Community of the Sacred Name (Former)

319 St Asaph Street, Christchurch

  • Community of the Sacred Name (Former), Christchurch. Chapel interior looking east at the altar - carved by F.G. Gurnsey and the oak reredos (the ornamental screen covering the wall at the back of an altar) - carved by J. C. Vivian .
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand. Taken By: Robyn Burgess. Date: 2/07/2018.
  • Community of the Sacred Name (Former), Christchurch. Chapel interior showing timber pews, including high-backed Sisters' pews.
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand. Taken By: Robyn Burgess. Date: 2/07/2018.
  • Community of the Sacred Name (Former), Christchurch. Stained Glass of St Bridget.
    Copyright: Stephen Estall. Taken By: Stephen Estall.
  • Community of the Sacred Name (Former), Christchurch. North side showing two-storeyed wing and chapel entrance.
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand. Taken By: Robyn Burgess. Date: 2/07/2018.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 1 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 4387 Date Entered 15th February 1990


Extent of List Entry

Extent includes the land described as Lot 1 DP 484070 (RT 686121), Canterbury Land District and the buildings and structures known as Community of the Sacred Name (Former) thereon, and the following chattels: Reredos; Altar; Pews; Bishops’ Chair; Altar Rails including rail angels; Aumbry cupboard; Prayer Tables; three large decorative timber framed religious works; Dispensary cupboard; Flower stand; Chamber pot; Ceramic hot water bottle; Clock. [In addition to the itemised chattels, there are many fixtures within the building that are also part of the extent, including historic light fittings and radiators, ventilators, historic notice boards and donation box, fire places, and door and window hardware. The extent also includes the relocated tuberculosis hut at the north-west side of the property but does not include buildings on separate surrounding land parcels such as the Retreat Centre and another relocated tuberculosis hut]. (Refer to map in Appendix 1 of the List entry report for further information).

City/District Council

Christchurch City


Canterbury Region

Legal description

Lot 1 DP 484070 (RT 686121), Canterbury Land District


The Community of the Sacred Name (Former) complex, at 319 St Asaph Street in central Christchurch, has cultural and historical significance as the home of the only Anglican female order in New Zealand dating from shortly after its inception in 1893 until it was vacated following the Canterbury earthquakes of 2010-11, and has high social significance for its long and ongoing direct association with care work in the community. Built in stages between 1894-5 and 1921, the complex has architectural and aesthetic significance as a connected group of buildings designed by two prominent Christchurch architects, Benjamin and Cyril Mountfort. It is notable for the craftsmanship of the chapel construction and particularly for the stained glass windows by noted British stained glass artist, Veronica Whall and carvings by Frederick Gurnsey and his assistant Jake Vivian. The windows also have commemorative value. The place is still consecrated and has spiritual significance.

What became known as the Community of the Sacred Name was founded in 1893 by Sister Edith Mellish who came to New Zealand from St Andrew’s Deaconess Community in London at the request of the Bishop of Canterbury, Churchill Julius. Known originally as the Christchurch Deaconesses’ Institution, the teaching and nursing order was at first housed in two cottages in George Street, Christchurch, but on the completion of a ‘temporary’ corrugated iron building designed by Benjamin Woolfield Mountfort, the sisters moved onto the site on the corner of Barbadoes and St Asaph Streets in early 1895. This building still forms part of the complex and has been substantially added to in phases, in 1898, 1900, 1905, 1916 and 1921, as the Community of the Sacred Name grew.

Utilitarian in nature and with a somewhat haphazard layout due to the extensions carried out, the extent of the Community of the Sacred Name (Former) complex includes a relocated tuberculosis hut and remnants of a garden with fruit trees at the west side and an artesian well on the south side. Located on the north side of St Asaph Street, the original single storeyed T-shaped ‘temporary’ building is of timber and corrugated iron construction, with the iron being used as an external wall cladding as well as a roofing material. An extension to the south-east is also clad in corrugated iron. A large weatherboard clad two-storeyed extension with timber joinery gives the building a north-south orientation. At its north end is a timber chapel featuring Gothic Revival detailing and stained glass windows, with further chapel extensions incorporating bungalow style details.

The community initially cared for unmarried mothers and orphans and it has played an important role in the history of Canterbury women and of non-governmental welfare assistance. Sybilla Maude came to live in the community in 1896 and it was from the kitchen room (later the Mission Room) that she established her dispensary and initially ran the district nursing scheme that became associated with her. The order was given its present name in 1912, after being known for a short time as the Sisters of Bethany. In addition to the five extensions constructed around the core original corrugated iron building, a large free-standing brick convent building had been constructed in 1911-12 on the corner of Barbadoes Street and St Asaph Street. This brick convent building was demolished following the Canterbury earthquakes of 2010-11 and the land was subdivided. The sisters had vacated the complex due to the quakes and relocated to Ashburton, retaining a 1992 retreat building, on a separate land parcel, that fronts Tuam Street. In 2014 new owners, Home and Family Society, took over the property and, as a result of a high level of community support and financial contributions, in 2017-18 the surviving historic corrugated iron and timber buildings in the complex were strengthened, repaired and adapted for their use as offices and a commercial café. Named ‘Our House’, the complex was reopened in July 2018 and, as a family-focused social service charitable society, Home and Family will continue the social journey of this important place.

