Christ Church Cathedral took some time to build (130 years) like many great Cathedrals

It was planned by the Canterbury Association who wanted to establish a Church of England settlement in Canterbury.  A cathedral was to be the physical and symbolic heart of the city.

Bishop Harper, who was enthroned as the first Bishop of Christchurch in 1856, undertook to progress building a cathedral.

Plans were commissioned from Sir George Gilbert Scott, a leading British Gothic Revival architect with experience in designing for the colonies. It is the only church designed by Scott in New Zealand.

British architect Robert Speechly came out to supervise construction.  The foundations were laid in 1864, but work stopped by 1865 due to lack of money.  Work began again in 1873 and local pre-eminent gothic revival architect Benjamin Woolfield Mountfort was appointed as the supervising architect.

The Cathedral was consecrated in 1881 as the Cathedral Church of Christ and later became simply Christ Church Cathedral.

In 1904 the original Scott design, with the west porch designed by Mountfort, was finished.  In the 1960s the north and south vestries were added.  In 1995 the Visitors’ Centre was opened by Queen Elizabeth II.

Historic timeline

Note that there was considerable restoration / refurbishment programmes over time internally and externally, especially in the late 1970s and in 2008.

  • 1864 to 1865 – Foundations laid under Robert Speechly’s supervision.
  • 1873 to 1881 – Nave and tower – built under Mountfort’s supervision; temporary timber chancel built to Mountfort’s design.
  • 1881 to 1898 – Decoration of interior supervised and largely designed by Mountfort
  • 1894 – Creyke (west) Porch added, designed by Mountfort.
  • 1899 to 1904 – Construction of stone chancel, transepts and apse. Mountfort died in 1898 and his son Cyril Mountfort became the supervising architect.
  • 1960 to 1962 – Clergy and choir vestries enlarged, and Chapter room built to Paul Pascoe design.
  • 1992 to 1995 – Visitors’ Centre erected to the north, designed by Wilkie and Bruce.
  • 1998 to 1999 – Structural strengthening, designed by Holmes Consulting.
  • In 2010 and 2011 – Severe damage by Canterbury earthquakes, particularly in February 2011 when the tower and spire collapsed. On the 13 June 2011 the west elevation was badly damaged causing the full collapse of the iconic rose window.
  • 9 November 2011 – Cathedral deconsecrated to allow “make safe” work to begin.
  • 2011 – As safety access allowed, approximately 70% of the stained-glass windows removed and stored, and remaining windows protected where possible.
  • 2012 – Tower deconstructed under the supervision of engineers, a heritage professional and archaeologist.
  • December 2012 – All work halted by a High Court judgment which granted an application for judicial review of the decision to demolish made by the Diocese of Christchurch.
  • September 2017 – Anglican Synod voted to reinstate the Cathedral.  This will be done using a combination of repair, restoration, reconstruction/rebuild and seismic strengthening.
  • May 2020 – The workers and Cathedral site were blessed so that the first physical work could begin.