St Patrick's Basilica

68 Reed Street, Ōamaru

  • St Patrick’s Basilica, Oamaru. Image courtesy of
    Copyright: Phil Braithwaite. Taken By: PhilBee NZ - Phil Braithwaite. Date: 10/04/2013.
  • St Patrick’s Basilica, Oamaru. Image courtesy of
    Copyright: Phil Braithwaite. Taken By: PhilBee NZ - Phil Braithwaite. Date: 10/04/2013.
  • St Patrick’s Basilica, Oamaru. Interior CC BY 3.0 Image courtesy of
    Copyright: Andrew Cooper - Wikimedia Commons. Taken By: Andrew Cooper. Date: 16/10/2009.
  • St Patrick’s Basilica, Oamaru. Interior.
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand. Taken By: N Jackson. Date: 26/06/2012.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 1 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 58 Date Entered 2nd April 2004 Date of Effect 2nd April 2004


Extent of List Entry

Extent includes part of the land described as Lot 2 DP 27708 (RT OT19B/270), Otago Land District, and the building known as St Patrick’s Basilica thereon. Refer to the extent map tabled at the Board meeting on 27 June 2019.

City/District Council

Waitaki District


Otago Region

Legal description

Lot 2 DP 27708 (RT OT19B/270), Otago Land District


The inspiration and effort behind the building of St Patricks came from Father John Mackay, who became Parish Priest in Oamaru in March 1890. He wished to build a Church that would suit the needs of his congregation and began fundraising. Architect Francis Petre, who had already supervised the design of several buildings for the Catholic Church in Dunedin, was commissioned to put Mackay's ideas into a practical design.

The foundation stone was laid on Trinity Sunday 1893, by Bishop Moran. The successful tender for the construction of the church had been made by D.W. Woods: £3,460 exclusive of the sanctuary and dome. The laying of the stone coincided with the silver jubilee of ordination of Father (later Monsignor) John Mackay, who was parish priest of Oamaru for 36 years (1890-1926). The Basilica was opened on 18 November 1894 by Bishop Grimes of Christchurch. It was finally completed in 1918. Two days after the official opening Architect Petre died.

The Basilica became the centre of the Catholic community in Oamaru. The surrounding buildings included the presbytery, St Josephs Church School and the Rosary Convent.

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

The Basilica represents an important chapter in the history of the Catholic Church in Oamaru, as well as the history of the wider Church in New Zealand, providing an indication of the vitality of that community and the role of faith in New Zealand society.

St Patricks Basilica is a significant monument to the work of Francis Petre, one of the most talented of New Zealand's early architects, and one of the most important architects associated with the Catholic Church in New Zealand. The Basilica is an aesthetically imposing building that makes a vital contribution to the streetscape. Its bulk, form and architectural styling are impressive. The interior is richly decorated, with carved limestone columns, pressed tin ceilings, wooden pews and religious sculptures. The Basilica is culturally significant emphasising the importance of the Roman Catholic Church to Oamaru, and is a landmark for the town.

St Patricks Basilica reflects the importance of the Catholic community in the history of New Zealand, and its establishment in a small Provincial centre. It is associated with Francis Petre an outstanding architect who worked closely with the Roman Catholic Church. The Basilica stands as a tribute to the faith of its congregation and is a significant place for gathering and worship for the Catholic community in Oamaru. The design is technically accomplished and forms a vital element in Petre's Basilican architectural ouvre which is among his most well known and iconic work. The Basilica is an important component in Oamaru's white-stone architecture, characteristic of the township, and is as well the key component of the group of buildings associated with the Catholic Church in Oamaru.


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

Physical Description

Architect Francis William Petre is best known for his churches, and particularly Basilicas. The Basilicas were a popular architectural design in the second half of the nineteenth century, stressing the connection to Rome, a link emphasised by the largely Irish Catholic congregations. The Basilica's design is Renaissance in origin, and follows the pattern of the large roofed buildings used for public purposes. These had a central area, aisles or galleries at the side and a raised platform at the far end. In church buildings the nave was separated from the side aisles by borders of columns carrying either arches or an entablature. The design reflected the clergy's intention that Classical imagery should give architectural expression to the Catholic Church's Roman origins.

It was on the strength of his design of St Patricks Basilica in Oamaru that Petre won his later commissions. Petre was noted for his Basilicas, particularly the Basilica (now Cathedral) of the Sacred Heart (1899-1901) in Wellington, the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament (1901-1904) in Christchurch, and the Church of Sacred Heart (1910) in Timaru.

The religious art of the interior form an essential part of the liturgical furnishings of the Basilica. The fourteen Stations of the Cross which commemorate the journey of Christ to Cavalry, His death and burial, and used in the religious devotions particularly associated with Lent, are a significant feature. The figures are three dimensional against a painted background and carry the stamp of RAFFL Paris. Also significant is the organ - a "Positive' pipe organ. The organ is unique because the keyboard can be moved, altering the pitch to suit the singer.

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1894 - 1918
Portico and Dome completed 1903; Entire building completed 1918

1983 -

Construction Details

The Basilica is built entirely of Oamaru stone, apart from the concealed concrete core to the walls. Concrete was used for the outer lower portion on the main walls to a height of seven feet. The stone was cut from the nearby quarry at Weston. The roof was of slate.

Even though the Basilica was designed as a whole, it was realised that there would be insufficient funds to complete the building in one operation. The first contract was for the nave, organ loft and temporary sanctuary. It was estimated that Wood's contract price for this part of the work would only be about half the cost of the total project. Indeed by the time the project was completed it was to cost £13,000. After about fifteen months work the first part of the contract was near completion, although the carving of columns and pilasters was deferred and the coffered ceiling remained unfinished. By November 1894 the principal part of the building was completed.

There remained to be built the front portico, a flight of steps, the two front domes and the main dome, the permanent sanctuary, sacristies, tribunes and side chapels. In 1898 the coffered ceiling was completed in zinc by Wunderlich & Co. of Sydney. The next stage was completed in April 1903, with the occasion marked by commemorative celebrations. The stonework for this stage was done by Ferguson, Given & Co.

The final construction was begun in 1917 and completed the following year. The permanent sanctuary, sacristies, tribunes, side chapels and the main dome were completed. The opening ceremonies were held on 8 December 1918.

In 1962 the flat arches across the top at the side of the sanctuary were showing signs of weakening and steel girders were inserted by J.S. and Bill Dooley. The side confessionals were built and the underfloor heating installed.

To conform with the standards set by the Second Vatican Council 1965 decree on liturgy, the Basilica sanctuary was rearranged. The main altar was replaced by the presidential chair and a wall cross, while prominence was given to a centrally placed altar and side lectern, both of Oamaru stone. The large crucifix above the alter was donated by the Miss's Cartwright and raised to its present position in 1981.

There have been minor alterations over the years, such as the removal of the main altar, the stone communion rails, the stone pulpit, the addition of confessionals and the removal of the slate roofing, and re-roofing with long run iron.

Completion Date

7th September 2004

Report Written By

Heather Bauchop

Information Sources

New Zealand Historic Places Trust (NZHPT)

New Zealand Historic Places Trust

Gallagher, Tom, 'A Great Ambition Revealed', November 1994, pp.15-16

Oamaru Mail

Oamaru Mail

St Patrick's Basilica, Oamaru - Centennial 1894-1994, Oamaru Mail, 1994

Shaw, 1997 (2003)

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

Other Information

A fully referenced version of this report is available from the NZHPT Otago/Southland Area Office.

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.