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

The Community of the Sacred Name (Former), New Zealand’s only Anglican convent, has high historical significance. It is associated with Edith Mellish (Sister Edith) who founded the order in 1893, and Sybilla Maude (Nurse Maude) who used the Community of the Sacred Name complex as a base and subsequently founded district nursing in New Zealand. The various stages of construction of the convent buildings illustrate the development and growth of the order. The demolition of the large three-storeyed brick neo-Gothic building on the corner of Barbadoes and St Asaph Streets, which was a third major stage of development within the complex, is representative of the dramatic loss of building stock and disruption to residents in central Christchurch and beyond as a direct result of the major earthquakes of 2010 and 2011.

Aesthetic Significance or Value

The Community of the Sacred Name (Former) complex has aesthetic significance. Various parts of the site are evocative of the convent daily life and appeal to the senses. They include remnants of the orchard fruit trees, the sounds and echoing within the small and large timber spaces within the complex, dark stained timbers, and the light coming through the stained glass windows in the chapel in what is otherwise a relatively dark interior of this often quiet space. Of aesthetic value are the buildings themselves, as well as works of art and craft, including sculpted furniture, stained glass and woodcarving within the Chapel. Elements of the buildings retain the patina of age, including dark stained timbers in various parts of the building, and, although no longer functional, a number of features such as early light fittings and radiators.

Archaeological Significance or Value

The Community of the Sacred Name (Former) complex has archaeological significance. As this is the site of New Zealand’s only Anglican convent, which operated from this central city site from the mid 1890s, archaeological methods have the potential to provide additional information that could help in understanding how the site was used and changes that occurred over time.

Architectural Significance or Value

The Community of the Sacred Name (Former) has high architectural significance. The nineteenth and early twentieth century buildings were designed by two prominent Christchurch architects, Benjamin and Cyril Mountfort. Benjamin Mountfort became New Zealand’s pre-eminent Gothic Revival architect and is credited with defining Christchurch’s Gothic Revival character. His son, Cyril, became his assistant in the 1880s and took over after his father’s death in 1898, bringing continuity of architectural design at the Community of the Sacred Name complex. While the complex is largely utilitarian in form and materials, the simple Gothic Revival style Chapel has particular architectural value.

Cultural Significance or Value

The Community of the Sacred Name (Former) has high cultural significance as the home of New Zealand’s only Anglican female order since shortly after its inception in 1893 until it closed with the Canterbury earthquakes in early 2011. The complex reflects the beliefs, values and behaviours of this cultural group, and after redevelopment the Chapel continues to be a place to allow the Sisters to express their identity, values and beliefs. The community in Christchurch was founded as a teaching and nursing order, initially caring for unmarried mothers and orphans. Later, as the state made provision for this, the order in Christchurch contributed to the Anglican Church through mission work in the Pacific and the production of Communion wafers and church embroidery. The nursing activities of Sybilla Maude, who began training with the order and operating a medical dispensary with in the complex, led ultimately to the establishment of district nursing in New Zealand. The Nurse Maude charitable organisation continues to provide nursing, homecare and support in Canterbury communities.

Social Significance or Value

The Community of the Sacred Name (Former) has high social significance. The small remnants of the gardens are evidence of the self-sufficient community lifestyle at the convent. Outbuildings also contribute to the understanding of the daily life and role of the Convent. The complex reflects the social role of the sisters in the community and plays a pivotal role in the history of non-governmental social services. It is in keeping that the place was taken over in 2014 by the family-focused social service charitable society, Home and Family, thereby continuing the activity and initiatives that the place has been known for since the early days of the establishment of the convent. This place has a high level of esteem in the current Christchurch community. This was shown by the large amount of public financial contributions that allowed the surviving historic corrugated iron and timber buildings in the complex to be strengthened, repaired and adapted.

Spiritual Significance or Value

The Community of the Sacred Name (Former) has spiritual significance. The place remains consecrated and has value for its integral religious connection with the Community of the Sacred Name order. The chapel, in particular, is associated with worship and their shared faith and continues to be regarded with reverence. It will continue to be used by the Sisters and others for prayer and reflection, as well as for other appropriate gatherings.

It is considered that this place qualifies as a Category 1 historic place. It was assessed against, and found to qualify under the following criteria: a, b, e, g and j.

