Future unclear for Christchurch basilica

By Paul Harper

Engineers prepare the internal pressed copper dome from the basilica. Photo / Simon Baker
Engineers prepare the internal pressed copper dome from the basilica. Photo / Simon Baker

The Christchurch Catholic Basilica is either going to be demolished, rebuilt "to its former glory" or mothballed until a decision can be made.

Speculation on the future on the iconic landmark is rife, but the Cathedral Management Board says it would be several months before the fate of the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament and other Catholic churches in Canterbury will be known.

With insurance negotiations still on-going, the diocese is in the early stages of preparing a strategic plan on the number and location of churches to be built in the future. The plan will be later presented to Bishop Barry Jones for consideration.

Lance Ryan, chairman of the Cathedral Management Board, said it was essential that all churches in the diocese are considered and not just the Cathedral.

"The planning group needs to consult with a wide range of people throughout the diocese while also looking at the changes that have occurred to the city's population demographics," Mr Ryan said.

"All these factors, as well as establishing the status of all insurance claims, need to be known before a comprehensive report can be completed," he said.
While this plan is being considered, work on the Basilica continues.

The Catholic Cathedral, which was completed in 1905, suffered massive damage in the February 22, 2011 earthquake.

The large copper dome which graced the building was painstakingly removed last year as its weight posed a risk to the rest of the structure as it forced weight-bearing structures outwards.

"We are really looking at three options - whether to demolish the existing building, to retain what we can of the Basilica and rebuild to its former glory, or, in the short-term, whether or not to mothball the building until we have a clearer picture.

"Early indications are that the costs of retaining and rebuilding the Basilica are in the vicinity of $100 million. The nave is the only part of the existing building that could be retained, but it will still need extensive reinforcing to bring it up to the required standard."

The board is having costs prepared for the removal of the large organ and also the stained glass windows.

"This is a frustrating time for all, but we must ensure we work wisely. The Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament is only one piece of the diocesan jigsaw, and until we know all the pieces and the community has been consulted, we are reluctant to move with any haste.

"Getting it right is everyone's first priority," he said.

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