While she's painting and polishing the stained glass windows of St Mary's Church, Teresa Ramakers admires their beauty and feels honoured to help restore them.

Ramakers, from Shannon, has a week's work repairing the windows for the Friends of St Mary's group. She has her own business, Phoenix Gallery and Leadlights, and learned her craft from Scotsman George Keenan.

He taught her to paint the exterior of a whole window with a cement mixture, then blow lime on to it while the cement is wet. The lime sticks and hardens over 24 hours, filling in any cracks. Then the black cement mixture is removed from the glass, which is polished.

The stained glass windows are painted with a cement that hardens on the lead and is then removed from the glass. Photo / Laurel Stowell
The stained glass windows are painted with a cement that hardens on the lead and is then removed from the glass. Photo / Laurel Stowell

"It's how they did it back in the day and it would have been the way these windows were created," Ramakers said.

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"I think they are absolutely beautiful."

Friends of St Mary's secretary Lynne Gray agrees. The Apostle and Avalanche windows in the church are the most beautiful in Whanganui, she says.

The central Avalanche window was made in the memory of 23-year-old Archibald Montgomery, one of 21 Whanganui people who were returning to New Zealand when their ship the Avalanche sank in the English Channel in September 1877, with the loss of 99 lives.

The Apostle windows that flank them are in memory of the Montgomerie family. A descendant, Susanna Norris, still worships in the church.

Services are held there at 11am on the second Sunday of each month, usually taken by Anglican Archdeacon Stuart Goodin. And there's lots of other activity around the old building.

MV Wairua skipper Sam Mordey shows groups through it two or three times a week in summer, Upokongaro School uses it for assemblies and other activities, and it has hosted special events.

One was during Whanganui's opera week in January, when 11 students sang there.

"It was just magic," Gray said.

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There's an annual harvest festival service, and on November 11 last year 160 people came to a special Armistice Day service. There were so many that some had to sit outside.

The church has always had a friends group, but it became less active after the deaths of Wendy Pettigrew, John Gray and Ruth Aim. It's been revived, chairman John Dalziel said.

The Friends have raised $43,000 toward some much needed repairs, and are grateful for donations from the Four Regions Trust, Whanganui Community Foundation and Freemasons Foundation.

The 1877 church is badly in need of repainting and repair, Friends of St Mary's chairman John Dalziel says. Photos / Laurel Stowell
The 1877 church is badly in need of repainting and repair, Friends of St Mary's chairman John Dalziel says. Photos / Laurel Stowell

Rotten boards have been replaced and the tower strengthened. The building now needs to be waterblasted and painted, with a crane needed to paint the spire. Spouting and baseboards have to be replaced, and the roof comes next.

"It's a very old roof but it's so steep that water doesn't hang around. We are hoping very much that it's all okay," Dalziel said.