(a) The extent to which the place reflects important or representative aspects of New Zealand history

The Community of the Sacred Name (Former) reflects important aspects of New Zealand’s history of social and religious work in the community. It is the key place to reflect on the history of New Zealand’s only Anglican convent. It is particularly notable for its association with Nurse Maude who began her District Nursing scheme from the complex. Nurse Maude is nationally recognised for the establishment of district nursing throughout New Zealand.

The Community of the Sacred Name (Former) reflects the role of the Anglican Church in Canterbury and particularly the involvement of women within the church and also in the history of non-governmental welfare assistance.

It has associations with the development of similar communities in England and Europe and is linked to a conventual way of life, following traditional patterns of use.

(b) The association of the place with events, persons, or ideas of importance in New Zealand history

The Community of the Sacred Name (Former) is associated with persons and ideas that have made an impact on people’s lives. As New Zealand’s only Anglican convent, women are pivotal in the history of the place. Sister Edith Mellish was foundress, Sybilla (Nurse) Maude established her nursing programme from the Community of the Sacred Name and Frances Torlesse was instrumental in setting up support for women in difficulty.

The place is intricately linked to the Anglican Church and was founded with assistance from Bishop Julius and other prominent members of society associated with the Anglican settlement of Christchurch. Members of the Community of the Sacred Name undertook the embroidery of church vestments and the making of wafers for use in ceremonies in Anglican churches throughout New Zealand.

The Community of the Sacred Name (Former) is associated with renowned architects and artists. Prominent Gothic Revival architect Benjamin W Mountfort and his son, Cyril J Mountfort, designed key aspects of the complex, and the Chapel is associated with stained glass artist Veronica Whall and noted carvers Frederick Gurnsey and his assistant Jake C Vivian.

(e) The community association with, or public esteem for the place

The place continues to have a strong association with the religious community associated with the Community of the Sacred Name and the chapel will continue to be used by the sisters even though they no longer live at the site.

The complex is held in high regard, as evidenced by the financial support from a range of public organisations keen to see the major restoration project for reuse by Home and Family Society.

(g) The technical accomplishment, value, or design of the place

The Community of the Sacred Name (Former) has technical value for its construction in both corrugated iron and timber, its interior timber finishes, including the chapel construction and especially for the stained glass windows by noted British stained glass artist Veronica Whall. The daughter of Christopher Whall, Veronica Whall was a leader of the Arts and Crafts Movement in stained glass. The four windows along the north wall, made by Powells of London in 1872, are also of note. Well-executed carvings in the Chapel, including the altar, are by noted Christchurch carver, Frederick Gurnsey and the oak reredos is carved by Gurnsey’s assistant, Jake Vivian.

(h) The symbolic or commemorative value of the place

Key stained glass windows in the Chapel have commemorative value. Of particular note are the stained glass windows of St Bridget and of St Barnabas. The St Bridget window was created in memory of the Community of the Sacred Name’s founder, Mother Edith, and the face of the saint is even in the likeness of Mother Edith. The St Barnabas window commemorates Sybilla (Nurse) Maude, the pivotal figure in the establishment of district nursing in New Zealand.

(j) The importance of identifying rare types of historic places

The Community of the Sacred Name is the only Anglican Convent in New Zealand and the complex on the corner of Barbadoes and St Asaph Street has had a continued association with the community and the Christchurch diocese for well over a century. The building’s fabric and form, chattels and collections have a high degree of authenticity.

Summary of Significance or Values

The Community of the Sacred Name (Former) retains outstanding significance, reflecting an important aspect of New Zealand history, namely the role of women in the Anglican Church in non-governmental social services. It is associated with key events and persons in New Zealand history, notably architects Benjamin and Cyril Mountfort, Edith Mellish who founded this as New Zealand’s only Anglican convent, and Sybilla Maude who is nationally recognised for the establishment of district nursing throughout New Zealand.


Construction Professionalsopen/close

Collins, John Goddard

Collins practised as an architect with the firm of Collins and Harman from 1903 until 1955. He was competent in a variety of styles, from Gothic Revival, as seen in Canterbury College (c.1905-23), through to the modernist, post-war styles of architecture. The South British Insurance Company building (1951) is an example of the latter.

Collins was particularly noted for his attention to detail, as cna be seen in the Sign of the Takahe (1918-46). He was the architect for Nazareth House (first block 1909; west wing 1929; chapel (1939) and much of Christchurch Hospital, including the Nurses' Home and Chapel. For this last building, Collins furnished plans and supervised construction free of charge.

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.

Mountfort, Cyril Julian

C J Mountfort (1852-1920) was the second son of Benjamin Woolfield Mountfort (1825-1898), the notable nineteenth century Gothic Revival architect in New Zealand. He assisted in his father's practice in the 1880s and 1890s before taking over the practice after 1898.

C J Mountfort's architecture tended to resemble that of his father, although it was usually less successful. Two of his important ecclesiastical designs were those for the Church of St Luke The Evangelist, Christchurch (1908-9) and St John's Anglican Church, Hororata (1910).

