The once and future cathedral
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
This is an ethnographic case study, tracking the course of arguments about the future of a city’s central iconic building, damaged following a major earthquake sequence. The thesis plots this as a social drama and examines the central discourses of the controversy.
The focus of the drama is the Anglican neo-Gothic Christ Church Cathedral, which stands in the central square of Christchurch, New Zealand. A series of major earthquakes in 2010/2011 devastated much of the inner city, destroying many heritage-listed buildings. The Cathedral was severely damaged and was declared by Government officials in 2011 to be a dangerous building, which needed to be demolished. The owners are the Church Property Trustees, chaired by Bishop Victoria Matthews, a Canadian appointed in 2008. In March 2012 Matthews announced that the Cathedral, because of safety and economic factors, would be deconstructed. Important artefacts were to be salvaged and a new Cathedral built, incorporating the old and new.
This decision provoked a major controversy, led by those who claimed that the building could and should be restored. Discourses of history and heritage, memory, place and identity, ownership, economics and power are all identified, along with the various actors, because of their significance. However, the thesis is primarily concerned with the differing meanings given to the Cathedral. The major argument centres on the symbolic interaction between material objects and human subjects and the various ways these are interpreted. At the end of the research period, December 2015, the Christ Church Cathedral stands as a deteriorating wreck, inhabited by pigeons and rats and shielded by protective, colourfully decorated wooden fences. The decision about its future remains unresolved at the time of writing.