St Bartholomew's Church (Anglican)

23 Cass Street, Kaiapoi

  • St Bartholomew's Church (Anglican), Kaiapoi.
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand. Taken By: Melanie Lovell-Smith.
  • St Bartholomew's Church (Anglican), Kaiapoi. Interior.
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand. Taken By: Melanie Lovell-Smith.
  • St Bartholomew's Church (Anglican), Kaiapoi. Image courtesy of
    Copyright: Public Domain. Taken By: Dirk Pons. Date: 29/06/2018.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 1 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 285 Date Entered 27th June 1985 Date of Effect 27th June 1985


Extent of List Entry

Extent includes the land described as Lot 3 DP 26905 (RT CB10A/317), Canterbury Land District and the building known as St Bartholomew's Church (Anglican) thereon. No other buildings on the land parcel are included in the extent.

City/District Council

Waimakariri District


Canterbury Region

Legal description

Lot 3 DP 26905 (RT CB10A/317), Canterbury Land District


The Anglican Church of St Bartholomew's in Kaiapoi is the oldest surviving church in Canterbury. Described by its vicar in 1953 as that 'queer little "inverted V" ' building, it was designed by Benjamin Woolfield Mountfort, the pre-eminent Canterbury architect of the Victorian era, for the growing Anglican community of the 1850s.

Kaiapoi had long been a major Maori settlement. It was the site of Ngai Tahu's largest fortified pa, and a major centre for the trade in pounamu (greenstone). From 1851 a few Pakeha began to settle around Kaiapoi. Henry Fletcher, a lay teacher associated with the Church of England, was sent to Kaiapoi to work with Ngai Tahu. Fletcher preached and established a school for Ngai Tahu children, but only stayed for about two years. The major Pakeha settlement of Kaiapoi took place in 1853, with the arrival of the 'Gladstone' colonists. This group of immigrants wished to establish a second settlement in Canterbury, and hoped that among other things, their settlement would become an 'outpost of the Anglican church in..."a heathen land" '. The Gladstone scheme failed, but a town was established at Kaiapoi by January 1854, and for a time it looked to rival Christchurch as a potential capital of Canterbury.

Before the construction of St Bartholomew's in 1855, Anglican services were held in local colonists' homes. The Reverend John Raven (1821-?), one of the original 'Gladstone' colonists, was appointed the first Anglican vicar to the area and the history of the church states that when he arrived at Kaiapoi, he brought with him plans for a church, which had been given to him by James Edward FitzGerald (1818-1896), the first Superintendent of Canterbury. However it appears that these plans were discarded in favour of those drawn up by Mountfort. The site selected for St Bartholomew's was a sandhill, well above the flood level of the river, in what is now Darnly Square, and the first service was held in the church on Christmas Day, 1855.

Mountfort's design for St Bartholomew's was influenced by his own interest in the ideals of the Ecclesiological Society. The Ecclesiological Society linked architecture and religion, and believed that a return to the Gothic architecture of the Middle Ages would assist the church regain its spiritual authority. Along with this went an emphasis on the importance of ritualism and the sacraments, and thus on the need for the different parts of the church to be architecturally differentiated from one another. Verticality and the expression of the structure of the building was also seen as an important part of the Gothic style, both of which are visible in the structure of St Bartholomew's, albeit in the vernacular material of colonial New Zealand, wood.

Mountfort was also influenced by his earlier, unfortunate, experience with Holy Trinity Church in Lyttelton. This was the first church he designed in New Zealand and it proved unable to handle the strong nor-westerlies characteristic of Canterbury. In 1857 it was demolished. As a consequence, when Mountfort designed St Bartholomew's, he continued the roof trusses down to the ground and bolted them onto the bottom plate, thus forming a series of external buttresses which strengthened the building against gales and earthquakes. This method of strengthening was approved of by Bishop Selwyn (1809 - 1878) the first bishop of New Zealand, whose St John's College Chapel, designed in 1847 by Frederick Thatcher, had a similar structure. This method of construction had been conceived by Selwyn before he left England. In 1841 he wrote of 'a new style of building suitable to New Zealand. A log house but of a different description. The ribs of the roof and walls being the same and resting on the ground'. No clear connection has been established between Selwyn and Mountfort but it is thought likely that they were able to discuss church architecture during Selwyn's visit to Lyttelton in 1851.

At St Bartholomew's the triangular pattern established by the roof trusses is repeated in the cross-bracing of the exterior walls of the nave. The church, in the Gothic Revival style, has relatively low walls and a high, steeply pitched roof. Around 1859 it was decided to move the church to its present site in Cass Street, as the sandhill on which it had been built was disappearing fast. The move was completed by the end of May 1860. Two years later transepts, a bell tower and a chancel were added. While these extensions follow the lines of the original building their exterior skin is plain board-and-batten.

As well as being the oldest surviving church in Canterbury, St Bartholomew's is significant as an example of the adaptation of the Ecclesiological Society ideals to colonial conditions. The structural design of the church is unique within Mountfort's oeuvre, and the connection to the Selwyn churches of Auckland places this church within the history of a wider architectural movement. It is the earliest of Mountfort's buildings still extant. Spiritually it continues to be a place of Anglican worship.


Construction Professionalsopen/close

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.

Jones, Henry (c.1825-1890)

No biography is currently available for this construction professional

Additional informationopen/close

Notable Features

Two of the stained glass windows are noted by art historian Fiona Ciaran in her catalogue raisonne of Canterbury stained glass. The window in the eastern sanctuary, which depicts the four evangelists, was installed around 1884 and is attributed to Lavers, Barraud and Westlake of London. The second, St Bartholomew the Apostle, was installed in the nave in 1977-1978 and was designed by Graham Stewart of Christchurch.

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1855 -
Completed by Christmas Day

1859 - 1860
To present site. Reopened 1860 with the addition of a bell tower

1862 -
Addition of transepts and chancel

1907 -
Reroofed with Marseilles tiles

1979 -
Roof tiles removed and replaced with corrugated iron

1924 -
Redecoration of chancel and sanctuary, possibly with help of Frederick Gurnsey. Not yet confirmed

1854 -

Completion Date

28th March 2002

Report Written By

Melanie Lovell-Smith

Information Sources

Bulletin of New Zealand Art History

Bulletin of New Zealand Art History

Ian Lochhead, 'St Bartholomew's Church, Kaiapoi: A Mountfort-Selwyn Connection', vol. 9, 1985, pp.14-18

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

Steven Oliver, 'Te Rauparaha, Tamihana ?-1876', Volume 1, Wellington, 1990, pp.507-508

Evans, 1953

John Heber Evans, St Bartholomew's Church: a century of work and witness in Kaiapoi and district: a history of the church, 1853-1953, [Christchurch], 1953.

Wood, 1993

Pauline Wood, Kaiapoi: A Search for Identity, Rangiora, 1993

Hodgson, n.d.

C.W.D. Hodgson, The Parish of Kaiapoi 1853-1982, [Christchurch], n.d.

Lochhead, 1999

Ian Lochhead, A Dream of Spires: Benjamin Mountfort and the Gothic Revival, Christchurch, 1999


Shaw, 1997 (2003)

Peter Shaw, A History of New Zealand Architecture, Auckland, 1997


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.