Cathedral of the Sacred Heart (Catholic)

40 Hill Street, Thorndon, Wellington

  • Cathedral of the Sacred Heart (Catholic). CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 Licence. Image courtesy of
    Copyright: Gordon Haws . Taken By: Gordon Haws - Wikimedia Commons . Date: 30/01/2005.
  • Cathedral of the Sacred Heart (Catholic). CC BY-SA 4.0 Licence. Image courtesy of
    Copyright: Pear285. Taken By: Pear285 - Wikimedia Commons . Date: 11/01/2015.
  • Cathedral of the Sacred Heart (Catholic). Interior CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 Licence. Image courtesy of
    Copyright: Gordon Haws. Taken By: Gordon Haws - Wikimedia Commons. Date: 30/01/2005.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 1 Public Access Able to Visit
List Number 214 Date Entered 2nd April 1985 Date of Effect 2nd April 1985


City/District Council

Wellington City


Wellington Region

Legal description

Pt Lot 3 DP 10013


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.

The Cathedral of the Sacred Heart, 40 Hill Street, Wellington

The present brick and concrete church stands on the Hill Street site of the previous timber cathedral of St Mary which burnt down in 1898. The foundation stone for the Catholic Basilica of the Sacred Heart was laid in 1899 and the church was opened in 1901.

The design derives from the classical basilican plan. The Ionic columns in Oamaru Stone and the massive pediment of the portico are a strong contrast to other Wellington churches. With the oblong shape and twin bell towers (later and not designed by Petre, removed 1942) culminating in domes, the building was strongly Roman in appearance. The interior has a central aisle with two side aisles and a lavishly decorated ceiling of pressed zinc. The architect for the building was Francis William Petre (1847-1918), son of the Hon H W Petre who was closely associated with Bishop Viard, the first Catholic Bishop of the Diocese of Wellington, in establishing the Parish of Thorndon.

Petre was born in New Zealand and trained in England as architect and engineer and was a member of one of the most prominent English Catholic families. Consequently he attracted other Catholic commissions in the colony when he returned in 1872. Other examples of his work are the Dominican Priory 1877, and St Joseph's Cathedral

1886, both in Dunedin, and the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament, 1886 in Christchurch. His buildings are characterised by clean lines and simplified forms with extreme refinement of detail, thus assuring him of a definite place in the history of New Zealand architecture.

The landmark qualities of the Cathedral (elevated to this status by Cardinal Williams in 1983) are significant because its restrained design dominates the surrounding area from its raised site. Its townscape value lies in the close relationship to the two nearby churches, the neo-Gothic architecture of the General Assembly Library and the more classical forms of the old Parliament buildings.


Construction Professionalsopen/close

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.

Additional informationopen/close

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1901 -

Other Information

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.