The Eye of the Fish

April 19, 2012

Cathedral Squares

These is really only one story worth talking about in New Zealand right now, and that’s the big old stone churches in our southern sister city. Most of them have already been demolished, it seems, and of the few remaining there is great debate about what is happening and what should happen, and who should have the right to do what they want to. Me, personally? I just want to say one thing:

The Cathedral is History.

Not, perhaps, in the way that you might be thinking – as in, the cathedral is wasted, has had its day, and should be pulled down. Perhaps I need the emphasis in a different place. Perhaps I should really be saying:

The cathedral IS history.

Some people are saying that the cathedral is merely representative of a church that is outdated, is not what the parishioners want, has not kept pace with requirements of the liturgy, is symptomatic of a past life from England where our forefathers had different ideals, different beliefs, and different ways of building.

Other people are saying it is An Old Dunga and should be pulled down.

Other people are saying that it should be restored at all costs as a symbol that we can grow and survive this adversity.

As a young fish, I spent a lot of time swimming around the great waterways of Europe. Although I’m not a particularly religious fish, every time I came to a new town, whether intentionally or not, before too long I’d find myself in the cathedral, or the local church, marveling at the architecture. The blackened twin towers of Koln. The patterned roof of Wien. The impossibly romantic towers of Praha. The hunched back of Notre Dame. And oh so many small country churches in England, tracing back the history in the arches, looking for the Saxon plan beginnings, observing where the rood screen was before Henry’s men tore them down. Architecture written in stone. History carved in the timber of the trusses overhead. Flagstones in Westminster Abbey made of old headstones to graves – walking on the bodies of the ancient ones, till their names have been worn away with our feet. Looking up into the light filtering through the arched windows. The smell of the dust of ages, the patina of history, layer upon layer upon layer.

Santa Sophia

The Blue Mosque

Buildings tell our history the way that no slick PowerPoint can do. Buildings can show the pagan roots of the pre-Christians, in Europe and in Aotearoa, and they can show the layers of people that have come and gone, architects that have had their imprint, builders that have carved their likeness in the gargoyles of York Minster, and the varying vagaries of religious beliefs and persecutions over millennia. The Hagia Sophia, one of the greatest spaces in the world, with it’s great dome proudly set aloft, was built by Constantin, in his religious battle with Justinian, over the future of the church in Europe.

In the battle between Christian and Orthodox that followed, the Mohammedians followed and they invaded the church and the country and converted it to Islam. But all future mosques have been built following religious trains of thought set down by Saint Sophia – there’s so much history it almost makes my brain explode.

Coming back to Christchurch, it really is quite a simple question. The Catholic cathedral, Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrement, is really buggered, and held together by massive walls of containers, buffered by hay bales to stop it collapsing. The cupola roof is off, and the Catholic church is sitting quietly down to figure out how, and where, they should rebuild. But to me there is no doubt that they will rebuild – as we all know, once a catholic, always a catholic. If they get you as a child, they’ve got you for life.

The Anglican church is a different story, but no less interesting. They’ve lost their way religiously, can’t decide if they want to admit gays and women or if they are still grumpy sexist old bigots. Certainly they have lost their congregations, and they’re also set on losing their church – or should I say, their Cathedral. I’d say they have lost their faith in the will of god – they’ve certainly lost their faith in buildings made of stone. But that is not to say that we, as a country, should lose our buildings.

The Christchurch Cathedral should be saved – saved from Bishop Matthews and her pagan flock of non-believers. Non-believers, that is, in that they do not believe that the Cathedral can be saved. Of course it CAN be saved, it is more a question of, do WE as a country have the will power to save it? Not as a home for the Anglican church – they have made it abundantly clear that they have lost the will for the battle over the bones of our timber and stone brother. Reducing the height to a wall 2m high is not saving it, it is genocide. It has a timber roof structure that barely has a tile out of place, despite the reported 7000 aftershocks. A new layer of history can be built that ties the old in with the new, that exposes the science and engineering of the new methods we have at our disposal, that gives confidence to the tourists who WILL come to see it “restored”.

Sack the Bishop. Sack the Church. Save the Cathedral.

19 - 04 - 12

Goodness Maximus, did someone get out of the wrong side of bed this morning?

