Trinity Congregational Church (Former)
124 Worcester Street, Christchurch
List Entry Information
List Entry Status
List Entry Type
Historic Place Category 1
2nd April 1985
Lot 1 DP 7778 Pt Town Section 749
The Congregationalist church began in the sixteenth century. Its followers disagreed with the idea of a state-controlled religion, believing rather in a democratic community and a 'simple and individual faith in Jesus'. Congregationalism began in New Zealand with the arrival of Reverend Barzillai Quaife in 1840 and the first meetings of the Congregationalists in Canterbury took place in 1861. By the following year there were enough members in Christchurch to form a Congregational Society. One of the society's first actions was to purchase a site for their proposed church on the corner of Worcester and Manchester Streets. Their first minister, William James Habens, (1839-1899) arrived in 1864. (He subsequently played a significant role in the development of the New Zealand education curriculum.) Under Habens' ministry the first church building, partially designed by Samuel Farr, was constructed in 1864-1865. This served as a chapel and schoolroom until the early 1870s when the growing congregation and problems with the ventilation raised the need for a new church building.
In 1872-1873, the building committee of the church called for designs from four architects; Farr, Benjamin Mountfort, William Armson and R.A. Lawson. Interestingly it was Mountfort's design (himself a committed Anglo-Catholic), rather than Samuel Farr's that was chosen for the church, although Farr was a deacon of the church and, as stated above, had helped to design the church's first building.
The Gothic Revival church Mountfort designed for the Trinity Congregational Church was his first stone church built in Canterbury. Mountfort had earlier designed a number of churches in stone, but congregations had not had the funds to have them built. Mountfort's design reflected the demands of the Congregationalists by providing a central space with a gallery at the rear, which ensured all members of the congregation could see the minister. The church was cruciform in plan with very short transepts which made the central space octagonal in shape. Mountfort's ceiling for this space is a double-barrel vault panelled in timber which has been described as 'one of Mountfort's most impressive and original inventions'. (Lochhead, 1999; 198) The exterior of the church is stone with a striking asymmetrical composition dominated by the tower on the corner of Worcester and Manchester Streets.
During the 1960s the Christchurch community of the Pacific Islanders' Congregational Church also began to hold their services at Trinity Congregational Church, and in 1968 the two congregations, Pakeha and Pacific Islander, were formally combined. The next year the Trinity-Pacific Congregational Church combined with the Presbyterian church of St Paul's in Cashel Street. (Now known as St Paul's-Trinity-Pacific Presbyterian Church, it is also registered by the New Zealand Historic Places Trust/Pouhere Taonga.) This uniting of Presbyterian and Congregationalism took place throughout New Zealand at this time, partly because a common international denominational body already existed; the World Alliance of Reformed Churches. The modest number of Congregational churches and their small congregations also influenced the decision to join the Presbyterians. The creation of the St Paul's-Trinity-Pacific Presbyterian Church led ultimately to the sale of Trinity Church. The congregation could not support two churches and required money for a new church hall and social centre in Cashel Street. Consequently in 1973 Trinity Church was put up for sale. After much public debate over its fate, it was purchased by the State Insurance Company who opened it as a community performing arts centre in 1975. It has since become a chapel for Japanese wedding blessings.
Trinity Church is significant as the first of Mountfort's churches to be built in stone. The internal timber roof with its double barrel vault is an elegant solution to the difficulty of roofing an octagonal space, a space created by the requirements of the Congregational way of worship. The exterior is an impressive composition of strong Gothic forms and the church forms a distinctive part of the townscape of Worcester and Manchester Streets.
Mountfort, Benjamin Woolfield
Benjamin Woolfield Mountfort (1825-98) trained as an architect in England, in the office of Richard Cromwell Carpenter, a member of the Cambridge Camden Society (later the Ecclesiological Society). He arrived in Canterbury in 1850.
Mountfort was New Zealand's pre-eminent Gothic Revival architect and, according to architectural historian Ian Lochhead, 'did most to shape the architectural character of nineteenth-century Christchurch.' The buildings he designed were almost exclusively in the Gothic Revival style.
During his career he designed many churches and additions to churches; those still standing include the Trinity Congregational Church in Christchurch (1874), St Mary's Church in Parnell, Auckland and the Church of the Good Shepherd in Phillipstown, Christchurch (1884). In 1857 he became the first architect to the province of Canterbury. He designed the Canterbury Provincial Council Buildings in three stages from 1858 to 1865. The stone chamber of this building can be considered the greatest accomplishment of his career. He was involved in many important commissions from the 1870s, including the Canterbury Museum (1869-82) and the Clock-tower Block on the Canterbury College campus (1876-77). He was also involved in the construction of Christchurch's Cathedral and made several major modifications to the original design.
Mountfort introduced a number of High Victorian elements to New Zealand architecture, such as the use of constructional polychromy, probably first used in New Zealand in the stone tower of the Canterbury Provincial Government Buildings (1859). Overall, his oeuvre reveals a consistent and virtually unerring application of Puginian principles including a commitment to the Gothic style, honest use of materials and picturesque utility. The result was the construction of inventive and impressive buildings of outstanding quality. He died in Christchurch in 1898. A belfry at the Church of the Good Shepherd in Phillipstown, the church he attended for the last ten years of his life, was erected in his honour.
17th October 2001
Report Written By
R.B. Keey, To Him be the Glory: The Story of Trinity Congregational Church, Christchurch, Christchurch, 1974.
Ian Lochhead, A Dream of Spires: Benjamin Mountfort and the Gothic Revival, Christchurch, 1999
Trinity Congregational Church won the supreme award and heritage retention award at the 2012 Canterbury Heritage Awards.