Previous Cathedral Earthquake Updates

October 2013: Cathedral plans – making haste slowly

Cathedral Update Oct 2013_1.jpgMaking haste slowly’ encapsulates the progress being made by the Cathedral Management Board as it looks to make recommendations to the Bishop on the future of the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament and indeed the entire area of land on which the cathedral sits plus surrounding land.

Lance Ryan, chairman of the Cathedral Management Board, said that the issues affecting decision making are both vast and complex.

“On the surface it may appear that we are becalmed, but there has been a tremendous amount of investigation and study being undertaken behind the scenes.

“What we do know is that building capacity of the damaged cathedral as it now stands is in the range of 20% to 30% of the New Building Standard. This equates to it having over 10 times the risk of collapse compared with a new building during a period of normal seismic activity.

“We also know that if we were to rebuild a full cathedral on the existing location, specific deep foundations would be required to support the four internal dome columns and the heavily loaded bell tower. The remainder of the structure could use the existing shallow foundations, which would need to be strengthened to tolerate up to 90mm of differential settlement in a major earthquake.

“If the cleared land just north was available to us, which included the demolished Convent Chapel and School of Music, deep piles to a depth of 25 metres would probably have to be used with ground improvement up to 12 metres.

“That’s what we know. What we don’t know, and what must be factored into our discussions, is the number of people who are likely to live in this area, and what is to happen with neighbouring properties in relation to education, culture and arts.

“There have been indications that CERA and the Government want 25,000 people living in this area. If that is to be the case, then we have to rebuild with that in mind. But if there is only 2000 people likely to live nearby, then that changes our plans.

“Then we have to work with the New Zealand Historic Places Trust because this is a heritage building, CERA (which presently controls the building) and also the Christchurch City Council.

“The good thing is that we are all heading in the right direction, but it does take time. Once some of these unanswered questions are clarified we will then be in a better position to decide on the type, style and capacity of a what a new cathedral will look like,” he said.

Also in this issue:

  • Diocesan archives coming together
  • New Steinway set to perform
  • Bunbury – is there a lesson here for Christchurch?

Inform 75.pdf Cathedral Update Oct 2013.pdf



November 2012Cathedarl_Update_Nov_2012.jpg

While still awaiting several engineering reports, and with new ones being requested, work on finalising the future of the Catholic Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament continues.

The Cathedral Management Board has met with Don Miskell, principal of Boffa Miskell, the lead company in a consortium of businesses that will design the central city rebuild, and discussed the place of the Cathedral in the new plan, the church's strong links with the city and the future of the area surrounding the Cathedral.

With 20,000 people expected to be living within the four avenues over the next 30 years, and the close proximity of the eastern green belt, it is important to understand the face of the new city. Mr Miskell will provide ideas back to the next meeting of the Cathedral Management Board.

Our clarity of thinking around the future of the Cathedral is taking shape but we continue to look at all options. The geotech report will help greatly in allowing us to make a recommendation to the Bishop for consideration. Subject to the availability of plant and other resources we expect this report early in the New Year.
One option that is gaining traction is the retention of the north and western walls of the Cathedral as a memorial.

These can be braced and made safe and stand as a reminder of the magnificent building that stood on the site for over a century. We could then talk to the owners of the adjacent former convent site about building a new Cathedral in that area. This is only an option, as we still need to understand the soil and underlying status of the ground on which we could build.

If, in the end, the advice that we receive is that it is impossible to rebuild the Cathedral on the present site, we have agreed that we will recommend to Bishop Jones that a relic of the Cathedral will be left, which will be protected and preserved, as a memory of the earthquakes. Honorary Cathedral Architect Simon Pascoe is prepar-ing a report, with the Bishop having the final decision.


While awaiting the engineering reports and costings, plans are continuing for the removal of several windows on the south-east side of the building including the Sacred Heart of Jesus window, St Augustine, St Brigid and St Patrick windows. The work is expected to take four weeks. After removal of these windows contractors will move to the north side to undertake removal of the remaining windows. Plywood covers will be installed to cover the areas where the windows have been removed to maintain security within the building.


The Diocese has loaned to the Curator of Canterbury Social History at Canterbury Museum several items for display including:
· The Cross from the front dome with wooden spigot and base
· The largest bell
· Four Fleur de Lis tiles
· Five dome corbels

Inform 75.pdf Cathedral Update Nov 2012.pdf


May 2012


The fate of the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament and several other Catholic churches in Canterbury will not be known for several months.