19 - 04 - 12

No. Why? I thought that was remarkably upbeat and positive considering the mess the Cantabrians have down there. Seems like only common sense to me, written from the safety of 1000km away…

We should build on our history. Our history is built.

19 - 04 - 12

I certainly think old buildings are brilliant and, hardout, they’re the most tangible pieces of history they have. If there’s someone out there willing to pay to fix the Cathedral, I’m all for it!

But I can understand why the church might not want to spend up on it. Jesus told His followers to feed the hungry, not to build cathedrals. So if the Bishop wants to build a cheaper replacement and spend the church’s money on what Jesus told them too, that’s fine by me. But certainly if they build a replacement that costs the same as fixing the cathedral, I’d be very disappointed that they didn’t fix the cathedral!

If Destiny church spend tens of millions building a cathedral instead of feeding the hungry, I think there’d be an uproar about that too. People out there, Christians and others alike, expect the church to do what God told them to do, whether they believe in said God or not. I don’t see why that should change just because the cathedral is really really old.

19 - 04 - 12

Josh, the Christians have made their point very obvious – they do not want the responsibility or expense of their old building. They have been told by CERA that they must either Demolish or Rebuild – they have chosen to demolish.

But in doing so, it is not just their building that is to be demolished. It is also the history of the people of Canterbury. They (Bishop Matthews) say that they can’t leave the site, as the land is special to them. It is consecrated. Well, tough. There is a process for that – deconsecration. So: move on.

The Bishop and her flock (or what is left of it), should move to a new site, as they are doing with the Shigeru Ban cathedral, and stay away from the central city. They should pass over the remains of the building to the City, and say – here you go Bob, you want it? You save it. Then it is up to the people. It can be saved. We KNOW it can be saved. The people – some of the people anyway – say they want to save it. Give them the chance to do so.

19 - 04 - 12

sounds like a good option!

19 - 04 - 12

As one of the “pagan flock of non-believers” (i.e. a faith-filled, God believing Anglican) who has spent some time working at Christ Church Cathedral I (of course) love the old building. It was a lovely space.

I have also spent many hours studying photos of the damage. You mention that the Lady of the blessed Sacrament is surrounded by shipping containers. So is the Anglican Cathedral. Why? Because structurally the building is buggered.

The best action (in my mind) is to do what they are doing – to save those bits that are saveable, in a safe and careful way. You mention the timber roof structure that “barely has a tile out of place” (with the obvious exception of the big bit of the roof that has caved in). Do we wait for the rest of the roof to fall in? Do we wait for the rest of the mosaics to crumble? Surely the best action is careful deconstruction (not “demolition” as you call it). Much can be saved.

Then rebuild. Some old and some new. Something safe (remember, this was already a “strengthened” building – pinning back a few stones is not what is needed).

Will the Catholic church rebuild something exactly the same? Of course not. Should the Anglicans. Of course not.

19 - 04 - 12

hello cathedral supporters

please sign the online petition on the restore christchurch cathedral website

once you have signed invite all your contacts via email or facebook
we need 300000 signatures in 24 hours – lets go for it!

restore the christchurch cathedral group

19 - 04 - 12

I still can’t understand why nobody is talking about the most (Canterbury) gothic of all feasible solutions… a ruin.

This has been a ruin since well before Wordsworth wandered lonely that way and it’s probably still pulling more punters than either a meticulous facsimile or a tetrapak replacement would.

19 - 04 - 12

Having just tried to go to the “restore christchurch cathedral” website, which proclaimed it had 95 supporters when i got there – it now has 0 supporters, as the site has crashed again.

You could say that is the hand of God I suppose, or perhaps a secret plot by Bishop Matthews to reset the counter to zero every half an hour – or you could, i guess, see it as proof that there are just so many people trying to log on, that the system has overloaded.

Personally, I’m going for conspiracy theory, and shit software.

20 - 04 - 12

try this one instead:

20 - 04 - 12

Chris, nice to have you here with some sensible commentary to counter my rant. I think we are actually singing from the same song sheet here – but it is not the one that Matthews has set out on. The roof is the thing that is holding it all together at present. Once you remove that, and have further tremors, the building is far more likely to collapse. Thereby leading the Bish to say demolish / deconstruct (pah, semantics) the building. But the crucial thing is, she has not said that she has any inclination to put it back up as it was before, either partially or totally. Yes, she is going to keep the stained glass windows, and the marble wall plaques, but once you start pulling something like that apart, you ain’t never going to get it back together again.

