Cathedral Church of Christ (Anglican)

100 Cathedral Square, Christchurch

  • Cathedral Church of Christ (Anglican), Christchurch.
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand. Taken By: Melanie Lovell-Smith. Date: 1/12/2001.
  • Cathedral Church of Christ (Anglican), Churchurch.
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand. Taken By: Melanie Lovell-Smith. Date: 1/09/2001.
  • Cathedral Church of Christ (Anglican). 'Christchurch Cathedral', 1880s. Permission of the Alexander Turnbull Library, National Library of New Zealand Te Puna Matauranga o Aotearoa, must be obtained before any re-use of this image. Ref no.PA1-q-116-05.
    Copyright: Alexander Turnbull Library. Taken By: James Ring (1856-1939).

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 1 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 46 Date Entered 7th April 1983 Date of Effect 7th April 1983


Extent of List Entry

Extent includes part of the land described as Lot 1 DP 39475 (RT CB18K/1392), Canterbury Land District, and the building known as Cathedral Church of Christ (Anglican) thereon. The modern Cathedral Visitors' Centre is excluded from the registration.

City/District Council

Christchurch City


Canterbury Region

Legal description

Lot 1 DP 39475 (RT CB18K/1392), Canterbury Land District


From its establishment in 1848, the Canterbury Association planned to make their settlement in Christchurch wholly Anglican. While this aim was not achieved, the Association always envisaged their colony as having a bishop and a cathedral at its centre. Since 1851 the central square in Christchurch has been known as Cathedral Square, although it was not until 1858 that a specific area of land within the square was set aside for the erection of a cathedral.

The realities of settling in Canterbury, and the lack of a bishop, meant that plans for the cathedral were delayed until 1856 when Henry John Chitty Harper (1804?-1893) was consecrated as the first Bishop of Christchurch. Sir George Gilbert Scott, (1811-1878), the distinguished British Gothic Revival architect, was asked to draw up plans for Christ Church Cathedral in 1859. Scott had earlier drawn plans for a timber church, the plans for which arrived with the Reverend Thomas Jackson in 1851, but were never used. Choosing an English architect to design a colonial cathedral was common practice within the British Empire, as it reflected well on the status of the Church, and Scott already had a reputation for discerning what was architecturally possible in colonial circumstances.

Scott's original design was a severe thirteenth-century Gothic-style cathedral and was intended to be primarily constructed in timber, due to both the cost and the ever-present earthquake risk in New Zealand. Bishop Harper, however, argued that the cathedral had be built from stone (also a matter of status), and by 1862 Scott's revised plans, as forwarded to the bishop, showed an internal timber frame with a stone exterior. The most interesting feature of Scott's design was the timber interior. According to architectural historian Ian Lochhead, the interior, if it had been built, 'would have ...surrounded [the congregation] by a forest of timber construction without parallel in the history of the Gothic Revival'. Continuing pressure from the Cathedral Commission for an all-stone church, and concerns over the lack of timber in Canterbury, led to Scott providing alternative plans for a stone arcade and clerestory. These plans arrived in New Zealand in 1864.

Foundations for the cathedral were laid in 1864, after much fundraising in Christchurch, and under the supervision of Robert Speechly (1840-1884). Speechly, who had trained as an architect in London and worked for several leading Gothic Revival architects including William Slater and Alfred Waterhouse, was appointed resident architect to supervise the construction of the ChristChurch Cathedral in 1864. The decision by the Cathedral Commission to appoint Speechly, rather than the leading local architect, Benjamin Woolfield Mountfort (1825-1898), led to an intense debate in the Christchurch newspapers. Scott supported the idea of appointing a local architect who would be familiar with the colony's conditions, and he was impressed by what he knew of Mountfort's buildings. However, the Cathedral Commission declined to accept Scott's advice, reiterating instead their concerns about the abilities of local architects. Conservative taste in architecture and concerns about Mountfort's known 'High Church' values may have also played a part in the commission's decision to appoint Speechly.

Lack of money halted construction on the cathedral in late 1865. Speechly then completed his four-year contract in New Zealand by acting as architect to the Anglican Church Property Trustees, supervising all buildings undertaken by them. In this capacity he was involved in the design of a number of churches, houses and schools in the Canterbury settlement, assisted by his pupil, and then partner, William Fitzjohn Crisp. Speechly left New Zealand in 1868.

In 1873 interest in the partially complete cathedral was again renewed and Mountfort was finally appointed as supervising architect. Thereafter work progressed smoothly and the nave and tower were completed by 1881. The cathedral was consecrated in November of that year.

As well as supervising the project, Mountfort made significant changes to Scott's design. These changes included the use of stone rather than timber for the spire; the addition of balconies and pinnacles to the tower; the raising of the south porch roof, the addition of a turret to the junction between the south porch and aisle; and the enrichment of the decorative elements on both the exterior and interior. Mountfort also chose to sheath the roof in slates of different colours arranged in repetitive patterns. His contribution to the interior of the cathedral was particularly marked. He made general recommendations about the type and colour of stained glass the cathedral should contain and designed a number of the windows himself. He also designed the font, pulpit, bishop's throne and the Harper Memorial of 1897.

Soon after the cathedral was consecrated in 1881, an earthquake loosened the stonework of the tower, and repairs and further strengthening were required. Seven years later a more severe earthquake brought down the top 29 feet (8.8 m) of the spire. This was eventually rebuilt with firebricks, rather than stone, but a further earthquake, in 1901, damaged the spire again and the more successful solution was to reconstruct the upper portion of the spire in timber covered with copper.

When Mountfort died in 1898, the cathedral was still incomplete. His son, Cyril Mountfort (1852-1920), took over his father's role as supervising architect and oversaw the completion of the chancel, transepts and apse, all of which were finished by 1904. During the 1990s the addition of a visitors' centre and tearooms to the north fa├žade of the cathedral aroused significant controversy.

The ChristChurch Cathedral is a major landmark located at the heart of the city. It is seen by many as symbolising the city as well as reflecting the ideals of its Pakeha founders. It is the centre of the Anglican diocese, it is still used for worship as well as for concerts, and is a major tourist attraction. It is the only Scott-designed church in New Zealand. As one of several churches he designed for various colonies of the British Empire, it stands as a memorial to the empire's expansion and the spread of the Anglican church around the world. Although Mountfort did not design the cathedral, he had a significant influence on the final look, resulting in a greater High Victorian emphasis than the original 1864 design. The multitude of memorial windows, tablets and so forth, within and around the cathedral, create a living history of Canterbury's past and its people.


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.

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).

Speechley & Crisp

Robert Speechly (1840-84) trained as an architect in London and worked for several leading Gothic Revival architects including William Slater and Alfred Waterhouse.

In 1864 he was appointed resident architect to supervise the construction of the Christchurch Cathedral and he arrived in September of that year. However, lack of money halted construction shortly after the foundations were laid in late 1865. Speechly then used his four year contract in New Zealand by acting as architect to the Church Property Trustees, supervising all buildings undertaken by them. In this capacity he was involved with the design of a number of churches, houses and schools in the Canterbury settlement.

Speechly was assisted by William Fitzjohn Crisp who had arrived in New Zealand in 1861. He was Speechly's pupil until 1866 and his partner until May 1868. Buildings designed under the partnership name include Christ's College Chapel (1867), St Mary's Church, Merivale (1866), St Mary's Church, Addington (1867), St John's Parsonage (1866) and St Luke's Vicarage (1867-68).

Scott, Sir George Gilbert

Distinguished British Victorian architect.

Additional informationopen/close

Notable Features

Font: Commissioned in 1880 by Dean Stanley of Westminister Abbey, London, in memory of his brother Captain Owen Stanley, commander of the 'Britomart', the ship sent by Governor Hobson to contest French claims to Akaroa. The font is carved from Castle Hill limestone with four corner columns of polished Hoon Hay stone and was designed by Mountfort to harmonise with the Early English Gothic of Scott's cathedral.

Font cover: Rimu, also designed by Mounfort and carved by the joiner Andrew Swanston in 1892.

Pulpit: Again designed by Mountfort and built from 1883 - 1888, to commemorate the first Anglican bishop in New Zealand, George Augustus Selwyn.(1809 - 1878) The pulpit was built in a variety of local stones and carved in Christchurch. It also features four sculptural panels that depict events in the life of Bishop Selwyn, and these panels were designed and executed by John Rodis in Birmingham.

Bishop's Throne: Timber. Designed by Mountfort and closely related to the design for the Bishop's throne in St Mary's Cathedral Edinburgh, Scotland, which was designed by George Gilbert Scott and John Oldrid Scott.

Bishop Harper's memorial: Mountfort's final contribution to Christ Church Cathedral. Harper died in 1893 and his memorial, unveiled in 1897, consists of a cenotaph with an effigy of the bishop in full episcopal robes holding the primatial cross of New Zealand. The cenotaph is built in the same materials as the font and pulpit. The marble effigy was carved by John Francis Williamson (1833 - 1920).

Columns: Alternatively octagonal and cylindrical in shape and gifted by, or dedicated to, a number of early Cantabrians.

Stained glass windows: 17 windows.

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1864 - 1865
Foundations laid under Speechly's supervision

1873 - 1881
Nave and tower built under Mountfort's supervision. Temporary timber chancel built to Mountfort's design. Cathedral consecrated 1881

1881 - 1898
Decoration of interior by Mountfort. Erection of west porch

1899 - 1904
Construction of stone chancel, transepts and apse. Supervised by Cyril Mountfort

1859 - 1864
Plans by Sir George Gilbert Scott

1994 -
Addition of Visitors Centre on north side

- 1962
Clergy and choir vestries enlarged. Chapter room built

Completion Date

19th September 2001

Report Written By

Melanie Lovell-Smith

Information Sources

Ciaran, 1998

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

Dixon, 1978

Roger Dixon & Stefan Muthesius, 'Victorian Architecture', London, 1978

Lochhead, 1999

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


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.