The year of 2005 was the 100th anniversary of the opening and consecration of the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament. While the actual anniversary day was February 12th, 2005, there were a number of liturgical and educative events at the Cathedral over the course of the year. The Cathedral is the mother church of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Canterbury, Westland and the Chatham Islands, taking its name from the bishop's chair, in Latin cathedra. Because it is the principal church of the Bishop, all parishes and parishioners are in relationship with the Cathedral of the Diocese.
Located in Barbadoes Street, architect F.W. Petre's magnificent concrete, Oamaru stone-clad building is regarded as one of the finest examples of church architecture in Australasia. It replaced the original chapel and church of the Blessed Sacrament that was opened in 1864.
Today the Cathedral stands as an enduring witness to the Catholic faith and courage and generosity of the first Bishop of the Christchurch Diocese, the Most Reverend J. Grimes SM and his people.
The Cathedral is often referred to as the Basilica— because its style is based on that of the old Roman basilicas whose secular origins and purpose were transformed by the early Church into places of Christian liturgy. While faithful to the plan of the basilica, F.W. Petre was able to introduce many original architectural elements.
The Dedication of the Cathedral took place on 12th February, 1905.
The Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament stands today as an enduring symbol of the vision and courage of a bishop and the faith and generosity of his people. It had its beginnings in a small, wooden building, erected on the same site in 1860. The land had been granted to the Church by the Provincial Government and the small building served as chapel and home for the first resident priest appointed to the Christchurch Mission.
The first church on the site, designed by B.W. Mountford, —the architect of Canterbury—, was opened in 1864, and greatly enlarged in later years, it became the Pro Cathedral of the Diocese of Christchurch upon its establishment in 1887. Its first bishop, the Rt. Rev. John Joseph Grimes S.M., dreamt of replacing the ageing and inadequate church with a Cathedral that would honour God and grace the young and growing city. At the turn of the century that dream became a reality.
The Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament is regarded as one of the finest examples of church architecture in Australasia. Its architect, Francis William Petre, specialised in the building of churches and achieved considerable recognition in the field of architecture and engineering. The Cathedral so impressed George Bernard Shaw that he hailed its architect as a —New Zealand Brunelleschi—.
The foundation stone of the Cathedral was laid in 1901 and the contractors, J. and W. Jamieson, completed the building in four years. Fifty men were employed on its construction, whiah required more than 120,000 cubic ft. of stone, 4,000 cubic fd. of concrete and 90 tons of steel. The Cathedral was blessed and opened on the 12th February 1905, at a total cost of fifty two thousand pounds.
The Cathedral is often referred to as —the Basilica—. While its style is Roman Renaissance and based on that of the old Roman basilicas, it contains much that is original. Normally the dome would be sited above the junction of the nave and the transe`t. By placing the dome above the sanctuary the architect provided a visual climax to the interior, which is rich in movement and delightful in its simplicity.
The whole of the interior presents a harmony of spacious arcades, colonnades with their varied capitals and an interplay of gracious arches. The ambulatory and gallery provide a cool spatial feeling and the beauty of the interior is further enhanced by mosaic tiling in the sanctuary and ceilings of embossed zinc.
To conserve the fabric of the building, a five-year programme of cleaning and repair was undertaken in 1970 by Bishop Brian Ashby. As part of the conservation project the interior was re-ordered and refurbished to meet the needs of contemporary liturgy under the direction of Sir Miles Warren, of Warren and Mahoney, architects of the Christchurch Town Hall.
In 1997 a grant from the Canterbury Community Trust made possible the construction of a forecourt for the Cathedral. Around its perimeter are inscribed the words —— I heard them say let us go to God’s house; and now our feet are standing within your gates, O Jerusalem.— (Ps. 121)
The Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament, long recognised as a great work of New Zealand architecture, was selected recently for inclusion in a millennium publication being compiled by the International Institute of Architects entitled: —World Architecture 2000 : A Critical Mosaic—.