Additional informationopen/close

Historical Narrative

Early History of Christchurch

Christchurch and the wider area have a long history of Māori occupation. The vast network of wetlands and plains of Kā Pakihi Whakatekateka o Waitaha (Canterbury Plains) is inherently important to the history of its early occupation. The area was rich in food from the forest and waterways. Major awa (river) such as the Rakahuri (Ashley), Waimakariri, Pūharakekenui (Styx) and Rakaia were supplied from the mountain fed aquifers of Kā Tiritiri o te Moana (Southern Alps). Other spring-fed waterways such as the Ōtakaro (Avon) meandered throughout the landscape. The rivers teamed with tuna, kōkopu, kanakana and inaka; the wetlands were a good supply of wading birds and fibres for weaving, food and medicine; with the forest supplying kererū, kokopa, tui and other fauna as well as building materials. Ara tawhito (travelling routes) crossed over the landscape providing annual and seasonal pathways up and down and across the plains and in some cases skirting or traversing the swamps. Permanent pā sites and temporary kāinga were located within and around the Plains as Ngāi Tahu established and used the mahinga kai sites where they gathered and utilised natural resources from the network of springs, waterways, wetlands, grasslands and lowland podocarp forests that abounded along the rivers and estuaries.

Most of the Canterbury region was purchased from Ngāi Tahu by the Crown in 1848. The Canterbury Association oversaw the systematic European settlement of Canterbury and surveyed the town of Christchurch and rural sections outside of the town boundary.

Canterbury Earthquakes 2010-11

The situation with the Canterbury Earthquakes of 2010-11 was summarised by the Canterbury Earthquakes Royal Commission Te Komihana Rūwhenua o Waitaha as follows: ‘On 4 September 2010, at 4:35am, an earthquake of magnitude 7.1 struck Christchurch and the surrounding Canterbury region. The earthquake had an epicentre near Darfield, a small town about 40km west of the Christchurch Central Business District. An aftershock sequence began, which at the time of writing is ongoing. All of the earthquakes were the result of ruptures on faults not known to be active prior to the September event. ….However, many unreinforced masonry buildings were damaged and there was extensive damage to infrastructure. The eastern suburbs of Christchurch and Kaiapoi were seriously affected by liquefaction and lateral spreading of the ground. The September earthquake was followed by four other major earthquakes occurring on Boxing Day 2010, and 22 February, 13 June and 23 December 2011. Of these, the event on 22 February was by far the most serious, resulting in 185 deaths. …’

Severe damage to heritage places caused by the Canterbury earthquakes of 2010 and 2011 has meant unprecedented, rapid loss of items from the New Zealand Heritage List, particularly in Christchurch. Significant historic places have been lost, and many places have been removed from the List.

The Heritage New Zealand response to addressing the high number of formal reviews required in post-quake Canterbury, under Section 78 of the Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga Act 2014, has been to explore efficiencies either by adopting a shortened review format report or to reuse existing authoritative histories where already in existence and permission is given by the author. The latter approach has been adopted for this review report for the Community of the Sacred Name (Former).

Historical Narrative

The following information is taken, with permission, as extracts from the historical background in Calum Maclean’s Conservation Plan for the Community of the Sacred Name Convent, Christchurch, March 2015:

The Canterbury Association, founded 1848, aimed to recreate English rural society in New Zealand. The first [Canterbury Association] immigrants to Canterbury arrived in 1850 … with the Anglican Church at its centre. While these pioneers had earnestly hoped to leave behind the social ills and hardships of Victorian England, the very same concerns developed as the colony grew and there was very little social support to addresses these issues. There was a need to support families and in particular women and children as people found it difficult to cope with no social services. The need for institutions such as hospitals, orphanages and prisons was recognised but the early colony lacked those with the requisite training and experience in these areas. The appointment by the Provincial Government of Rev. Henry Torlesse as chaplain to these institutions in 1864 eventually led to the training of deaconesses for this service. The matter was raised with the Diocesan Synod in 1879 and 1880 when a resolution was passed recognising the importance of service by women. In 1882 the idea found some support from Bishop Harper but at this time the diocese lacked funding and an English trained Deaconess was not available.

Frances Torlesse, Henry’s younger sister, emigrated to New Zealand in 1883 and began working with the Girls’ Friendly Society which offered support for immigrant girls. With support from Bishop Harper, Frances became responsible for the running of St Catherine’s Lodge (established by the Girls’ Friendly Society), the Women’s Refuge (established in 1864) and St Mary’s Home for ‘fallen women’ in Addington. At this time fund raising for an organised deaconess styled response to these social issues began.

