Cathedral Church of St Joseph (Catholic)

288 Rattray Street And Smith Street, Dunedin

  • Cathedral Church of St Joseph (Catholic). CC Licence 2.0 Image courtesy of
    Copyright: Robert Cutts. Taken By: Robert Cutts . Date: 12/01/2007.
  • Cathedral Church of St Joseph (Catholic). Image courtesy of .
    Copyright: Benchill - Wikimedia Commons. Taken By: Benchill. Date: 24/09/2009.
  • Cathedral Church of St Joseph (Catholic). Stained glass window. Image courtesy of
    Copyright: Benchill - Wikimedia Commons. Taken By: Benchill. Date: 24/09/2009.
  • Catherdral Church of St Joseph (Catholic). Building detail. Image courtesy of .
    Copyright: Natalia Volna - itravelNZ®. Taken By: itravelNZ®. Date: 1/06/2012.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 1 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 364 Date Entered 25th November 1982


Extent of List Entry

Extent includes the land described as Lot 1 DP 25330 (CT17B/764), Otago Land District, and the building known as the Cathedral Church of St Joseph (Catholic) thereon, and its fittings and fixtures.

City/District Council

Dunedin City


Otago Region

Legal description

Lot 1 DP 25330 (CT17B/764), Otago Land District


This historic place was registered under the Historic Places Act 1980. This report includes the text from the original Building Classification Committee report considered by the NZHPT Board at the time of registration.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Dunedin was established in 1869 and two years later Patrick Moran (1823-95) was installed as the city's first Roman Catholic bishop. Bishop Moran's first cathedral was a small brick church which had been erected in 1862 by Father Moreau, the first Catholic priest to be assigned to the province of Otago. Moreau purchased the land on which the present cathedral now stands in 1868 but it was not until 1878 that work began on its erection. The site chosen for the cathedral was an extremely problematic one and before construction could begin the deep gully which bisected the property had to be filled with spoil taken from the Dowling Street cutting and other nearby roadworks. By the end of 1878 these difficulties had been surmounted, however, and on 26 January 1879 the foundation stone of the cathedral was laid. A local construction firm, Parker and McNamara, was the principal contractor for the cathedral which was erected at a final cost of £22,500. Due to Bishop Moran's prudent management of the building fund, and his decision to delay the completion of the cathedral, St Joseph's was free of debt only three years after it was opened on 14 February 1886.

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

This historic place was registered under the Historic Places Act 1980. This report includes the text from the original Building Classification Committee report considered by the NZHPT Board at the time of registration.

St Joseph's Cathedral has been the heart of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Dunedin for more than one hundred years. The building serves as a visible reminder of the important role played by the Catholic community in the development of Otago Province, particularly following the gold rushes of the early 1860s, and of Bishop Moran's efforts to build a Gothic cathedral without exceeding the financial resources of his diocese.

This historic place was registered under the Historic Places Act 1980. This report includes the text from the original Building Classification Committee report considered by the NZHPT Board at the time of registration.


Even though it has never been completed, St Joseph's Cathedral in Dunedin must be considered as one of F.W. Petre's greatest architectural achievements. Petre's engineering expertise, his scholarly interpretation of Gothic architecture and his habitual attention to detail are all well illustrated by this building which has served the Catholic community of Dunedin for more than one hundred years. The interior and exterior of the building are enhanced by some outstanding stone carving and detailing. The only major Gothic Revival church to be designed by Petre, St Joseph's Cathedral serves as a visible reminder of the architect's substantial contribution to Roman Catholic ecclesiastical architecture in this country.


St Joseph's Cathedral makes a major contribution to the inner-city streetscape of Dunedin because of its elevated site and bold appearance. The building's impact upon the townscape is further enhanced by its proximity to the Dominican Priory which was also designed by F.W. Petre.


Construction Professionalsopen/close

Petre, Francis William

Petre (1847-1918) was born in Lower Hutt. He was the son of the Hon. Henry William Petre and grandson of the eleventh Baron Petre, Chairman of the second New Zealand Company. Petre trained in London as a naval architect, engineer, and architect, returning to New Zealand in 1872. During the next three years he was employed by Brogden and Sons, English railway contractors, superintending the construction of the Dunedin-Clutha and the Blenheim-Picton railways.

He set up office in Dunedin in 1875 as an architect and civil engineer. He designed a house for Judge Chapman (1875), followed by 'Cargill's Castle' (1876) for E B Cargill and then St Dominic's Priory (1877), all in mass concrete.

It is for his church designs and for his pioneering use of concrete that Petre is most recognised. His church buildings include St Joseph's Cathedral, Dunedin (1878-86), Sacred Heart Basilica (now Cathedral of the Sacred Heart), Wellington (1901), St Patrick's Basilica, Oamaru, (1894 and 1903) and the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament, Christchurch, (1904-05), which is the outstanding achievement of his career. Petre's commercial buildings include the Guardian Royal Exchange Assurance Building (1881-82) and Pheonix House (now Airport House, c.1885), both in Dunedin.

Additional informationopen/close

Physical Description

This historic place was registered under the Historic Places Act 1980. This report includes the text from the original Building Classification Committee report considered by the NZHPT Board at the time of registration.


St Joseph's Roman Catholic Cathedral stands on an elevated site at the intersection of Smith and Rattray Streets east of Dunedin's city centre. A Gothic Revival style building which is strongly reminiscent of thirteenth century French cathedrals in appearance, St Joseph's was to have had a Latin cross plan with a sixty metre spire rising above the crossing. This ambitious plan was never realised, however, and only the nave, entrance facade and a "temporary" sanctuary were ever built. The cathedral as it stands today is therefore rectangular in plan and the sanctuary, which was also designed by Petre, is located in what was to have been the crossing.

