Historical Significance or Value
St Mary's Catholic Church, the third Catholic church built in Hokitika, is a significant building in the sequence of the Church's development, and reflects an important aspect of New Zealand's religious and industrial history.
The establishment of the Catholic Church reflects the rapid growth of mining settlements on the West Coast during the latter half of the nineteenth century and in particular the influx of Irish Catholic miners and their families to the coast. As such, it is considered an important expression of Irish Catholicism in a part of New Zealand where Irish Catholics had formed a significant proportion of the community.
The church has been a community gathering point and represents how the large Catholic community in Hokitika required a new church to worship in, as they had outgrown a smaller timber church that had been built in 1866.
Aesthetic Significance or Value
St Mary's Catholic Church is notable for its size and prominent position as a landmark building in Hokitika. The church holds strong community meaning and, for some, emotional attachment. Heritage groups in Hokitika (including NZHPT West Coast Branch and Heritage Hokitika) and St Mary's Parish representatives themselves consider the place to be of special aesthetic significance and one of the finest historical buildings in Hokitika, attracting numerous New Zealanders and overseas visitors. The form and scale of the building give life to the townscape and are considered to have aesthetic significance or value.
Architectural Significance or Value
St Mary's Catholic Church is noteworthy as the only neo-classically designed church on the West Coast. Its classical frontage, with portico entry flanked by coupled round and square Ionic columns supporting a tympanum, and imposing square tower topped with a circular drum and colonettes supporting a cupola is unique on the West Coast. The interior appears to be carefully planned to provide the necessary internal functions in a simple logical way, enlivened with decorative surfaces. The raked or sloping floor is an unusual feature.
Designed by the Luttrell brothers, this church forms part of a group of neo-classical masonry Catholic churches of varying sizes in the South Island, all designed to be landmarks. The use of neo-classical for the St Mary's Catholic Church, a style not otherwise employed by the Luttrells, demonstrates how these important Edwardian architects were prepared to work in a variety of styles given the clear vision of the community.
Spiritual Significance or Value
St Mary's Catholic Church is a statement of faith. It provides a strong spiritual connection between the past and the present. It has long acted as a community symbol for Catholicism and reflects attitudes and beliefs that characterised the strong Irish settlement pattern of Hokitika. It is still used today for Catholic worship.
(a) The extent to which the place reflects important or representative aspects of New Zealand history
St Mary's Catholic Church in Hokitika reflects an important aspect of New Zealand's religious and cultural history. The discovery of gold on the West Coast in 1864 and subsequent intensive immigration promoted by the New Zealand government in the 1870s resulted in demographic and cultural transformation for the Catholic Church in New Zealand. The present neo-classical St Mary's Catholic Church, a landmark building in Hokitika, monumentalises that Catholic (and particularly Irish Catholic) faith on the West Coast.
A number of churches were constructed following the First World War. St Mary's Catholic Church is an interesting example of a church whose construction commenced just prior to the War and as a result it was not completed until some 14 years later.
St Mary's Catholic Church exhibits clear physical evidence of a religious and social trend in New Zealand's history. The church has a clear, direct and enduring association with an earlier transformation of the face of the Catholic Church in New Zealand. In that sense, it is an eye-catching continuation of religious movement that represented a significant turning point in the development of the community of Hokitika on the West Coast.
(e) The community association with, or public esteem for the place
From the moment the new church was first opened in 1914, it was clear that the parishoners were well pleased with the result. St Mary's Catholic Church has continued to be held in very high public esteem by the Hokitika community. It is a landmark building often used in tourism publications. For example, it appears as the key historic building for Hokitika in David McGill's publication, Landmarks: Notable Historic Buildings of New Zealand and is considered by Heritage Hokitika to be one of the three finest buildings of historical significance in the town.
It is considered that this place qualifies as a Category I historic place.
The landmark St Mary's Catholic Church is symbolic of the particularly fervent Irish Catholic national aspirations, an important aspect of New Zealand's history that grew out of mid nineteenth century gold mining and immigration schemes. The church represents the ongoing expression and impact of the Irish Catholic identity in Hokitika in the nineteenth and early twentieth century.
St Mary's Catholic Church in Hokitika is held in high esteem by the community who values it aesthetic significance. The church is of special significance as it clearly demonstrates the community's bold ideals and is notable as the only neo-classical church on the West Coast and the only such building design of the prolific firm of A & S Luttrell.
