Wellington’s St Mary of the Angels Church has been closed to the public for over a year following the Seddon earthquakes in July 2013. While the church suffered no structural damage, it was identified as earthquake-prone and ‘yellow-stickered’ by Wellington City Council in April 2012.
The parish supported the decision to close the church and to accelerate its seismic strengthening.
In March 2014 two-stage strengthening and design plans were presented to the parish. Stage 1, for which resource and building consents have been granted, involves strengthening the foundations and building ‘shear walls’. With stage 2, the portals, roof and towers will be strengthened.
More than 300 people from around New Zealand attended the launch of a major fundraising appeal in Parliament’s Grand Hall on 7 August 2014, where the design plans and fundraising procedures were presented.
It is hoped an initial $3 million can be raised to begin work on stage 1 before the end of 2014. The cost of the whole project is estimated at $9.5 million.
St Mary of the Angels Church is a Category 1 Historic Place. Designed by Architect Frederick de Jersey Clere and completed in 1922, it is believed to be the world’s first neo-Gothic church built using reinforced concrete construction.
As the Catholic parish church for central Wellington and a venue for many musical and cultural events, its architecture and place of reverence are widely recognised throughout New Zealand.
The church is a rare example of a building which echoes the rich history and grandeur of medieval, gothic and renaissance architecture. Such churches were built to reflect ‘the belief of God; structures physically stretching skyward toward heaven and divinity of light expressed through magnificent stained glass windows’.
The loss of access to St Mary of the Angels Church has affected many people.
As well as serving the parish spiritually, the church has long been regarded as ‘an oasis in the city’; a quiet haven for many central-city workers. Over the years, it has been a venue for choirs and musicians, with its fine acoustics and aesthetics experienced by the congregation, as well as by many performers and audiences.
‘With the church now closed, our priority is to set about raising the funds for this essential work to secure the future of this Wellington landmark and icon,’ says parish priest Father Barry Scannell.
‘The parish is reaching out to Wellingtonians and other New Zealanders for their support to preserve St Mary of the Angels Church, treasured by so many in our city and throughout New Zealand.’
Olivia Webb is Parish Secretary, St Mary of the Angels, Wellington.