20 - 04 - 12

I don’t think that I – or anyone – has ever spoken about “just pinning back a few stones”. No one I’ve spoken to has ever said they thought it would be easy. But they all reckon it could be done. However – issues to think about include:
Need for new foundations – tricky to get in there and dig those, at this stage of the game.
Probable need for piling under those foundations – micro-piling would possible, but really dangerous. Some form of metal protection cage would need to be provided down the middle of the aisle, for machinery to travel down.
Restoration of structural integrity to the stone walls – can only be done after the previous two items, but can be done, and would likely to be done by:
Shotcrete to interior of stone walls to provide a new, reinforced concrete interior, that is structurally sound. That’s going to be a thin skin, maybe only 100mm thick, but it will safeguard those working within.
Only then would you tackle the “pinning back” of the basalt stonework, with extended stainless steel ties, to the new shotcrete wall – or, a safer, cheaper, but slightly sacrilegious version – shotcrete over the top of the wall on the outside – or – remove the stone wall completely.

The thing to remember is that the area at the ‘back’ of the church, ie the choir, the altar, the chancel, etc, is all substantially still very intact and still holding itself together through the genius of Gothic architecture. It has buttress walls radiating in every direction. It’s not going anywhere. The main body of the cathedral is only in danger – because the spire severed the west wall from it when it collapsed – and will be staying in one piece unless they remove the roof. The timber in the roof, wonderful, flexible material that it is, is what is holding the entire cathedral together. Take the roof off, and then you have a real problem.

20 - 04 - 12

Looks like the spire might be going next week!

I guess the church want it down asap so the public uproar doesn’t escalate further. Then they can cash their insurance money and only have to fork out 5 million for a temporary cathedral, that is built to last for 20 years or more. Hmm, I guess temporary can mean semi-permanent..

20 - 04 - 12

The base of the spire is the bit that is easiest to retain in situ! What are they thinking! It is massively strong, having previously been the steeple base. Only needs a steel subframe dropped in by crane. Could have it done by next Tuesday! Fuckwits the lot of them !

20 - 04 - 12

That lovely picture you have of the “Hagia Sophia” up there? Actualy, it’s not. That’s the Blue Mosque.

(Hint: Blue Mosque has 6 minarets. Santa Sophia has 4).

20 - 04 - 12

Quite right. I knew that too, dammit.

21 - 04 - 12

The Bishop is only doing what is correct for her church. A church does not consist of a physical building, which, as you point out is easily consecrated/deconsecrated. Her remit does not include architectural heritage.

Should the Anglicans leave the Square? Your argument about finding these centres of architectural significance on your European sojourns are really about finding the centres of faith that were once so central to ‘civilised’ society. It isn’t difficult to see why the Bishop wants to continue thousands of years worth of precedence – it is an aspect of cultural heritage (in settlement patterns) that is as meaningful, if not more so, than the architectural significance you or I might enjoy (remember your bias).

Anyway – aside from being able to see the Bishop’s side of the story, I also think your compromise could be workable. If this is a heritage building of national significance (easily argued I would have thought), then all we need is a Govt with the backbone to compulsorily purchase it through the Public Works Act. Rebuild it, and lease it to the Church at peppercorn until the next time it fall down. Everyone wins.

If it is of national siignificance, then we all must pay the extreme costs involved in this pet. Let’s cancel all RoNS to pay for it!

22 - 04 - 12

Hmmmm. A government with backbone. You got me there…

restore christchurch cathedral group
23 - 04 - 12

thanks maximus – visit us on facebook

and please vote in the petition

and slap an architect

24 - 04 - 12

I must say… the way that giant nibbler thing is eating up the cathedral, they’re making damn sure that they can’t reuse any of that stones again! Each piece of rock carefully crushed into a fine clump of dust. Yep, that’ll fix it!

Never gonna have to restore That sucker again, are you Bishop? Not a chance….

3 - 05 - 12

The tower is now gone, I’m about ready to see the bishop and mr sutton put in a crate with a live moose and polar bear and shipped off to Canada.

7 - 05 - 12

This is New Zealand. We specialise in monumental screw-ups brought on by small minded thinking.