Maori have a long and significant history of occupation of Tai Poutini, the West Coast of New Zealand. In July 1859, James Mackay, a Pakeha Crown agent, began negotiating the purchase of land from Maori for the Crown and it is noted the importance placed by Ngai Tahu on the areas around and between the Hokitika (Okitika) and Arahura Rivers especially for their pounamu resources. In December 1859 gold was discovered on the West Coast, and Mackay was eager to progress the land purchases. A series of agreements were reached in 1860 and various reserves were laid out. One Ngai Tahu reserve, about ten kilometres north of Hokitika, was for part of an area of the Arahura River. Within a few years, by 1865, a full-scale West Coast gold rush transformed the area near the Hokitika River mouth and the town of Hokitika developed at a rapid pace.
The Catholic Church in New Zealand was transformed because of this gold rush in the mid 1860s on the West Coast as well as through government sponsored immigration programmes in the 1870s. Catholics in New Zealand are an identifiable community and their story is one of a multitude of men, women and children of many cultures. The West Coast's Pakeha population, which included a high proportion of Irish as well as Catholics from other parts of Europe, increased at a phenomenal rate, going from a few dozen to 30,000 in two years. Towns sprang up and soon churches and schools were built. Churches opened in Greymouth and Hokitika in 1865, in Charleston in 1867 and Westport in 1868.
The first St Mary's in Hokitika was a simple unlined timber chapel which was first used on Christmas Eve 1865. Sited on the two and a half acre Catholic reserve on the Stafford Street end of Sewell and Tancred Street, it was the first Catholic church to be built on the West Coast. With the enthusiasm and support of the large Irish Catholic population, there was soon a need for a more commodious structure and by May 1866 a larger timber Gothic styled church was constructed. It is possible that the timber used to build these two early churches came directly from the very reserve where they were built, as the Roman Catholic Church Reserve 440 is shown as containing an area marked 'timber' in a map of 1867. The 1866 church served the community well until 1912 when the poor condition of the building led the parish to consider its replacement.
On 15 July 1912, the parish building committee of St Mary's resolved to call tenders and specifications for a new church. This church was to be in the 'Roman style', with seating accommodation for 350 parishioners 'exclusive of nuns chapel, 30, and choir loft'. A sum not exceeding £2,800 was allocated, with separate tenders for the concrete and brickwork. Mr T Watson, an architect from Greymouth, prepared a preliminary or concept drawing of the intended church (refer to section 6.2 of the registration report).
The successful architect (at £3000) chosen for the project was Alfred Luttrell of the prominent Christchurch firm Luttrell brothers. Mr Watson's preliminary drawings guided the Luttrells in a very general sense, and there is a clear resemblance between the final design and Watson's concept. However, the final design differs in a number of ways from Watson's preliminary drawing including the exterior treatment of the materials, fenestration and columns.
Amongst others, F W Petre's Christchurch Basilica (1905) had set 'the Roman-style' as the favoured architectural form for Catholic buildings at this time, and this was what the parish wanted. The architectural partnership of the Luttrell brothers had worked as the unofficial diocesan architects for the Catholic Church in Canterbury, though had employed neo-Gothic rather than neo-classical styles in their churches . The new Catholic church in Hokitika would show their flexibility as architects.
The old timber Gothic St Mary's Catholic Church was demolished in February 1914 and the new one was constructed on the same site, but this time with the entrance to Sewell rather than Tancred Street.
The foundation stone for the new church was laid on 23 March 1914 by Bishop Grimes, who was agreeably surprised at the boldness of Hokitika's Catholics in their enterprises. In his inaugural address, Bishop Grimes expressed his obligations to Messrs Luttrell brothers for the solidity and finish of their work, indicating that the work was already well underway by this time. Indeed, the West Coast Times reported on 28 December 1914 that the new church recently erected by the congregation of St Mary's was opened on midnight Mass on Christmas Eve.
Although the nave was first used late in December 1914, the portico and tower were not constructed until 1920-21. This delay in completion was partly caused by the problems posed by the outbreak of war as well as a shortage of funds. The exterior retained a brick appearance until 1927-8 when the finishing plaster was finally applied to the exterior walls, some 14 years after the foundation stone was laid. The interior timber and plaster work was also completed in 1927-28.
Across the road, also on the corner of Stafford and Sewell Streets, was the Convent of the Sisters of Mercy. The teaching order of the Sisters of Mercy first arrived in Hokitika from Ireland in 1878. In 1914, Alfred and Sidney Luttrell designed St Columbkille's Chapel for the convent complex. Unlike their new St Mary's Catholic Church the Chapel was in a Gothic Revival style. The convent no longer exists, and the Chapel was demolished in 1979 due to structural issues.
In 1960 the church was consecrated and from 1978, to coincide with the Sisters of Mercy centennial, the church was refurbished. The original pews were sanded and re-polished and the St Mary and Joseph statues set into the sanctuary wall were 'antiqued' at the same time. Further refurbishment was carried out in 1989.