Frances wrote to St Andrew’s House, Portsmouth (established 1879) to enquire of the workings of a Sisterhood and the possibility of sending a deaconess to Christchurch. Frances was invited to Portsmouth to experience the working of the Sisterhood and it was here that she met Edith Mellish (later Sister Edith). At Marylebone Infirmary she met Sister Mary Anne Vousden (later Sister Marian) who, with support from Florence Nightingale, returned with Frances to Christchurch along with Rose Godfrey (later Sister Rose). In Christchurch they were joined by Mary Pursey (later Sister Mary) and together carried out the institutional work of the Diocese. In 1892 these women were admitted as probationer Deaconesses.

Churchill Julius was installed as Bishop of Canterbury in 1890 and further promoted the establishment and training of women within the church as an organised group. Julius wrote to St Andrew’s Community requesting if a Deaconess might come to New Zealand. Sister Edith Mellish responded and when Julius visited England in 1893 she returned with him to establish a New Zealand Order of Deaconesses which was instituted by Bishop Julius in 1894. The community of St Andrew’s was a formative influence on the development of the Community of the Sacred Name as it would later become known.

The ordination of Deaconesses by a Bishop was thought to give them legitimacy within the Church of England and was associated with the early Christian Church and the formation of conventual houses of the Middle Ages. As foundress, Sister Edith was instrumental in developing the ethos of the Sisterhood. The Community provided the opportunity for theological study and for training to assist parishes in pastoral and social work and importantly a Sisterhood for those ready to take vows and enter a Religious Order. The Community later changed its constitution to become a Community of Sisters guided by a Superior rather than as Deaconesses under a Bishop.

The founding of an Anglican religious community of women in Christchurch in 1893 came about from three main influences; that greater opportunities for women were sought; the influence of the Oxford Movement within Anglicanism; and the growth of Christian social action. Also, the Community was established in response to the social conditions in a newly established colonial town and key members of that community … who provided impetus and inspiration.

The community was originally known as the Christchurch Deaconesses' Institute and was initially located in Gloucester Street and later in two rented cottages in George Street. One early priority was to establish a suitable building to house the community. Just two months after her arrival in Canterbury, Sister Edith was part of a committee that proposed that architect Benjamin Woolfield Mountfort draw up plans for a Deaconess House for a site which was part of the Bishopric Estate on the corner of Barbadoes and St Asaph Streets.

Mountfort had established himself as one of the foremost architects in Victorian New Zealand, and had designed many fine Gothic Revival buildings, including churches for the Anglican Church. While the initial plans for this building were approved, funding would take time, so Mountfort was asked to provide plans for a temporary cottage on the site for which £400 was raised through private donations, the Eton Harper Memorial Fund and a loan from a Building Society. The Deaconesses moved into the new building on … 18 January 1895 and on 28 February 1895 the house was dedicated. It was at this time that Bishop Julius introduced a bill to the Anglican General Synod to establish an Order of Deaconesses.

Early maps show the site of the new Community was located on the edge of the ‘Original Town Reserve’. Built from timber and clad in corrugated iron, it was planned that this plain one-storey house would later form the laundry and back offices of the future Deaconess' house. The building was described in the Star, 18 April 1895, as a ‘marine residence’ and ‘very unpretentious’. The Star continues: ‘It is a one-storeyed structure of corrugated iron, match-lined, and contains a large living room, a dormitory divided into seven cubicles, a bathroom, a kitchen, an office, and a private Chapel. The walls of the rooms are of plain unvarnished wood, the ceilings of brown paper, and the floors are stained a dark brown, with here and there a strip of matting. The furniture is in keeping with the rooms which contain it, cheap, plain and serviceable. The decorations which redeem the place from utter bareness and ascetic coldness are due to the taste of the occupants rather than to money, which has certainly not been lavished upon them.’

For the dedication, a large tent was erected in the garden and 150 guests attended. The building became known as Deaconess House and the sisters the Sisters of Bethany. At this time there were six women attached to the community.

Community of the Sacred Name 1896, Allan K. Davidson, 'Anglican Church - Social services', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 16 May 2018)

In 1896 Sybilla E. Maude came to live in the community and it was from the kitchen room (later the Mission Room) that she established her dispensary and initially ran the district nursing scheme that became associated with her. Nurse Maude trained in England and for a time was Matron of Christchurch Hospital. Nurse Maude ‘kept a small dispensary on a few shelves behind the door of the basin room’. Nurse Maude wrote, ‘I first began district nursing from the Deaconess House, where I had the use of a telephone, and the space of a cupboard to keep the necessities of my work.’ Nurse Maude ran the dispensary until her Madras Street building opened. During the influenza epidemic of 1918 Nurse Maude slept at the Community.

Sister Rose was sent to Christchurch Hospital to train as a nurse and it was here that she met Nurse Maude. In 1898, when Sister Rose became Matron of St Mary’s Home, Nurse Maude moved into the Home with her. Nurse Maude remained close to the Community and often visited and attended the Chapel. Sister Rose and Nurse Maude remained lifelong friends, lived together and spent time at the Moncks Spur and Scarborough Hill cottages.

