Church hopeful missing feet return

By Roger Moroney

After the destruction and terror of the 1931 Hawke's Bay earthquake an eagle, in what was once shining brass but blackened by flames, rose like a phoenix from the rubble and ashes of the shattered Cathedral of St John Cathedral in Napier.

It was all that survived the great tremors and the fires that followed - but as acting Dean Bishop John Bluck explained, not quite all its valuable limbs were recovered.

Two of the two-metre high eagle and stand's four supporting feet, made in the shapes of crouching lions, went missing from the rubble.

"The eagle needs to land," Bishop John said, adding that rumours had persisted over the past 82 years, and even recorded in two official histories of the cathedral, that the "maned pair" of feet were taken by a looter.

Albeit a kindly one who took them for safekeeping back at his or her home, until the day the cathedral was rebuilt.

The cathedral was rebuilt and re-opened, but the two brass lions failed to find their way back and the eagle statue has teetered since.



"It has often been alluded to that someone out there may know of their whereabouts."

Bishop John, who is acting dean until former Dean Helen Jacobi's replacement arrives later in the year, said the timing for the return of the lion's feet was now ideal. "What better present for for a new dean than a pair of happy feet."

So the church has declared a season of unconditional amnesty in an attempt to get the 108-year-old statue, once described as the finest piece of church furniture in the colonies, fully restored.

"All that's needed is to drop the little brass beauties back inside the cathedral in a brown paper bag and no questions will be asked or charges laid. In our view, two lions in the stand is worth more than 10 in the bush ... and the eagle will be very happy."

Bishop John speculated that the lion's feet may be in someone's home decorating a mantelpiece, acting as a door stop of bookending a row of novels. "Somewhere they are waiting patiently to return to their proper home and their proper job - of keeping an eagle off the ground."

With a smile he also speculated the present generation who may have come across them may have no idea where they came from. "Maybe they thought their grandparents or great aunts would never think of dealing in illegal pets."

But none of that mattered any more, he said, reiterating that unlike the two missing lions an amnesty was in place. "The congregation simply want their animals to come back to where they belong."

- Hawkes Bay Today

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