Please spare a thought and pray for Christchurch’s, Canterbury’s great cathedral. Sadly, for Christchurch, Canterbury and New Zealand, Canadian Bishop Victoria Matthews of Christchurch seems incapable of or simply unwilling to view the cathedral issue in its wholesome religious/cultural context. She wishes to destroy a treasure which a Government-commissioned report recommends be fully restored. In her recent radio interview Bp Matthews unwisely likens the Cathedral to a large parish church in England (damning with faint praise) and adds, a little provocatively, mischievously, that it is “not the Taj Mahal”. As for the Taj Mahal: well, actually, Christchurch Cathedral is exactly that, and more. CC is to New Zealand what TM is to India, internationally-seen the best known building in each country, respectively. Moreover, whereas the TM relates a wonderful aristocratic love story, CC relates a unique and seminal story about Canterbury’s history, of its people. The fact that CC is placed at the centre of Christchurch, deliberately, tellingly, majestically, ‘visionally’, in the very Christian architectural language of ‘gothic’ should be an enormous source of inspiration for those who believe in God, be they Anglican, Christian, Jew, Muslim. If ‘Emmanuel’ signifies ‘God is with us’, one can easily imagine that CC was built to signify ‘God is with us in Canterbury’. Moreover, the Gilbert Scott/Mountfort cathedral is the expression of the only planned ‘Anglican colonisation/statement’ in 400-year history of British colonisation. It is not a footnote in history, it is a radiant chapter of British church and colonial history, appreciated by hundreds and hundreds of my European acquaintances: ‘the most significantly recognisable building in New Zealand’, just as Sydney Opera now speaks ‘of Australia’. But Sydney Opera’s expression does not include the earlier 200 hundred years of Australian endeavour, whereas the miracle of CC’s expression is that it lyrically expresses ‘those hopes, those aspirations in the face of the sweat and toil of the 19th century, as well as standing ‘for home’, a mater dolorosa, at a time when regiments of the children of Canterbury went thousands of miles away to fight and die in the dreadful wars of the 20th century. That building, and that building alone, has the maximum possible dimension in terms of ‘aura’ or, in spiritual language native to New Zealand, of ‘mana’. As for Bp Victoria Matthew’s likening CC to a large parish church in England, it is a comparison that has been made many thousand times before it came from her lips and since she would have known that, likely then used deliberately to belittle the Cathedral. The disparaging, dismissive associations connected with that sentiment are ALWAYS negative and part of another phenomenon: the ‘colonial cringe’. It is extremely common for NZers, Australians, Canadians to be over-awed when they first visit Europe, to see such majestic examples in stone, on canvas, in manuscripts, of those disciplines (architecture, painting, music, etc), disciplines with which we ‘colonials’ have grown up, albeit on a very different scale of beauty, craftsmanship and majesty. The ‘colonial cringe’ sets in when, standing before such European examples, we cast our mind back to those examples of similar expression, at home! Cultural ‘cringe’ is basically innocent, but sometimes, unfortunately, less innocently, it is a form of intellectual snobbery, of intellectual inadequacy. It demeans the heroic endeavours and achievements of ordinary men and women, who wished and wish with limited means to give as much of themselves as they possibly can to glorify their God, in timeless architectural language they know, love and respect. To consider the magnificent example of simple human endeavour which CC represents should, in fact, be a sobering lesson for any enlightened man or woman has feasted on the ‘rapacious’ achievements of absolute monarchs and popes. Knowing of Bishop Matthews’ love of old cathedrals and European art in particular, it is galling that she is hell-bent on trying to destroy our heritage cathedral. All of us who cherish great European churches, palaces etc might do well to reflect that we would be disgusted today if we were to consider how many of those great buildings were paid for. And then we reflect on Christchurch Cathedral which was funded from the beginning, philanthropically and willingly so, down to the very last screw. Bp Victoria Matthews, against the advice of the Government’s report which proposes full restoration, is still stubbornly commited to replacing the cathedral with a modern church, shorn of 150 years of the history of the Province of Canterbury. PLEASE PRAY that our Bishop sees the light that surrounds her.


Haydn Rawstron

Join the discussion 2 Comments

  1. Jenny Officer June 4, 2017 at 12:59 pm — Reply

    Thank you Haydn Rawstron for this excellent article about the need to restore the Christchurch Cathedral. I am outraged and heartbroken at the attitude taken by Bishop Matthews – who has, as far as I am aware, absolutely no historical nor emotional attachment to the Cathedral and what it means to those of us whose ancestors came to NZ in 1850/51 onwards, and who set about establishing the City, with the Cathedral as its very heart and soul.

    There are thousands of us in NZ, but not necessarily in the Christchurch area, who are incensed by the delays and neglect caused by the Church over this issue. I should like to know what has happened to the many donations sent – including from members of the Royal Family,- soon after the 2011 earthquake
    towards its restoration also.

    Thank you

  2. Arthur Weddeley July 14, 2017 at 1:40 pm — Reply

    Thanks for you insight Jenny.

    The problem with the bishop is that she has no historical or emotional attatchment to anything except God and the Church. although she is out of the country often it is hardly ever to her homeland Canada.

    We have elected a highly dysfunctional person to run our church and we could never have known that at the time of her election.

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