St Paul Cathedral, Dunedin – NZ

New Zealand - Octagon - Dunedin - St Paul Church

Octagon, Dunedin. Postcard by Design Arrowton, Photo by Michael Hollman, Kiwi Vista Company, stamp date 2015

St Paul’s Cathedral is the mother church of the Anglican Diocese of Dunedin in New Zealand and the seat of the Bishop of Dunedin.The Cathedral Church of St Paul occupies a site in the heart of The Octagon near the Dunedin Town Hall and hence Dunedin. The land for St Paul’s Church was given by the sealer and whaler Johnny Jones of Waikouaiti.

The first parish church of St Paul was built on the site from 1862 to 1863. It was made of Caversham stone and could accommodate up to 500 people. It was not, however, well constructed. The stone weathered badly and the tall spire was removed after just a few years. The man consecrated to be the first Bishop of Dunedin, but never enthroned, Bishop Henry Jenner, visited the diocese in 1869. He officiated at St Paul’s and gave a lecture on church music illustrated by the St Paul’s choir. He is remembered as the composer of the hymn tune “Quam dilecta”.

In 1871 Samuel Tarratt Nevill was elected as Bishop of Dunedin. Initially he made no mention of the need for a cathedral for the diocese and it was not until the 1876 synod that he broached the subject. The issue was avoided by forming a commission to investigate the whole matter. The commission later recommended that St Paul’s should become the mother church. However, Nevill favoured St. Matthew’s Church, Dunedin, and the impasse remained. In the early 1880s the question was revisited and again no resolution was reached. However, in 1894, 18 years after the issue was first raised, all sides agreed to the proposal for St Paul’s to become the cathedral. The cathedral chapter was formed and took up the responsibility for running the cathedral from 1895. Thomas Whitelock Kempthorne of Kempthorne Prosser Ltd was a generous supporter of the cathedral and a memorial stands inside.

Interior view looking at the Memorial Window above the front entrance which reads “This Window was Erected To the Glory of God and in thankful and loving remembrance of those of Otago and Southland who gave their lives in The Great War 1914–1918”
In 1904, William Harrop, a prominent Dunedin businessman, died and left the bulk of his estate to fund a new cathedral. However, release of the money was conditional on the chapter raising £20,000 towards the cost of the building. Nevill threw himself into the effort, but it was not until 1913 that the £20,000 was raised and work could begin. The first in a series of plans and modifications were submitted by Sedding and Wheatly, an architectural company based in England. The author of the final design was Edmund Harold Sedding (1863–1921). The supervising architect in Dunedin was Basil Hooper (1876–1960).

On 8 June 1915, the foundation stone of the new cathedral was laid. Huge foundations, large piers and a tremendous vaulted ceiling, the only one in stone in New Zealand, rose from the ground, forming the new cathedral’s nave. Lack of finances, however, precluded construction of anything more. There was no money for the crossing or the chancel as originally intended. In the end it was resolved that a temporary chancel should be constructed using material saved from the old St Paul’s. The new cathedral was consecrated by Bishop Nevill on 12 February 1919.

During the 1930s the cathedral began to take up a role as a venue for public services, notably for the state funeral of Sir Frederick Truby King, the founder of the Plunket Society. Social work featured prominently at this time, with the synodsmen, vestry and church leaders all publicly opposed to the government’s Depression policies. The Cathedral administered a food bank and distributed food parcels for the citizens of Dunedin. Shortly after the Second World War, St Paul’s suffered the loss of Dean Cruickshank, who moved to the Diocese of Waiapu, and of Victor Galway. The latter, an organist and professor of music, had been very popular, attracting large crowds to his recitals and performances. He had also regularly broadcast his productions, paving the way for services to be aired on radio.

In the 1950s the vestry made the important, though difficult, decision that it wouldn’t complete the cathedral to its original design. The dean suggested that ways be examined to link an extension to the existing structure, and the vestry agreed to investigate the possibilities. In 1966, the decision was made to build a new chancel. The plans had been drawn by Ted McCoy of the firm McCoy and Wixon. Construction began in earnest in December 1969. The old chancel was stripped and demolished and new columns began to rise from the debris. Construction and clearing up finished on Saturday 24 July 1971, and the Cathedral reopened the next day.

The new chancel was modernist, as high as the existing vault, with tall windows reaching from the floor almost to the ceiling. The altar was free standing and the furnishings matched the walls. Features of the new sanctuary were the free standing altar, (unusual for the time), clear glass windows, specially designed candle sticks, a Laudian altar front and a perspex cross containing stripes of the liturgical colours.

The sanctuary was re-ordered in 2003 with the altar moved forward into the nave. This is consistent with the neo-Anglo-Catholic tradition of placing the “table” within the sphere and proximity of those receiving the Eucharist.

In 2004, the perspex cross was moved temporarily (and initially) to the crypt to accommodate a production of the bi-annual Otago Festival of the Arts. Finally, a decision was reached by the current Dean Trevor James to restore the perspex cross to the sanctuary, and it was returned to its position at the end of 2009.

The Octagon

The Octagon is the city centre of Dunedin, in the South Island of New Zealand. It is an eight-sided plaza bisected by the city’s main street, and is also the central terminus of two other main thoroughfares. The Octagon is predominantly a pedestrian reserve, with grass and paved features, and is surmounted by a statue of the Scottish poet Robert Burns. Several of Dunedin’s significant buildings and institutions adjoin the plaza, which is also a major hub for public transport in Dunedin.

First laid out in 1846, the site was largely derelict for many years until the two major early parts of the city’s settlement (to the north and south of the Octagon) were linked by the excavation of Bell Hill. From the 1890s on it rose to prominence as the city’s central area. The Octagon was substantially renovated during the 1980s, and is now a centre of the city’s cafe culture, with many al fresco dining areas.a

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