With insurance negotiations still on-going, the diocese is in the early stages of preparing a strategic plan on the number and location of churches to be built in the future. This will later be presented to Bishop Barry Jones for consideration.

Lance Ryan, chairman of the Cathedral Management Board, said that the board is in full support of the plan as it was essential that all churches in the diocese are considered and not just the Cathedral.

“The planning group needs to consult with a wide range of people throughout the diocese while also looking at the changes that have occurred to the city's population demographics.

“All these factors, as well as establishing the status of all insurance claims, need to be known before a comprehensive report can be completed,” he said.

While this plan is being considered, work on the Basilica continues.

“We are really looking at three options - whether to demolish the existing building, to retain what we can of the Basilica and rebuild to its former glory, or, in the short-term, whether or not to mothball the building until we have a clearer picture.

“Early indications are that the costs of retaining and rebuilding the Basilica are in the vicinity of $100 million. The nave is the only part of the existing building that could be retained, but it will still need extensive reinforcing to bring it up to the required standard.”

The board is having costs prepared for the removal of the large organ and also the stained glass windows.

“This is a frustrating time for all, but we must ensure we work wisely. The Cathedral of the Blessed   Sacrament is only one piece of the diocesan jigsaw, and until we know all the pieces and the community has been consulted, we are reluctant to move with any haste.

“Getting it right is everyone's first priority,” he said.


An aerial photo of the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament
5th December 2011


20th November 2011

The November Cathedral update contains:

  • The Sanctuary and Sacristy
  • North Bell Tower
  • Recovery of Heritage items
  • Nave and transepts
  • And more!

 Inform 75.pdf Cathedral Update Nov 2011.pdf (800KB)


16th October 2011

TVNZ has shown the programme "Battle of the Basilica".  Clcik here to go to the programme "On Demand"


25th September 2011Cathedral_Dome_Removal.JPG

The September Cathedral Update can be downloaded below.  In this issue:

  • Read about the work in progress
  • And work recently completed
  • Meet the Cathedral Management Board
  • And more!

 Inform 75.pdf Cathedral Update Sept 2011.pdf

25th August 2011

The inner dome of the Cathedral has been removed in one piece.  Click here to view photos.


4th August 2011

The dome of the Cathedral has been removed.  Click here to view photos.


8th July 2011

Work on removing the top of the main dome of the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament is progressing well. The cross that sat atop the dome and the copper cladding have all been removed and now work is continuing on removing the wooden shell of the dome.

The dome has been divided into four sections and it is hoped that all four sections will be removed by the end of next week.DSCF0518.JPG

Once the top of the dome has been removed the concrete ring beam immediately below the dome will be removed in sections and the columns between the windows also removed as complete units Ideally, we would like to have the entire unstable rear section of the Cathedral deconstructed by September 16, as this wil

l allow the neighbouring Catholic Cathedral College to regain full functionality in all its buildings. (The College is having to return to its restricted site on August 1). 

Three of the College's key buildings, J Block, K Block plus H/I Block,(comprising 12 classrooms plus Library) sit within the probable fall zone of the rear of the basilica and therefore cannot be utilised.

Deconstruction would then allow time for the school to have the two key blocks ready for the start of the fourth term.

We are working with CERA, the City Council and Heritage Protection on this proposed work.Cathedral_10_July_2011.JPG

We have also been given permission to use an Army robot to look inside the Cathedral to provide us with better resolution video of the earthquake damage. Hopefully this will happen in the next 10 days. Several weeks ago we had footage from a drone that was very helpful, but a subsequent mission was not as successful and the drone is now somewhere on the floor of the basilica.  



28th June 2011

Back of the Cathedral to be Demolished

Additional damage caused by the June 13 earthquakes has heightened safety issues concerningthe Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament. Because of this we have had to change strategies on how to remove the main dome. The additional damage has also meant we will probably have no choice but to demolish the rear portion of the building.

Until the earthquakes on Monday, the plan had been to remove the dome in one piece, but further damage to areas supporting the dome have further weakened the building's integrity.Cathedral_4_June_30.JPG

We will now remove the dome and the supporting structure to window ledge level piece-by-piece. This will take slightly longer, but is much more manageable from a safety perspective. We expect to start this work on Monday June 20 and it should take approximately six weeks, weather and further aftershocks permitting to remove the top portion of the dome structure.

It is a shame we have had to change strategies as we only had two more

weeks of preparation before we could have lifted the dome off.However, the safety of contractors working on the basilica is of utmost importance and has been the biggest factor in this decision.