The Community soon required more space and in 1898 the addition which includes what is now the wafer room, study and wood shed was added. This addition originally included a bed-sitting room for Sister Edith who had been using what became the visitor’s bedroom. The wood shed was originally the laundry.

A second larger extension was started 25 January 1900 as more Probationers were admitted to the Community. Designed by C. J. Mountfort, Benjamin's son, it was constructed of rimu weatherboard with an iron roof. It ran perpendicular to the original building and is two storeys high. It included a Chapel, sitting room, eight bedrooms (the landing was later converted to a ninth bedroom) and a bathroom. The extension was dedicated on 27 April 1900. …

In 1905 the Chapel was enlarged to the east. In 1916 the Chapel was further extended (and possibly the vestry added). The brick extension to the Mission Room was also constructed at this time. In 1921 the Chapel was further enlarged by the extension to the west (and possibly to the sanctuary).

Further growth of the Community saw the construction in 1911-12 of a 2 ½ storey brick building on the Barbadoes Street street frontage. This imposing brick Gothic styled building was designed by J.G. Collins from the architectural firm Armson, Collins and Harman and contained bedrooms on the upper floor, sitting rooms, service rooms, offices and a dining room. While ornamentation [was kept] to a minimum, the brickwork had a decorative quality and this was particularly so in the refectory. The building was officially opened on 9 October 1912 as the ‘House of the Sacred Name’. At the time the final building was erected the sisters became known as the Community of the Sacred Name, having been briefly known as the Sisters of Bethany. The brick building was extensively damaged in the Canterbury earthquakes of 2010 and 2011 and later demolished. …

Left: Community of the Sacred Name brick convent building, A McEwan, Dec 1988, Heritage New Zealand

Right: Community of the Sacred Name brick convent building with quake damage, D Margetts, Mar 2011, Heritage New Zealand

As well as providing pastoral care and community initiatives the Community also undertook other work. The making of Holy Communion wafers by the Sisters for the supply to the parishes began in 1911. This enterprise, in time, supplied wafers right across the country and later into the Pacific Islands and provided a modest income to the Community. The sewing of Church embroidery was also important. This highly skilled traditional craft was introduced by Sister Edith and the Community continued to produce finely crafted frontals, priestly vestments, altar linen and banners up until present times. The Sisters have also passed these skills on to members of the general community. This work was undertaken in the Sewing Room (which was once the Dining Room).

The garden setting of the Convent was important for the Community. Importantly it provided a place of solace but also for social gatherings and garden parties and for the supply of produce. Retreats were held for the Community and other groups, ‘those attending always responding to the calm and quiet of the Community and the spiritual atmosphere of the Chapel’. A strong group of supporters, the Companions, have until around 1990 held monthly meetings and attended retreats and prayer sessions at the Community.

A Guild of Help was formed in 1925 with the aim of providing practical support for the Sisters. The Guild organised an annual garden party. Jam was made from the mulberry tree in the Convent garden (which still fruits from an offshoot from the original stump) for the garden parties which served as an annual fund raising event with money raised spent for the benefit of the Sisters. The installation of central heating was one of first projects supported and also an upgraded stove for the kitchen, a new sewing machine and comfortable chairs. ….

Nurse Maude was a key figure in the establishment of tuberculosis camps at New Brighton in 1905. Originally comprising of tents at the men’s camp, Nurse Maude had timber and corrugated iron shelters erected as the tents were frequently damaged by storms. Later a women’s camp was established two miles north of men’s camp. In 1910 a sanatorium was established in the Port Hills and photos of this show lines of huts following the contours of the hillside.

The two huts at the [wider Convent site] are from these camps. The hut [to the west of] the Chapel was relocated from the New Brighton sand hills camps and was given by Nurse Maude for Sister Eleanor who suffered from tuberculosis. This hut was originally located where the walnut tree was. The hut adjacent to the garage [on a separate land parcel to the north] was originally located where the Retreat House dining room now is and was used as a room for novices. There may be a number of other huts that have survived in gardens in the Canterbury region. Tuberculosis was reasonably common during this time and Sister Zoe contracted the disease in the 1940s and was treated into the 1960s.

Sister Zoe was elected Superior in 1961 and was concerned for the future of the Community and the need for a Retreat House for visiting retreatants was raised. Sister Zoe arranged the purchase of the middle of three sections adjoining the Community fronting on to Tuam Street. The Community later bought a second adjacent section. The villa house 52 originally on the site of the Retreat House was used as a hostel for girls with its own entrance off Barbadoes Street. The villa was later moved to Linwood Ave where it still survives. The Community bought further land fronting Tuam Street for the retreat house in 1986 and the Retreat House was finally opened in 1992.

