St Patricks Basilica is a significant monument to the work of Francis Petre, one of the most talented of New Zealand's early architects, and one of the most important architects associated with the Catholic Church in New Zealand. The Basilica represents an important chapter in the history of the Catholic Church in Dunedin, as well as the history of the wider Church in New Zealand, providing an indication of the vitality of that community and the role of faith in New Zealand society.
The Basilica is an aesthetically imposing building that makes a vital contribution to the streetscape. Its bulk, form and architectural styling are impressive. The interior is richly decorated, in Classical style with pressed zinc ceilings and religious sculptures.
The Basilica is culturally significant emphasising the importance of the Roman Catholic Church to South Dunedin, and is a landmark in the area.
It has spiritual significance as the site of Catholic worship in South Dunedin for over 110 years.
St Patricks Basilica reflects the importance of the Catholic community in the history of New Zealand, and its establishment in suburban Dunedin. It is associated with Francis Petre an outstanding architect who worked closely with the Roman Catholic Church. The Basilica stands as a tribute to the faith of its congregation and is a significant place for gathering and worship for the Catholic community in South Dunedin. The design is technically accomplished and forms a vital element in Petre's Basilican architectural ouvre and predates his later most well known and iconic works. The Basilica was an imposing building and is as well the key component of the group of buildings associated with the Catholic Church in South Dunedin, including the Presbytery, St Patrick's School and the Sisters of Mercy.
Concrete foundations, plastered brick walls with slate roof.
Francis Petre, pre-eminent nineteenth century architect for the Roman Catholic Church designed St Patrick's Basilica. The large classically-styled Basilica was opened in 1894, and formed the centre of the Catholic community in South Dunedin, and of the cluster of buildings associated with the Church on Macandrew Road. Petre was renowned for his Basilica designs, and this is one of the earliest such designs in his oeuvre. Bishop Patrick Moran was an enthusiastic promoter of a building programme for the Church in Dunedin, and the Basilica is a result of the community efforts in raising money to create a place of worship that expressed the importance of the Church.
Dunedin had its first Catholic church in July 1862, in the central city on Upper Tennyson Street, dedicated to St Joseph. The church proved inadequate to house the worshippers and Bishop Patrick Moran (1823-1895) turned his sights to wider Dunedin for a site to house a further church. Bishop Moran was appointed to the newly created diocese of Dunedin in 1869, and embarked on a building programme for the church, of which St Patrick's Basilica was one of many - but one of the largest in the city aside from St Joseph's Cathedral.
In May 1873 Moran bought an acre of land for £200 in Macandrew Road, South Dunedin. The Bishop had in mind a future church and school to provide for Catholics in the South Dunedin.
In 1876 the Borough of South Dunedin was given municipal status, and the suburb developed as a residential and commercial area. With this development Bishop Moran was keen to see the church and school built, and a public meeting confirmed the desire of local Catholics for these facilities. Through much local fund raising the school-chapel was opened free of debt on Sunday 18 August 1878, by Bishop Moran. At the opening Bishop Moran stated that he intended to build a church on a site separated from the school. Architect F.W. Petre had already presented the Bishop with a plan for this future church. This plan was for a Gothic church, but was discarded in favour of the present St Patrick's Roman Basilica.
The chapel soon proved too small for Sunday Mass in a densely populated area. By the 1890s fund raising efforts were made to raise money for the new church. Petre's designs were finally approved towards the end of 1891. Bishop Moran hoped that the foundation stone would be laid and the building commenced on 17 March 1892. It was recognised that the foundation work would cost a considerable sum because of the soft ground, and that the foundations would need to be strong because of the nature of the soil and the weight of the proposed basilica.
When completed the basilica was to provide accommodation for 1000 people. It was to be 150ft by 50ft, with a height of 45 ft to the ceiling. The chief feature was to be the central dome which would be finished in decorated glass work, causing tinted light to fill the upper part of the nave and sanctuary, and the semicircular colonnaded porch in stone (above which would be the choir-gallery and organ loft).
The contract was let to D.W. Woods of Dunedin, for the construction of the whole building except the central dome and the colonnaded porch. The initial contract was aimed at erecting the church, in recognition that the complete project was to take many years with substantial cost. With the contract signed on 2 February 1892, and the work sufficiently advance by 20 March 1892 for the foundation stone to be blessed by Bishop Moran, accompanied by a procession of the congregation. By this date some £1500 had been collected for the project, with an estimated total cost of £5000. The building contractor was instructed to put up the walls and place the roof in position, and the remainder of the work was to be done as more money came to hand. In the cavity beneath the stone were place copies of The New Zealand Tablet, the Otago Daily Times, the Globe, and the Evening Star, along with parchment containing details in Latin of the occasion.
