OPENING ON ALL SAINTS DAY. SERVICES NEXT WEEK. THE BUILDING AND ITS HISTORY.
"We shall plant the church of our forefathers in our new home in the distant land," the founders of Canterbury said as they discussed arrangements for laying the foundations of the prosperous province that has grown up in this part of New Zealand and right in the centre of the city they had laid out, they left a site for the Cathedral which has been completed recently, and which will be opened on Tuesday.
The edifice which sits enthroned in our midst, has had its ups and downs like Christchurch itself. Though it now looks upon a busy city, with unlimited prospects, there have been times when it experienced the unpleasantness of hard times, and was the victim of adverse criticism. It shared the city's adversities in the old days when the struggle was sometimes severe, and it bore the brunt of rather ill-natured remarks. Its unsightly foundations were described by Anthony Trollope in 1873, as a sad sight, when he wrote of the huge record of the Canterbury Association's failure which the town of Christchurch contained. Hardly less blunt was Lord Lyttelton when he visited Christchurch, and soundly rated the colonists for presuming to undertake the erection of a cathedral. In the days of its prosperity, Canterbury has not forgotten the Cathedral that accompanied it through its hard times. The original estimate of the cost of completing the building was £21,000. As the building now stands in Cathedral Square, its cost is represented by about £72,000, which sum has been subscribed in addition to donations for windows and other memorials.
After it had been definitely decided that a cathedral should be erected without delay, and after Sir Gilbert Scott, the eminent architect, had sent out alternative plans, the colonists were divided amongst themselves as to the best site. One section insisted upon the erection of the Cathedral in Cranmer Square, and others were equally insistent that the only proper and suitable site was that occupied by St Michael's Church. These important items were hotly discussed for several months, but the commission appointed by the Synod to deal with the matter decided that the claimants for neither Cranmer Square nor St Michael's had shown, good grounds for a deviation from the original plan, which was adhered to.
It was on the fourteenth anniversary of the landing of the first colonists that the foundation stone was laid by Bishop Harper in a heavy downpour of rain. The population of Christchurch was then not more than 5000 people.
Not long after this ceremony had taken place Canterbury fell into its most evil days of depression and dejection. There may, after all have been some justification for Anthony Trollope's unkind remarks. Grass grew over the foundations, and weeds sprang up and hid the ugly evidences of an unfinished purpose from view. It is stated that when Sir George Grey visited Christchurch, in 1867, it was necessary to mow the grass and whitewash the top of the foundations in order that he might see the outline. Many of those who had taken up the project with enthusiasm lost heart entirely, and were willing to relinquish all efforts. Messrs Fearing, Faintheart and Ready-to-Halt took a hand in the project, as they do in nearly all other undertakings of a similar nature, and it was even proposed that hope of building a cathedral should be abandoned for all time by selling the site. It is difficult to say how much the ground would have brought in the open market then; and it is just as difficult to say how much it would have been worth now had it not been occupied by the Cathedral.
Wiser and more courageous counsels prevailed, however. In the very year that Trollope published his criticism, Bishop Harper managed to start a revival. He appealed to the clergy and laity. The Synod passed a motion affirming the desirableness of proceeding with the work, and it invited members of the Church to contribute.
With stout hearts and good courage, the friends of the Cathedral started work in an earnest manner. Subscriptions came in rapidly, and a grant of £5000 was made from the Church Property Trust. Contracts were let for the construction of the walls. Further grants were made and further contracts were let. Trollope's remark, stung a number of colonists into activity, and as a result of the publication of his work on "Australia and New Zealand," there was formed a Cathedral Guild, which raised large sums.
December 16, 1875, saw the first service within the Cathedral. It could hardly be called a cathedral then, as the walls were unfinished, and the only roof was the sky overhead. On that occasion Bishop Harper was presented with a pastoral staff and a crozier. Three years later, another service was held in the Cathedral, to celebrate the Bishop's return from the Lambeth Conference, and the walls were still roofless.
Better times had now set in for the Cathedral, and its affairs improved fairly rapidly, hardly a year passing without large sums of money being received. Funds were raised for the organ and the pulpit, and donations were given for other purposes. The most munificent gift was that of Mr R. H. Rhodes, who, as a tribute to his brother, the late Mr George Rhodes, contributed the cost of erecting the tower.
The nave was consecrated on All Saints' Day, 1881, seventeen years after the laying of the foundation stone, the Bishops of Nelson, Wellington, Dunedin and Waiapu preaching at the services held in the octave.
The Cathedral passed through no more very bad times, although it stood for years in an incomplete condition. On several occasions it suffered severely owing to earthquakes, the spire, which reaches a height of 210 ft, being injured. The transepts and chancel were in the same state as they had been left in 1880. In this year, however, the movement that was started in 1900 was successful, and brought about the completion of a cathedral that has been building for forty years.
Star, Issue 8153, 29 October 1904, Page 4