Staff from Opus and Naylor Love met with Warwick Isaacs and Baden Ewart, from CERA, this morning to discuss the project.

Once the dome has been removed it is possible that the concrete ring beam immediately below the dome can be removed in one piece or in pieces and the columns between the windows also removed. We are yet to finalise strategies for this work. Cathedral_bell_removal_April_2011.jpg
While this work is being undertaken, we will begin planning for the demolition of the rear portion of the building, which will be carried out under supervision of Opus heritage staff and engineers.
The south transept has moved further in recent aftershocks and Opus engineers are assessing the need to provide propping in a similar manner to that adopted for the north bell tower where several shipping containers have been placed against the tower to prevent it from collapsing further in an aftershock.





11th May 2011

View this article in The Herald about the Cathedral


5th May 2011

Inform 75.pdf Catholic Cathedral Factsheet - 5 May 2011.pdf (30KB)

View the video of the Cathedral on the NZ Herald website

View the vidoe of the Cathedral on the website


10th April 2011

Fact sheet have been produced about various aspects of the Cathedral.

Inform 75.pdf Catholic Cathedral - Bells Factsheet.pdf (90KB)

Inform 75.pdf Catholic Cathedral - Post Earthquake Stabilisation Factsheet.pdf (100KB)


4th April 2011

The fate of the Cathedral will not be known for at least two months. 

Before structural engineers can carry out a full assessment, the cathedral dome must be lowered to roof height and hazardous concrete debris removed from both front towers. This work is not expected to be completed until the middle of May. 

Bishop Barry said that every effort would be made to save the Cathedral.

“The Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament is our spiritual home in Canterbury. It is a magnificent building and an absolute treasure for Catholics throughout New Zealand and the world. However, until engineers are able to get inside safely and carry out a comprehensive report, we can but wait and pray that it can be saved,” he said. Cathedral_bell_removal_April_2011.jpg

Richard Munt, of Opus Consulting, Property Managers for the Catholic diocese, said that removing the giant central dome would be a taxing exercise. 

“We are going to have to bring in specially a giant 400-tonne crane for the work, which will be carried out in several stages. Firstly, we will have to remove the copper-clad, timber-framed dome, and then gradually work down until we reach the height of the main roof. 

“There are many wonderful stained glass windows and other features that we will endeavour to preserve and store until the final fate of the cathedral is known,” he said. 

The weight of the dome is putting a huge load on the rest of the building and only once it has been removed will engineers deem it safe enough to enter to carry out their assessments. 

“We've already commenced our preparation by building giant steel frames that will act as a girdle around the dome. The crane can then hook on to these girdles and dismantle this part of the building.” 

Urgency is also being given to clearing away the large debris on the northern tower and to remove the bells that are housed in this section. All salvageable masonry will be saved.


15th March 2011

A message from Bishop Barry regarding the Cathedral:

"The Cathedral parish has been having its various weekday and Sunday Masses in a variety of locations – the Christchurch Music Centre, the Cathedral Presbytery, and the assembly hall of Catholic Cathedral College.  All this was seeking to nurture the congregations until the Cathedral could be re used, with the hope that it could be in use again this year.  All that has now changed and we can see that it will be years before another Cathedral is operative on that site.  I want, now, all the Cathedral parishioners to go to Mass at St. Mary's, our central city Pro-Cathedral, when it reopens.

An important aspect of the Cathedral's life has been the CBS Choir and Orchestra, the Junior Choir and the Choir of the Catholic Samoan Community.   They will all become located at St. Mary's Church, with the Solemn Mass being celebrated at 10.30am each Sunday."


3rd March 2011


Expert advisors met with Catholic Bishop of Christchurch, Bishop Barry Jones, and diocesan personnel today to consider the badly damaged Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament. 

An engineer's report based on an exterior inspection reveals that the dome of the Cathedral is forcing outwards the weight bearing structures and presents a severe hazard to the surrounding area.

Another earthquake like that of 22 February would see the dome topple.

The decision has been made to remove the dome and this process will take some months to complete.

The present state of the building is so dangerous that no one may enter it for any reason.

The removal of the dome can only be done by cranes at a distance from the building.

No decisions will be made about the future of the building until a detailed engineering report is generated. This will occur when access to the building is safely restored, after the dome has been removed. 


Friday 25th February 2011

The earthquake on Tuesday 22nd February has caused extensive damage to the much loved Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament.