changes in building codes – have been hardest hit by the quake and aftershocks.

Canterbury has received 270 aftershocks or magnitude 3 or above so far since Saturday's destructive 7.1 earthquake, according to GNS Science. A state of emergency in the inner city has been extended seven days following a 5.1 magnitude jolt this morning.

Thankfully, ChristChurch Cathedral – the icon of Canterbury – has been spared because of a multi-million dollar strengthening project undertaken a few years ago, largely financed by the Christchurch ratepayers.

Engineers on Tuesday confirmed that the Cathedral is "performing well" during aftershocksw, but the great nave remains closed until the risk of further jolts eases. Hospitality and prayer will still be offered in the Visitors' Centre.

Other jewels in the diocese are not as fortunate as the cathedral. These include:

• St John’s, Latimer Square – home to one of the largest congregations in the diocese. Tonnes of masonry are strewn at the foot of the collapsed belltower. The quake has posed a double set of challenges for folk at St John’s. The largest of their three Sunday congregations has grown too big for the old church and has been meeting in the larger St Margaret’s College chapel in Papanui Rd. But this too has been hit by the quake and is unusable for at least three months.

• St Mary’s, Merivale. The church, vicarage and hall have all suffered significant damage, and have been listed as unsafe by civil defence authorities. This coming Sunday parishioners plan to gather for worship at St Andrew's College.

• Theology House, above the Merivale parish office, is awaiting clearance from engineers. The Director, the Rev Dr Peter Carrell, was hoping to re-open in the next day or so but a series of aftershocks has dislodged more brickwork.

• St Barnabas, Fendalton. There are significant cracks in the walls of the church, and the congregation is meeting in the church hall until the church has the all-clear from structural engineers.

Other iconic Anglican churches in and around Christchurch which have suffered serious structural damage include St Luke’s in the City; Holy Trinity, Avonside; Holy Trinity, Lyttelton; and St Cuthbert’s in Governor’s Bay.

The quake damage, of course, is not confined to Anglican churches. The Rugby St Methodist Church, once the flagship of the Methodist Church in Christchurch, has been ruined. The main Baptist church in the city – Oxford St Baptist – has also suffered severe damage.

Neither is the damage restricted to churches in Christchurch.

The tower of St John’s, Hororata – about 45 minutes west of the city – has partially collapsed and punctured the roof of the church below.

Even though the St John’s vicarage is directly across the road from the church, vicar Jenni Carter didn’t hear the massive tower collapse above the deafening rumble of the quake. That sound, she says, was like “a threshing machine.”

A video interview with Jenni Carter can be seen here.

Meanwhile, there are also reports of significant damage to churches in South Canterbury. The Church of the Holy Innocents, on the Acland estate at Mt Peel, has been badly damaged, while the spire of St Mary's in Timaru has had to be removed.

Places where the church works out the gospel have been badly affected, too. For example, the historic St Saviour’s Orphanage Chapel at Churchill Courts resthome and hospital has had to be demolished. Some of Churchill's studio units also have subsided.

Diocesan staff are establishing which churches are safe and will be publicising these as spiritual spaces for people to process the earthquake, talk about there experiences and pray. A list of these and more details will be available in the next few days.

Some worship services in the parishes worst struck were relocated or cancelled last Sunday due to concerns about a larger aftershock. Services at the Cathedral also were cancelled because access to the Square was denied.

The diocesan insurers, Ansvar, has commissioned Godfrey’s to assess the damage, and the Church Property Trustees' property manager, Liz Clarke, is handling urgent inquiries. 

Diocesan Synod was postponed due the to earthquake. A new date will be announced soon.

Emergency Contacts

The Anglican Centre in Kilmore Street has not yet been given the all-clear, so all enquiries should be addressed to the Communications Officer, Spanky Moore, on or 021 277 2658.

Theology House: Dr Peter Carrell, ph 03 355-9682 or 027 4772975.