St Mary's Catholic Church is the largest church in Hokitika and is said to reflect the town's status as the 'Irish Catholic capital' of New Zealand from the mid nineteenth century. The third St Mary's church to be built in Hokitika, and the second around this part of the site, the church symbolises the particularly fervent Irish Catholic national aspirations.
A separate Irish identity was considered most evident in New Zealand during and immediately after the major Irish migration of the 1860s and 1870s. In Britain, long struggles for land reform and Irish home rule had been a major concern of British politics throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Expressions of Irish culture continued too in New Zealand politics. Nineteenth century Hokitika had been no stranger to political disturbance. Reverend Larkin led a dramatic 'mock funeral' procession through Hokitika in support of a group of nationalists in Ireland known as Fenians in 1868. Tensions fluctuated throughout New Zealand and when political and religious tensions rose in Ireland, especially in the second decade of the twentieth century, coinciding with the First World War, ripples were clearly felt in the Irish community in New Zealand. These lessened over time, and from the 1920s on, expressions of a distinctive Irish identity in New Zealand began to weaken. A key aspect of 'Irishness' that did remain distinct for many years, however, was the culture of the Irish Catholic Church and associated schooling.
In the nineteenth century, the four largest denominations in New Zealand were the three British Protestant churches (Anglican or Church of England, Presbyterian, and Methodist or Wesleyan) and the Catholic Church. There was a clear pattern of denominational adherence that has to some degree continued since that time. An analysis of concentrations of adherence of major denominations greater than the mean population in various parts of New Zealand in 1921 shows that the West Coast, Central Otago, Kaikoura District and Waihi had Catholicism as having proportionately higher denominational adherence. This is at a time when New Zealand's non-Maori population was recorded as 1,014,738, almost half (45.8%) of whom identified as being Anglican. Those identified as being Presbyterian formed 19.9% of the population, Catholics were 13.6%, Methodists were 9.5% and 'Other' were 11.2%. The localised pattern of Catholic predominance is in former goldfield towns. The 1966 Encyclopedia of New Zealand recorded that fifty years after Pompallier's arrival in New Zealand [that is, by the late 1880s], 'Roman Catholics' numbered 79,000 and that this was approximately one-seventh of the total population. An analysis of the main denominational allegiances declared at censuses between 1858 and 1991 shows that the percentage of Catholics in the population has remained remarkably steady.
Even though Catholicism ('Roman Catholicism') had initially come to New Zealand from France under the leadership of Bishop Pompallier and the Society of Mary, from the early 1860s, the vast majority of Catholics were people of Irish background. A census of 1874 shows that just under a fifth of the population in Westland gave Ireland as their birthplace, a similar number to those who were born in England. For a considerable period of time, the Catholic Church was the major vehicle for expressing Irish heritage in New Zealand. This was true of St Mary's Parish in Hokitika, whose Celtic links were strongly fostered.
There are of course churches of other denominations in Hokitika, and it is recognised that the West Coast had protestant churches established at the same time as the Catholic ones. There was even a Jewish Synagogue built in Hokitika in the nineteenth century. Over time, the denominations replaced their original modest places of worship in Hokitika and St Mary's is no exception.
On the NZHPT Register a search under denomination shows that there are 58 Anglican churches registered as Category I historic places and 135 Anglican churches registered as Category II historic places. In comparison, nationally there are 22 Catholic churches registered as Category I and 33 as Category II. Given the Anglican Church's predominance, this is not surprising. On the West Coast, however, the breakdown of registered historic places does not appear to reflect the importance of Catholicism on the Coast. There are four Anglican churches on the West Coast on the Register, two being Category I and two being Category II. There are only three registered Catholic churches on the West Coast, all being Category II.
Currently eight churches on the West Coast are registered. Two of these are registered Category I historic places and these are both in Hokitika, being All Saints Church (Anglican) and St Andrew's United Church (Presbyterian). These two Hokitika churches date from the mid 1930s and in both cases were replacement churches for earlier ones which, like St Mary's Catholic Church, had their inception from the mid 1860s. The designs of both All Saints and St Andrew's are variations of Gothic Revival styles. St Mary's Catholic Church, on the other hand, is clearly neo-classical. The choice of employing a neo-classical design rather than the more commonly used Gothic Revival is of significance, emulating similar Catholic churches designed by F W Petre in Christchurch, Timaru and Oamaru. Its construction highlights the strong drive of the Irish Catholic community in Hokitika, the centre of New Zealand's largest concentration of New Zealanders of Irish descent. Michael King, in his history Catholics in New Zealand, describes St Mary's Catholic Church in Hokitika as monumentalising the piety of the Catholic Irish of the West Coast in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
Of the other neo-classical churches on the NZHPT Register, most are registered Category I and are largely in the South Island. Many of these are designed by F W Petre, including St Patrick's in Waimate (which bears similarity to St Mary's in Hokitika), Basilica of the Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Timaru (1910, noted for being a major element of Timaru with a striking landmark quality), St Patrick's Catholic Church in Oamaru (1894-1918, built over 12 years), St Mary's Catholic Church in Invercargill and Christchurch's Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament (1905).
