Brian Rudman
Brian Rudman is a Herald columnist looking at Auckland and national issues

Brian Rudman: Cathedrals should rise again as one

The Anglican Cathedral. Photo / Geoff Sloan
The Anglican Cathedral. Photo / Geoff Sloan

At the centre of the Christchurch CBD sits a wrecked Anglican cathedral and a Bishop with a $50 million to $100 million shortfall in rebuilding money. Down the road, her Catholic cousin in God faces the same crisis. A munted Basilica and guesstimated rebuilding costs of up to $100 million.

To a heathen outsider, the solution seems blindingly obvious. Pool their insurance payouts and build something splendiferously modern - and earthquake-proof - that they can share, without beggaring themselves and their dwindling band of future generations by trying to recreate the old.

After all, they do worship the same God, don't they? If the Warriors league team is now allowed regular performances at the holy of Rugby Union holies, Eden Park, and can attract record crowds of followers of both codes, surely followers of a religion preaching peace and goodwill to all can share a pew with each other.

The Historic Places Trust has expressed "great disappointment" at the Anglicans' decision "to undertake the most destructive of the options under discussion to make safe the Christchurch Cathedral".

The trust prefers "the more expensive option" of eventually "rebuilding the cathedral in a recognisable form".

This is the trust's function. But without a penny to contribute to the cause, and only vague talk of opportunities "to explore options to obtain the necessary local, national and international financial report", it's hardly a practical or credible response to an immediate problem.

Bishop Victoria Matthews says the Anglican Cathedral "is a very dangerous building that needs to be made safe" and is not the only church in the diocese that is "irreparable and too costly to repair".

The church faces a $20 million to $30 million shortfall over the whole diocese. A replica cathedral is ruled out because of an estimated $100 million shortfall, "while a new build incorporating some of the old would incur a shortfall of up to $50 million.

"We would not be responsible stewards if we ignored the financial realities - in this respect we are facing a similar challenge as the Roman Catholic diocese," she said.

The latest estimate puts repairing the Basilica at $100 million. Cathedral management board chairman Lance Ryan says a decision whether to demolish, rebuild or mothball is several months away as discussions with insurers continue.

Historic Places Trust chief executive Bruce Chapman echoes many in claiming the Anglican Cathedral is not just a place of worship but "is also a place symbolic of the identity of Christchurch".

It is such sentiment that fuels a clamour for the Government to add the rebuild costs to the multi-billion dollar bill taxpayers already face.

I don't begrudge helping pay for the rebuild of Christchurch, but putting sentiment aside, it does seem wasteful to build two of anything, when one replacement would be quite sufficient.

For unless the earthquakes have suddenly shaken Cantabrians back to church to answer to a wrathful God, the places were just about empty most of the time anyway. In December, the Catholics had to halve the number of parishes in Canterbury because of a shortage of priests.

The great medieval cathedrals of Europe took decades or even centuries to erect, but in these secular days, finding volunteers to work on, or fund, such drawn-out rebuilds seems unlikely. And lack of funds is a sure recipe for mediocrity. The awful stylistic mish-mash that is Auckland Anglicans' Holy Trinity Cathedral in Parnell is a salutary warning of the risk of trying to build a cathedral on hope and faith and too little money in a post-religious age.

All of which points to the common sense of the Catholics and Anglicans pooling their insurance money to build one magnificent new cathedral.

Whether the Big Two would see the advantages of cutting overheads and rendering one of the bishops redundant as well, I don't know. When the Anglicans split from the Vatican 400 years ago, the big issue was King Henry VIII wanting a bishop willing to grant him a divorce so he could remarry.

But these days, most Anglican clergy seem to be hedging their bets on the existence of a god, which makes the divide rather wider and the likelihood of any instant merger a step too far for the RCs. But time-sharing is an obvious solution, with plenty of hours of a Sunday to slot the various flocks into the new cathedral.

With modern technology, a quick flick of the switch could adjust the decor accordingly, Stations of the Cross and crucifixes popping out for the Catholics, then sliding back into the wall to make way for the regimental flags I seem to recall being de rigueur in Anglican mother churches.

With the Anglicans' fantastic central CBD site, and insurance money sloshing around in their cassocks, the two bishops have a chance to lead the rebuild of a 21st century Christchurch with a building to match.

- NZ Herald

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