The story of St Mary’s Cathedral Church began with the purchase of land by New Zealand’s only Anglican Bishop, George Augustus Selwyn in 1843. It was here that Selwyn planted the seeds of his dream of having a grand Cathedral for Auckland.
The following year, a small chapel named St Stephen’s was built and consecrated by Selwyn himself. It was for his personal use when he was in town. Unfortunately, a huge storm swept Auckland in 1845 and damaged the church beyond repair. It would be another few years before St Stephen’s was rebuilt but it was to be the birth place of the constitution of the New Zealand Anglican Church. This wonderful historic 159 year old (2015) gem still serves the Auckland community today.
On 16th December 1850, Benjamin Woolfield Mountfort stepped off the Canterbury Association’s first historical ship, the ‘Charlotte Jane’ at Lyttelton Harbour. Already a qualified architect, Mountfort was forced to open a stationery shop and give drawing lessons as early Canterbury was not ready for his level of expertise. He would go on to design some of Christchurch’s most well known heritage buildings – the Canterbury Provincial Chambers, the Addington Prison, the Canterbury Museum and the Christchurch Anglican Cathedral just to name a few.
In 1886, Mountfort’s design of what would become the world’s largest wooden Gothic church, St Mary’s, was started close to St Stephen’s Chapel. Built completely from Kauri, fifty metres in length and covering an area of nine thousand square feet, St Mary’s is still regarded as one of the finest wooden churches in the world and has remained the largest of Gothic design. In 1887, it was decided that St Mary’s would become a pro-cathedral and served as Auckland’s main Anglican Church until 1973 when the Holy Trinity Cathedral was opened across the road.
In an amazing engineering feat in 1982, St Mary’s was moved across Parnell Street to be placed beside the Holy Trinity and was turned around 90 degrees. Holding her own beside the grand Cathedral, St Mary’s is mainly now used for weddings, funerals and concerts.
For a more in depth look at Benjamin Woolfield Mountfort, check out the following link: http://www.peelingbackhistory.co.nz/benjamin-woolfield-mountfort-1825-1898/