To this extent, St Mary's Catholic Church forms part of a group of classically designed masonry Catholic churches of varying sizes in the South Island. The other churches vary in size and vary internally with respect to the extent of internal decoration, ranging from relatively austere (for example, St Patrick's in Waimate) to the more embellished (for example, Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Timaru). These church buildings were designed to be landmarks and St Mary's Catholic Church is no exception, being outstanding within the Hokitika townscape.
St Mary's Catholic Church, located within Hokitika township on the corner of Sewell and Stafford Streets, is a landmark building that can be seen from all directions when approaching Hokitika.
Constructed of double brick with an external plaster finish and a slate roof, St Mary's is a classically inspired church with a 'temple front' portico. The words Deiparae Virgini Mariae (To Mary the Virgin Mother of God) are inscribed across the pedimented entrance. The portico entry is formed between coupled round and square Ionic columns supporting a tympanum. The frontage is completed with a parapet and balusters. Above this frontage ascends a square tower, topped with a circular drum with colonettes supporting a cupola.
The tower has a domed top on which sits a cross, which is illuminated at night.
On the interior, the rectangular nave has a raked floor and is lit by round-headed windows containing both coloured and plain glass. A spacious organ and choir loft is cantilevered over the nave at the entrance. The square chancel is separated from the nave by fluted Ionic pilasters, lined with Corinthian pilasters, and wainscotted to window sill height with timber panelling. The timber panelling offsets and warms the interior and the ceiling is panelled with a curved cove, underlined with a dentilled cornice. A sacristy and vestry flank the chancel, which is not expressed on the church's exterior. Only 'borrowed' light comes from side windows into this area. Two pedimented niches containing sacred statues are set into the wall either side of the chancel.
An old altar remains in the traditional position at the end of the sanctuary while a modern timber one, faced with a stone relief of the Last Supper, is sited at the front.
Architectural Design and the Architects
St Mary's Catholic Church is a well crafted neo-classical design, appropriately scaled to the Hokitika township and surrounding district that it serves. The neo-classical design is unique on the West Coast and provides a well conceived variation on classically themed church frontages within New Zealand. Its interior worship space appears carefully planned to provide the necessary internal functions in a simple and logical way. The raked or sloping floor is an unusual feature.
Ann McEwan's MA thesis on the architecture of the Luttrell brothers points out that St Mary's Catholic Church in Hokitika is the only one of the Luttrell brothers' church and chapel designs that is not in the Gothic style. McEwan discusses that Alfred Luttrell was an accomplished interpreter of neo-Gothic, but 'appeared to be ill-at-ease using classical forms for an ecclesiastical building' and concludes that St Mary's Catholic Church is 'unsuccessful' as a design. Notwithstanding the criticism from a purist architectural perspective, the building does have aesthetic appeal, is spacious and light, is well crafted and its impressive scale provides landmark qualities. It is sometimes described as Romanesque in style, although this is not strictly true of the whole design, rather it draws on a range of classical influences.
In this sense, St Mary's Catholic Church is similar to neo-classical churches such as the church of the Sacred Heart in Timaru, St Patrick's Church in Oamaru, and the grandiose Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament in Christchurch. Neo-classical churches such as these, found throughout New Zealand, reflect the intention of the clergy that Classical imagery should give architectural expression to the Catholic Church's Roman origins. St Mary's Catholic Church is notable as the only church of this type on the whole of the West Coast of the South Island.
Construction of nave.
Construction of portico and tower.
Cement render of exterior.
Refurbishment of interior
Refurbishment of interior
Double brick construction with external plaster finish and slate roof. Concrete. Cement render.
5th February 2010
Report Written By
Ann McEwan, 'The Architecture of A.E. and E.S. Luttrell in Tasmania and New Zealand', MA thesis, University of Canterbury, 1988
David McGill and Grant Sheehan, Landmarks: Notable Historic Buildings of New Zealand, Auckland, 1997
Waitangi Tribunal Report, www.waitangi-tribunal.govt.nz
The Ngai Tahu Report 1991. Wellington, New Zealand
Michael King, God's Farthest Outpost - A History of Catholics in New Zealand. Penguin Books, Auckland, 1997.
Sisters of Mercy, 1978
Sisters of Mercy Westland centenary executive committee, Mercy in Westland, 1878-1978, Hokitika, 1978
A fully referenced version 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.