As the only Anglican Convent in New Zealand, the Community of the Sacred Name has been associated with the Christchurch diocese for over 100 years. The Community has also played an important role in Canterbury women's history and in the history of non-governmental welfare assistance. The Sisters cared for unmarried mothers and orphans and generally assisted families in need. This aspect of their work declined after the state began to provide welfare assistance in the early twentieth century. The Sisters continue to make a significant contribution to the Anglican Church through their mission work both in New Zealand and the Pacific.


Canterbury Earthquakes 2010-11 and Home and Family

Following the Canterbury earthquakes of 2010-11, the Community of the Sacred Name sisters largely relocated to Ashburton, whilst retaining a 1992 retreat building that fronts 298-300 Tuam Street. The large brick convent building, constructed in 1911-12 as an addition to the complex on the corner of Barbadoes Street and St Asaph Street, was demolished in 2011 and the land was subsequently subdivided. The Community of the Sacred Name identified Home and Family Society/Te Whare Manaaki Tangata as the organisation that they wanted to take over the guardianship of the remaining historic complex. Originally called the Society for the Protection of Women and Children, Home and Family Society has served the people of Christchurch since the late nineteenth century and works closely with children and families affected by family violence and poverty. Home and Family lost the building that housed its head office and counselling services in the Canterbury earthquakes of 2010-11. In 2014 it secured the purchase of the former Community of the Sacred Name convent. In 2017-18 the remaining historic buildings in the complex were strengthened and repaired as a result of a high level of community support and financial contributions. The main building was lifted to allow for new foundations and a sprinkler system was installed. External cladding, linings, and some of the old wiring, light fittings and radiators have been retained. Where some walls were removed to combine some of the small first floor rooms into slightly larger spaces for offices, nibs have been retained so that the place of the former wall is readable. The complex remains consecrated and the chapel will continue to be a place of reflection and worship. Renamed ‘Our House’, the former convent complex reopened in July 2018 to function as offices and continue the community work that has always been part of its history. ‘The Good Habit’, a commercial café open to the public, operates in the south-west portion of the ground floor.

Physical Description

The Community of the Sacred Name complex (Former) is located on the north side of St Asaph Street near the Barbadoes Street corner. The general axis runs north-south, with the Chapel located at the north end, aligned east-west. An artesian well is located in the south west of the site with a hammer pump feed to a water tower. The western part of its section contains some fruit trees and garden including a rambling rose, all remnants of a larger garden, as well as the former tuberculosis hut in the north-western corner of the land parcel. Part of the garden layout on the west side now incorporates blocks of foundation stones that were removed from under the building when it was raised to allow for new concrete foundations.

Utilitarian in nature, the complex has a somewhat irregular layout due to the extensions carried out as the Community grew. The original part of the convent building is a timber framed corrugated iron clad building with timber sash windows in a T-shaped form. This has an extension to the south east also clad in corrugated iron. A weatherboard-clad two storeyed addition with timber joinery gives the complex a north-south orientation and includes a chapel at its north end featuring both Gothic Revival and 1920s bungalow influences. The southern end of the two storeyed addition is clad in corrugated iron and has a slightly lower gabled roof compared to the timber part – potentially this was done to link the earlier buildings with the new addition or it may indicate another intermediate phase of construction prior to the large timber extension. The partly reconstructed brick walls of the extension to the former Mission Room (now a commercial café) have new ranch sliders on the west and north-west sides.

The north elevation is dominated by the two-storeyed section with its steeply pitched roof and variety of roof forms of the later additions. Lancet windows within a square frame with stained glass line the nave of the Chapel. Stained glass windows also feature in the transept (1905) and western extension (1921). A gabled and arched entry porch features gothic detailing to the double doors opening into the Chapel and is surmounted by a wooden cross. The gable to the entry porch includes shingles, referencing the bungalow style.

On the east elevation, the corrugated iron clad single storey sections of the earliest parts of the building clearly contrasts with the two storey weatherboard section. The north-south axis of the two storey section is evident and the double gable of the single storey section expresses its cottage like scale. The timber sash window placement defines the layout of rooms on the first floor. A simple wooden cross decorates the wall of the sanctuary. A variety of roof forms is evident and mixes the verticality of the corrugated iron cladding (and narrow, vertical windows), including the two-storeyed corrugated iron part with a slightly lower roof line, with the horizontal nature of the main two-storeyed weatherboard-clad section.

The south elevation walls are clad in vertical corrugated iron with horizontal lines from the short sheet lengths being a notable feature. There are a few small timber framed windows. The south-west corner of the building, formerly a brick extension to the Mission Room, has been partly reconstructed since the earthquakes and this whole area of the building (formerly the Sewing Room and Mission Room) contains a commercial café. An arched doorway recently inserted on the south elevation into the café area is a reuse of a door that was originally the principal entry door for the 1912 brick convent building. The water tower is a feature of this elevation.

