Despite of the Barbadoes Street section of land – allotted by the Canterbury Provincial Council – being rather water-logged, Christchurch’s Roman Catholics couldn’t hide the excitement of the arrival of spiritual leaders in the city and the upcoming plans of a church building in 1857.
In October 1860, after being built elsewhere and transported to the Barbadoes Street site by horse and dray, a simple chapel was opened to worshippers. In 1864, Benjamin Woolfield Mountfort, the Canterbury Provincial Architect (known at that time for his design of the Canterbury Provincial Chambers) designed a larger wooden structure that over the years was built and expanded on. It was known as the Church of the Blessed Sacrament.
In 1887, Canterbury’s first Roman Catholic Bishop – John Grimes – was ordained. At this time, the Church of the Blessed Sacrament was made the pro-cathedral and the new Bishop made no secret of his desire for a fine Cathedral. In May 1897, the Bishop began a three year tour of the world, preaching and fundraising as he went, bringing not only £3,800 home but also two gifts from the Vatican to be sold for further funds.
Upper Hutt architect, Francis William Petre, was invited to submit a design for this new Christchurch Cathedral project as he worked away on the Wellington’s Sacred Heart Basilica. In keeping with the Italian Renaissance style, his design was accepted. The old church was moved on to a Ferry Road site so construction could be started. The foundation stone was laid on 10th February 1901.
The Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament was opened by the Archbishop of Melbourne, Dr. Thomas Carr, on 12th February 1905.
The 4th September 2010 earthquake closed the Cathedral as the minimal damage done had already stirred up conversations of a much needed restoration of the structure. While the Cathedral’s staff ate their lunch together on 22nd February 2011, one priest later stated that he had watched the two bell towers collapse from his position under the lunch table as Christchurch was again brought to her knees by an earthquake. He also added that the screaming of the students from the nearby Catholic Cathedral College would stay with him the rest of his life.
Much like its Anglican counterpart in Cathedral Square, restoration and demolition has been discussed in great detail. The last of the talks (as of 2013) have been around the rebuilding of the Blessed Sacrament on nearby land, leaving parts of the ruins as a memorial. Lately, (as of 2017) the church is feeling confident in raising the funds for a full restoration.
*Image courtesy of the Alexander Turnbull Library – https://natlib.govt.nz – Exterior view of the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament, 122 Barbadoes St, Christchurch. Webb, Steffano, 1880-1967: Collection of negatives. Ref: 1/1-009019-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22678500 *