Gothic New Zealand: Wellington 1

Old St Paul's Church, Wellington, New Zealand

Old St Paul’s Church, Wellington, New Zealand

I explained in Gothic New Zealand:  Auckland 2 that the first and only Bishop of New Zealand, George Augustus Selwyn (1809-1878), brought to the antipodes the Ecclesiological idea that a church must have pointed arches and all the architectural paraphernalia of the Middle Ages.

He was an Anglican cleric operating in a context where, until a few years before he reached New Zealand in 1841, Australia had been an archdeaconry in the diocese of Calcutta.  By the time he returned to England for the last time in 1868, New Zealand had seven Anglican bishoprics.

A visible part of Selwyn’s legacy is the New Zealand tradition of building timber churches that have the shapes of masonry construction.

The first Anglican cathedral in Wellington, now known as Old St Paul’s, was designed by an architect-turned-clergyman, Rev Frederick Thatcher (1814-1890), who was closely associated with Bishop Selwyn.

It was the pro-cathedral for the Diocese of Wellington from 1866, when it was built, until 1964, when the bishop’s throne, the cathedra, moved to the new St Paul’s Cathedral.

To save it from demolition the New Zealand Government took on Old St Paul’s as a historic site, and it remains consecrated.

Like other “Selwyn” churches, it is a warm and welcoming place, the darkness of its walls contrasting with the brilliance of its stained glass windows.

I didn’t have the opportunity to join a service in my short stay, but I sat at dinner with a lady who told me she always visits St Paul’s at Christmas, and at other times, because singing hymns and carols there is “like singing inside a violin”.

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For details of Mike Higginbottom’s lecture Antipodean Gothic:  English architecture “down under”, please click here.

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