In many places in the interior, the timber surfaces exhibit a patina from continued use over a long period of time. In addition, many early fixtures and fittings remain in the building, even if not all are functional, including electric light fittings and old radiators.

Chapel Stained Glass Windows

The stained glass windows in the Chapel are particularly noteworthy.

The four windows in the north wall of the Chapel were made by Powells of London in 1872 and were originally located above the high altar in the first St Michael and All Angels. They were installed in the Chapel in 1900.

The east extension to the Chapel contains three windows by noted English glass artist Veronica Whall. The oldest and only window signed by Whall, dates from circa 1928-9 and depicts St Bridget of Ireland and is in memory of Mother Edith who was Irish and St Bridget founded the first Convent in Ireland. The forget-me-nots, daffodils and birds loved by Mother Edith are in the foreground of the window while the face of St Bridget features a likeness to Mother Edith.

The north-west window, dating from circa 1938, commemorates Nurse Maude and depicts St Barnabas. The window features her favourite flowers, delphiniums and love-in-a-mist and is located near to where she would sit in the Chapel.

The south-west window, dated 1949, depicts St Francis Xavier commemorates Canon Mutter an early Community chaplain.

The window to the transept was relocated from the original 1895 Oratory (now the Sewing Room Store) when the Chapel was built.

Other key features in the Chapel are discussed under the ‘Chattels’ section 3.3 below.

Architectural Influences

Gothic Revival, Arts and Crafts and Bungalow style influences are present in the complex.

Notable Features

This historic place was registered under the Historic Places Act 1980. The following text is the original citation considered by the NZHPT Board at the time of registration. Information in square brackets indicate modifications made after the paper was considered by the Board.

The walled garden and the altar, carved by Frederick Gurnsey are notable features of the convent [subsequently demolished in 2011 following the Canterbury earthquakes].

The stained glass windows are also signficant. Three of them were designed by well-known British Arts and Crafts artist, Veronica Whall, and four by Powells of London. The latter windows date from 1871 and were originally installed above the high altar of the first St Michael and All Angels. They were moved to the Community of the Sacred Name chapel in 1900.

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1895 -
B.W. Mountfort building, timber clad in corrugated iron

1900 -
C.J. Mountfort - two-storey rimu building; major two-storeyed weatherboard-clad addition including Chapel

1911 - 1912
J.G. Collins - brick convent building constructed

1900 -
Two-storeyed corrugated iron portion containing staircase

Fire protection improvements
- 1901
Fire escape added

- 1905
Chapel enlarged to east

- 1916
Brick extension to Mission Room, kitchen converted to Mission Room

- 1916
Chapel further extended

- 1919
Additions to corridor between corrugated iron and brick wings

- 1921
Chapel enlarged by addition of sanctuary and extension to the west

Additional building added to site
Former 1910s tuberculosis huts relocated to the site

Addition to Wafer Room

2017 - 2018
Major restoration and strengthening programme for conversion to offices and café

1898 -
Addition to original wing (later known as Wafer room)

Construction Details

Timber, stained glass, glass, iron.

Public NZAA Number


Completion Date

25th January 2019

Report Written By

Robyn Burgess

Information Sources

Christchurch City Council

Christchurch City Council

Christchurch City Council, District Plan – Listed Heritage Place Heritage Assessment: Statement of Significance Heritage Item Number 50; Former Community of the Sacred Name and Setting (notified 25 July 2015).

Ciaran, 1998

Fiona Ciaran, Stained Glass Windows of Canterbury, New Zealand. A Catalogue Raisonne, Dunedin, 1998

Dictionary of New Zealand Biography

Dictionary of New Zealand Biography

Katherine W. Orr, 'Mellish, Edith Mary 1861-1922', Vol 2, 1870-1900, Wellington, 1993, pp.324-325

Allan, 1996

Allan, Vivienne, Nurse Maude: The First 100 Years, 1996.

Fry, 1993

Fry, Ruth, Community of the Sacred Name: A Centennial History, The Community of the Sacred Name, 1993.

Maclean, 2015

Maclean, Calum, Community of the Sacred Name Convent, Christchurch, Conservation Plan, unpublished, prepared for Home and Family Society/Te Whare Manaaki Tangata, March 2015.

Other Information


Please note that entry on the New Zealand Heritage List/Rārangi Kōrero 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.

Archaeological sites are protected by the Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga Act 2014, regardless of whether they are entered on the New Zealand Heritage List/Rārangi Kōrero or not. Archaeological sites include ‘places associated with pre-1900 human activity, where there may be evidence relating to the history of New Zealand’. This List entry report should not be read as a statement on whether or not the archaeological provisions of the Act apply to the property (s) concerned. Please contact your local Heritage New Zealand office for archaeological advice.

A fully referenced New Zealand Heritage List report is available on request from the Canterbury/West Coast Office of Heritage New Zealand.