The construction was in brick with concrete foundations. By the end of September it reported that the walls were almost up to their full height. There was concern about lack of funds and renewed fund raising events were organized. Further pleas for funds were made in 1893 and 1894, drawing attention to the fact that the money was needed to make the building weatherproof. By the end of the year the red brick building with a slate roof was sufficiently advance to announce an opening date - planned for Sunday 7 October 1894.
On opening day fittings and furnishings from the old church were transferred to the new, until further funds were available new furnishings were delayed. A procession made its way from the old church to the new, with the congregation, the Christian Brothers, pupils from St Patrick's School, pupils from the Brothers' and Sisters' schools in Rattray Street and other well wishers. The occasion was presided over by Bishop John Grimes, Bishop Moran being unable to attend because of illness.
Work continued on the church interior. The Otago Daily Times reported in December 1897 that work had reached the stage that an
Idea of the architectural beauties of the edifice when finished can be gained. The ceiling above the sanctuary and in the transepts and nave is now up, and is of a highly elaborate and artistic design.
Work continued on the church. Petre had planned to use timber panelling on the original plan, but switched to Wunderlich zinc panels, as a cheaper way of achieving ornamentation, with Petre identifying it as the first of its kind in the South Island. The pressed zinc panels were produced by Wunderlich and Co. in Sydney and cost £391 to have them landed on site. The ceiling panels were installed by contractor James Small. Ferry and Washer, a plastering firm, was engaged in plastering the outside red brick walls and as much again within the church, at a cost of £592. Barningham and Co. was engaged to the metal work, including the 14 large cast iron ventilators on the side walls. With the disruption the building work caused the basilica was again closed for a time, and the old church used for services.
On 26 June 1898 St Patrick's Basilica was formally reopened, with the Otago Daily Times enthusiastically describing the celebrations and the building.
In 1901 there were appeals for donors to adorn the walls with artistic Stations of the Cross. An order was placed with a Paris firm, and in February 1902 the Stations mounted in oak frames, with figures in terracotta and painted background scenery, arrived. Other statuary was commissioned and added to the Basilica after this date.
In 1924 Father Delaney arranged for putting in the 14 stained glass windows, depicting the Mysteries of the Rosary. The windows were made by the firm of F.X. Zettler in Munich. They were installed by Robert Fraser of Dunedin. Each window was dedicated to a member or family of the congregation.
In the 1950s alterations were made to the Basilica. Two further confessionals were placed in the south wall and the sacristies were enlarged. A wall was removed near the Sisters' Chancel and a mezzanine floor added. In place of the wall a grill was erected, and a new stairway gave entrance to the upper floor.
In 1960 a new porch was built. It was not the semi-circular colonnaded porch envisaged in Petre's original plan, but a utilitarian structure built from concrete block. The architect for the porch was E.J. McCoy and the builders were Simpson Brothers.
In line with the requirements of the liturgical changes following the directives of the Vatican Council the then Father Boyle engaged McCoy to modernise the sanctuary, retaining the original altar, but locating another smaller altar nearer the congregation. McCoy had the altar and screens framed in timber and lined with white laminate sheet. This was considered to impede full view of the old altar and it was replaced with furniture designed by Stephen Howard and made from the pews that were in the church.
St Patrick's Basilica continues to serve as the centre of worship for Roman Catholics in South Dunedin. It remains a focal point for the Catholic community. It is the centre of a complex of buildings and services associated with the Church, including St Patrick's School, the Presbytery and the Sisters of Mercy.
13th December 2005
Report Written By
Dictionary of New Zealand Biography
Dictionary of New Zealand Biography
Ian J. Lochhead, 'Petre, Francis William 1847-1918', Volume 2, 1870 - 1900', Wellington, 1993, pp.383-384
Father Peter R Mee, St Patrick's Basilica Centennial 1894-1994, [Dunedin], 1994
Otago Daily Times
Otago Daily Times
5 July 1898, p.3.
Shaw, 1997 (2003)
Peter Shaw, A History of New Zealand Architecture, Auckland, 1997
A fully referenced version of this report is available from the NZHPT Otago/Southland Area Office