Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament (Catholic)
122 Barbadoes Street, Christchurch
List Entry Information
List Entry Status
List Entry Type
Historic Place Category 1
7th April 1983
Extent of List Entry
Extent of registration includes the land described as Lot 3 DP 50663 (CT CB29B/1137), Canterbury Land District and building known as Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament (Catholic) thereon.
Lot 3 DP 50663 (CT CB29B/1137), Canterbury Land District
The first church on this site was a small wooden building erected in 1860 on land granted to the Roman Catholic Church by the Canterbury Provincial Government. This was replaced by a larger church, which became the Catholic pro-cathedral in 1887. By the turn of the century, a new building was needed to accommodate the growing Catholic population. Francis William Petre was contracted to design it. He was already well-known as a church architect, having completed the Cathedral Church of St Joseph in Dunedin, St Patrick's Basilica in Oamaru, and the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in Wellington. Petre persuaded the then Bishop, John Joseph Grimes, that a cathedral based on the rectangular plan of the early Christian basilicas, and neo-classical in style, was more appropriate and more affordable than the Gothic style that the Bishop initially favoured. The final design varies from the standard plan of early basilicas in that the central dome rises above the sanctuary rather than above the junction of the nave and transept.
The foundation stone was laid in 1901. Construction requried more than 120,000 cubic feet of steel (3398 cubic metres), 4,000 cubic feet of concrete (114 cubic metres) and 90 tons of steel. Fifty men were employed to work on the cathedral and the tile mosaic in the sanctuary was laid by Italian workmen brought over from Sydney. Despite some controversy between Petre and Grimes over cost and design, the building was completed by 1905. It is built primarily in Oamaru stone with a core of poured concrete, characteristic of Petre's work.
Described as one of the finest examples of church architecture in Australasia, the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament is a superb example of Petre's work. George Bernard Shaw, when he toured New Zealand in 1934, compared the cathedral to the work of the great Italian Renaissance architect, Filippo Brunelleschi. From a technical point of view the building of the cathedral involved new and significant methods of construction. It dominates the Barbadoes Street townscape and has been the heart of the Canterbury diocese for over ninety years.
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.
15th August 2001
Report Written By
Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament, 1993
'The Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament, Christchurch, New Zealand', Christchurch, 1993
Shaw, 1997 (2003)
Peter Shaw, A History of New Zealand Architecture, Auckland, 1997