The cathedral is symmetrical about a central nave, seven bays in length, which is flanked by side aisles and terminated by the sanctuary and an imposing entrance facade. Flying buttresses transmit the weight of the main roof to buttresses which project from the aisle walls and alternating with these structural elements are lancet arched window openings with geometrical bar tracery. The interior of the cathedral is therefore lit by fourteen clerestory windows filled with cathedral glass and fourteen aisle windows which feature stained glass depictions of various saints and other holy figures. Franz Mayer & Co. of Munich supplied all of the stained glass in the building, whereas most of the cathedral glass was manufactured by a local craftsman, David Scott. The tracery within each window was designed by F.W. Petre and a notable feature of the cathedral is the variety of tracery which the architect uses within each series of windows.

At the liturgical west end of the building three entrance portals and a rose window filled with stained glass are framed by twin towers rising twenty-four metres in height. The towers are buttressed and crowned by castellated parapets and heavy pinnacles which reinforce the vertical emphasis of the principal elevation. Within the northern tower a small entrance porch, which was previously used as the baptistry, now provides everyday access to the building. The southern tower contains a stone staircase which rises up to the choir and organ loft directly above the main entrance porch and it also houses the bell which was originally hung in the city's first Roman Catholic church. Between the two towers the main entrance to the cathedral opens off a porch with an Oamaru stone rib vaulted ceiling. Above the paired double doors of the entrance is a stained glass tympanum depicting a circle of angels adoring the Eucharistic host and this window was donated by Bishop Moran in 1890. The stained glass rose window above the main portal was gifted to the cathedral three years earlier by Edward and Margaret Murphy in memory of Andrew Murphy.

Inside the cathedral seating is provided for approximately five hundred worshippers in both the nave and the aisles which are separated from one another by two arcades of lancet arches. The entire building is lined with Oamaru stone with the exception of the rib vaulted ceilings in both the nave and aisles which have been plastered. In addition to the fenestration the interior of the cathedral is enlivened by the richly textured, largely non-figural, relief carving which was executed by English sculptor Louis John Godfrey and his sons Louis junior and Phillip. The Godfrey family was also responsible for the carving at Larnach's Castle (1872-5). Having begun work on the stonework in St Joseph's Cathedral in 1885, the three men were responsible for realising Petre's designs for church fittings such as the High Altar and the Baptismal Font, as well as for the abundant relief carving which adorns the interior and the exterior of the cathedral. The temporary sanctuary is lit by a circular window, set within the brick end wall, which is five metres in diameter and filled with cathedral glass supplied by Taylor & Oakley of Christchurch. Flanked by two sacristies and a nuns chapel, the sanctuary has been remodelled in recent times to make it more suitable for modern day church ritual.

Within the main body of the cathedral features of note include the Eucharistic Shrine for private devotion, which centres upon the 1896 Memorial Altar to Bishop Moran designed by Petre, and the Stations of the Cross which were also executed by Franz Mayer & Co. The two statues on either side of the sanctuary were presented by Bishop Verdo, Patrick Moran's successor, and they represent the Sacred Heart and St Joseph. Like the Eucharistic Shrine, three confessionals are located in the northern aisle where they are inserted between the buttresses on the exterior wall.

Notable Features

The stone carving.

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1878 - 1886

1987 -
Choir gallery extended and lowered by 0.6 metres.

1949 -
Oamaru stone pinnacles removed.

1955 -
Slates on roof over northern aisle replaced with corrugated iron.

1967 -
Flying buttresses replaced by Downer & Co. in reinforced concrete.

1969 -
Sanctuary remodelled by local architect, E.J. McCoy. Memorial Altar to Bishop Moran (1896) altered to become focus of Eucharistic Shrine installed outside sanctuary for private devotion.

1969 -
High Altar removed to Dunedin Public Art Gallery.

1972 -
Confessional doors replaced. Southern aisle reroofed in corrugated iron.

1974 - 1975
Precast concrete pinnacles erected by Downer & Co.

1984 -
Northern clerestory windows releaded.

Construction Details

Massive concrete piles sunk to a bluestone reef support Leith trachyandesite walls rising from concrete footings and a Port Chalmers breccia plinth. Oamaru stone secondary structural elements and carved ornament. Slate or corrugated iron roofs over oregon, kauri and rimu timber framing. Rib vaulted ceilings over nave, side aisles and entrance porch.

Completion Date

29th October 1990

Information Sources

Cyclopedia of New Zealand, 1905

Cyclopedia Company, Industrial, descriptive, historical, biographical facts, figures, illustrations, Wellington, N.Z, 1897-1908, Vol. 4 Otago and Southland, Cyclopedia Company, Christchurch, 1905

Knight, 1988

Hardwicke Knight and Niel Wales, Buildings of Dunedin: An Illustrated Architectural Guide to New Zealand's Victorian City, John McIndoe, Dunedin, 1988

Porter, 1983

Frances Porter (ed), Historic Buildings of Dunedin, South Island, Methuen, Auckland, 1983.

Mee, 1986

Rev. P.R. Mee, St Joseph's Cathedral, Dunedin, New Zealand - Centennial Year 1886-1986, Tablet Printing Company, Dunedin, 1986

St Joseph's Cathedral, Dunedin, 1988

St Joseph's Cathedral, Dunedin, New Zealand - Visitor's Guide, reprinted May 1988

Other Information

A copy of this report is available from the NZHPT Southern Region office

Please note that entry on the New Zealand Heritage List/Rarangi Korero identifies only the heritage values of the property concerned, and should not be construed as advice on the state of the property, or as a comment of its soundness or safety, including in regard to earthquake risk, safety in the event of fire, or insanitary conditions.