There seems to be a great deal of heat, much puzzling information and many conflicting statements about the Anglican Cathedral in Christchurch. For more than a year, I have been carefully following events in Christchurch. In this open letter to all of the communities in Christchurch, I’d like to offer my perspective and experience as a caretaker of historic timber and stone buildings to bring some sense, clarity and focus to the issues facing Christchurch and its Cathedral.


Firstly, I am very empathetic with the Bishop and Church Property Trust’s reality regarding the Cathedral. The old Cathedral, by its very nature, was expensive to maintain and operate. Space for offices and fellowship and all the other amenities a functioning church needs was limited, at best. I can just imagine trying to crowd a Cathedral full of people into the Visitor’s center for coffee and fellowship after services. There was not even the room to build additional buildings to serve those needs. They couldn’t so much as shift a window without Heritage approval.


While it was a National Treasure, enjoyed by all, and an asset to tourism and the city, the expenses were born mostly by the Church. (with notable contributions toward upgrade and operating costs by the city) And, of course, income, attendance and membership in the Church is not what it once was.


The Cathedral had become an expensive White Elephant.


I can certainly see that having the old Cathedral back after the Quake was not a particularly attractive outcome to the Church from an operations and fiscal perspective. And….all the more so for those that were not fond of Neo-Gothic buildings to start with.



OK, I get it.


I also get the value of keeping the old and familiar landmark. Saving and restoring would keep the old Heritage values and add new ones from our sweat and effort as a Legacy for future generations.




So, let’s have a look at some of the issues and statements swirling around the issue of the Cathedral and see if we can make sense of them. Perhaps there is a way to move forward together.


The Quake provided the pretext to be rid of the old cathedral; the establishment of CERA and the change to the Heritage protection laws provided the opportunity. But, convincing the public that keeping the Cathedral was a bad idea was going to a Public Relations and political nightmare that would have to be handled deftly.


In the world of building committees and architectural review boards, the two classic ways you can manipulate the outcome: “It’s too expensive”….and, “ It’s too dangerous”.




Recently, on Close up, Mark Sainsbury asked a very good and pointed question about the $20 million price tag quoted by Kit Miyamoto compared with the astronomical figure of $100 million quoted by the Bishop.


Ironically, both numbers are probably pretty close.  The difference is that they are pricing out two VERY DIFFERENT APPROACHES.  It's a classic case of apples and oranges.


The Bishop's numbers are quoting the price to build a "Replica Cathedral" after the original had been taken completely down. 


  That's like telling your wife that it'll cost $100,000 to fix your car after the front end was smashed in....and not mention that that number is predicated on meticulously taking it apart, melting it down and rebuilding it from scratch.   Of course you wouldn't want to explore that option.  And…it makes a new car for $50,000 seem like such a bargain. (Let’s not talk about the price to just replace the front and strengthen the frame…)


Miyamoto's numbers reflect the approach that has been taken on every earthquake damaged or war-torn Cathedral around the world... Stabilize the structure, replace what is lost, repair the damaged and displaced stone, strengthen the building to the "Nth" degree while it's structurally accessible, clean up the site, re-consecrate the building and get on with life.  It's a lot of work, but 20 million is a lot of money …and it’s a pretty reasonable estimate.


I did an independent assessment and, depending on the assumptions I based the calculations on, I came up with a range from $18 million to $25 million to repair, restore and strengthen.  Based on the experience of restoration efforts like Ypres, I figure the work would take 5 - 7 years depending on several factors.  Being an independent structure, the Bell tower could be repaired and rebuilt in an earthquake resistant version and have the bells ringing in two years. The Bell tower would cost about $2 million to rebuild with that plan, as all of the prefabrication labor has already been offered as a donation.


The Church has declined to consider any repair option.  Months ago they took that off the table and never considered it. (see page 406 of the CERA Cathedral file)  The only thing that passes for "rebuilding" is their very expensive from-scratch option.




Why would the Cathedral want reject and refuse to consider reasonable repair options that have worked so well on other Cathedrals...and why they would suggest such an extremely involved and expensive alternate?   I don't think they are stupid or evil or on the cusp of a psychotic break.  I think the short answer is that they knew that repairing/restoring/strengthening would be a reasonable and affordable option....and they didn’t want that result. Like a Barrister in open court, they did not want to ask a question, the answer to which, they did not want to be made public.


Agatha Christie’s mystery novels often had a “red herring” in the plot…a distraction or misinformation to draw attention away from the reality of the situation. The $100 million “Replica Cathedral” is a red herring.





