Governor General Sir Jerry Mateparae has told the Cantabrians gathered for the memorial service for the February 22 earthquake victims that their "resilience and preparedness" will help them build a new Christchurch.
More than 20,000 people are estimated to have attended the service at North Hagley Park this afternoon.
Sir Jerry told the crowd that while it was a time for reflection, the one-year anniversary marked "the start of a new day and a new beginning for all of us, and especially the people of Christchurch and Canterbury".
He said a "new and vibrant city can arise" in the future.
"Achieving that aspiration will take time. Lives, communities and cities are not built in a day."
Sir Jerry said it will be achieved because of the "resilience and preparedness" Cantabrians have demonstrated.
"It will be achieved because the people of Christchurch and Canterbury do not walk that pathway alone. Your extended family - the New Zealand family - are walking along side you.
"Let me reassure you, we have always been with you. For your tragedy has been New Zealand's tragedy. Such are the ties of this nation that there are few among us who have been untouched by what occurred."
Young New Zealander of the Year Sam Johnson, representing the Student Volunteer Army, also gave a reading, as did Prime Minister John Key as the New Zealand flag fluttered at half-mast.
Prayers were led by Rev Jim Patrick, police chaplain, Rev Pam Tizzard, hospital chaplain, and fire service chaplain Rev James Ullrich, giving thanks to the "courage and compassion'' to the rescuers who helped in the aftermath of the February 22 disaster.
The most poignant and emotional segment of the civic memorial service was when all 185 names of the earthquake victims were read out by several representatives of the emergency services.
The 20,000-strong crowd stood in silence to hear the names being read out.
Many wiped tears from their eyes, while families hugged and supported themselves, during the touching 15-minute tribute, followed by a two-minute silence.
People in the crowd hugged each other and wept during the two minutes of silence. Others lowered their heads and wiped their eyes.
Following the silence Bishop Jones asked those gathered to remember the 185 who died and their families, also those who have died since the quakes as a result of the trauma caused in their lives, those who were injured and all those who saw their lives forever changed on that day one year ago.
Sir Jerry also read a message from Charles the Prince of Wales, which said the "best of the New Zealand peoples' characteristics" have come to the fore.
"The spirit of determination, of courage and of good humour that so characterizes the people of New Zealand will, I am sure, have held you steady as you go about the slow process of rebuilding your city and your lives. You will know better than me how the bonds of family and friendship and of trials borne together make for strong and resilient communities."
Earlier in the service, Christchurch Mayor Bob Parker told the thousands of Christchurch residents gathered at the park that this day is above all others the "heaviest and hardest" for those who lost loved ones.
Mr Parker said the city can "never be the same again".
He said great links had been made because of the earthquake - "bounds that will never be broken".
Mr Parker said no city ever been more united and Christchurch had a great task in front of it - to "rebuild a city fit for heroes".
Mr Parker said there were positives already, just a year on, especially in some suburbs and areas where there was "a resurgence of strength and spirit.''
He acknowledged there had been "differences, creative and otherwise'' but said the city "no city has ever been more strongly united in wanting to recover, rebuild, and once more be a great place to live and work.''
Mr Parker said everyone had a responsibility to build a city "fit for the dreams of the ones we lost.''
The crowd is a cross section of Christchurch - Children and elderly, Maori, pakeha and an assortment of other nationalities, with many wearing red and black.
One early arrival Keith Longden - who lives in a red-stickered home in Dallington, one of the worst-affected city suburbs - took up a seat as close to the main stage as possible.
Mr Longden wanted to pay his respects to those who died, as well as thank the rescuers who "did such an incredible job in such trying circumstances''.
His son Grant was working in the ANZ Building in Cathedral Square when the quake hit, and Mr Longden feels lucky his family escaped the worst of it.
"We feel very lucky, but a lot of people weren't. It's important that we show some solidarity with them.''
The retiree spends half his year in his hometown of Eastwood, Nottingham in England, and the rest of his time with his five grandchildren in Christchurch.
He was at the service today with a homemade sign, 'Friends across the world: Eastwood, Nottingham.'
Sheila Carney, 70, of Papanui, told APNZ she couldn't bear to come to the memorial last March, as it was "too soon. I wasn't ready''.
But now she has vowed to come every year, no matter how upsetting it was.
"It's the least you can do. No one wants to be doing this today, but it's healthy - it's part of the grieving process.''
She also hoped that February 22 would be a Canterbury public holiday in the future, adding: "Then it would be up for individuals to come and pay their respects if they wanted to.''
An emotional memorial service was held this morning for the bereaved families of the 185 Christchurch earthquake victims on the first anniversary of the February 22 disaster.
Hundreds of friends and family of the fallen filled Latimer Square in the heart of the broken city for the service.
Mayor Bob Parker welcomed the gathering to what was going to be "a heavy day."
The service opened with a mihi whakatau Maori welcome followed by an introduction from Mr Parker.
He told the service: "This is a heavy day, heavy with emotion and loss."
Overlooked by broken buildings and within yards of the red zone cordon the once-popular inner city park was a scene of tears and heartfelt remembrance of lost loved ones. The park was used as a triage centre on the day of the quake and later, where bodies recovered from the rubble and debris were brought for identification.
Anglican Bishop Reverend Victoria Matthews gave a reading before an address by Prime Minister John Key.
Mr Key said the date February 22 will go down in New Zealand history as "one of our darkest days."
"The earthquake wreaked havoc on an unimaginable scale, shook us to the core, stole 185 loved ones from us and injured so many more."
Hundreds of other Christchurch residents turned up to witness the moving ceremony and pay their respects from behind a white picket fence.
Graeme Ell of Christchurch was having a coffee in the IRD building a year ago and watched the CTV Building collapse.
"I just wanted to come back to where I was a year ago," he said.
A semi-retired accountant he was due for a meeting at 1pm at the IRD and had taken a bus into town.
He watched the building collapse in four or five seconds but wasn't particularly concerned, "There was a cordon around the building - most of us thought there was no one inside.
"It was a shock to learn later how many people were lost."
Jacqui Irvine, a 38-year-old doctor from Blenheim, was in the now condemned Hotel Grand Chancellor when the quake struck.
"We came straight here to Latimer Square because it was safe and we collected injured people along the way."
Dr Irvine, formerly of Christchurch, worked in the emergency triage centre that was set up in the square immediately after the quake.
"We were working until 9am the next morning."
She described the hastily erected triage centre as, "Well organised."
"Everyone just did what they could," she said.
Dr Irvine said she was here at the memorial service to pay her respects and because, "This is home."
Stephanie Alderson, an IRD worker, also watched the CTV Building fall, and went to help straight away.
"A small group of people came to help."
Once the fire started, the rescue crews arrived and evacuated the area.
She said: "You don't think it's dangerous at the time - you just do what you can."
Ms Alderson said she came to the memorial service today as a "healing thing."
At the end of the service, families were led onto buses to visit sites, including the CTV Building, PGC, and Cathedral Square for their own reflections.