The other classic manipulation used by building committees that wish to kill a project, is to exaggerate the perils, pitfalls and dangers. This is rather like claiming that you cannot find your way out of the forest because there are trees and rocks in the way. It’s well to see the trees, rocks and impediments; if only to avoid them, overcome them and find the path between them.


In the aftermath of the February quake, fear, grief and despair was the order of the day. But if the City and Church are to recover… courage, determination and cool heads must prevail. Fear-mongering and hyperbole have no place


The Bishop, in her many interviews and writings has repeatedly stressed the damage to the Cathedral and the danger it poses. Let us put that in perspective.

We have all seen the damage to the west wall and bell tower. But how many have seen what the rest of the building looks like? With more representative photographs, you would have also seen this view:

Photo by Anne McKenzie used with permission


Compare that to the damage to the Cathedral at Ypres; 1919

ANZAC at Ypres, 1919 above : west wall and bell tower




Ypres, the same view today. Cathedral finished by 1928



Let us be clear: compared to so many Cathedrals that have been damaged and restored, the damage to Christchurch Cathedral is modest. We have lost a bell tower, one wall and its lovely rose window, a bit of aisle roof and the West Porch has sustained impact damage and is looking a bit sorry. In addition, there has been some cracking in the walls and some stones displaced. Other stones have been battered by falling debris.


The damage might look horrific and hopeless, like a face smashed and bloodied in a car accident. But to a skilled surgeon who knows his craft, it really isn’t so bad. To those of us that restore stone and timber buildings, the damage we see in those photographs and especially the High Definition photographs taken in January inside the cordoned fence, what we see is pretty normal and very fixable.


To a builder’s eye there is much to be heartened about with the Cathedral. The roof is intact and straight as an arrow. Serious structural damage always shows up in the roof, particularly the ridge line. If you go to see the Cathedral, have a look at how true and straight the ridge is. This is NOT a candidate for demolition. Even the interior shots, intended to scare people, recently posted in the Press, are heartening. Yes, it’s a mess, but all the damage there is pretty straight forward and fixable. I’m pleasantly surprised that the inside of the west wall that remains intact is in such good shape. I would not have predicted that it would look so good. The arch that looks so horrible at the crossing has only lost its plaster veneer, the brick arch holding the load is intact.


Much has been made about the ongoing damage to the Cathedral from successive quakes. The Bishop has declared that they were forced to demolish due to the damage caused in the 23 December quake. Frankly, the December 23 quake was a Godsend that made the building infinitely safer. The 13 June quake took the rose window but left behind a mass of stone at the roof peak and the South side. It was hanging there precariously, a dangerous impediment that would have to be stabilized or removed before anything else could happen anywhere near the West wall. The December quake removed that danger and now presents the West wall as a blank canvas inviting us to clear away the rubble and rebuild a new West wall….just as lovely but stronger.


One can fearfully insist that we cannot investigate, photograph or carefully survey the damage inside the Cathedral because, “any entry into the Cathedral would put human life in danger”, or one can find a path around that obstacle by enlisting the help of Craig Dickie at Aerial Imaging in Chch. He did 3D aerial imaging of St Mary’s church and filmed a flight in the Cathedral before the Quake. (Both are posted on You tube)  Craig has offered his services. Likewise, remotely operated vehicles can be enlisted to assist in stabilization work.


The currently proposed demolition plan is deconstruction and controlled demolition without wrecking balls and bulldozers. Having been involved in several projects like that, I have to say that they are some of the trickiest and inherently dangerous projects, particularly in a compromised building. Every step takes another piece of the building down and further compromises the building. It can be done safely, but there are always hidden dangers.


If the cathedral is able to be approached to disassemble it, weakening it at every step: it certainly is able to be approached to shore it up, stabilizing and strengthening it in every successive step,


The sticking point about the restoration option is the question of shoring up the building to stabilize it without endangering workers as they install the shoring itself. Rather than just sit at home whining about the Cathedral, the guys that came up with the People’s Steeple concept also developed a shoring scheme that allows the cathedral to be safely shored up without anyone setting foot inside until the building is secured. Like sappers besieging a castle, each step of the shoring strengthens and stabilizes the structure. Each phase provides security and stability for the next phase and can be accomplished from the safety of the phase before. Access to the inside of the building is through the roof and through the window openings. Carefully done, the roof, ceiling and windows can be reassembled seamlessly.

                                                                          Drawing: Ed Levin 




It’s old technology, but it really works well.


It’ll take about 4 to 5 months and a bit less than a million to install, but would be able to secure the building against future shocks and make it feasible to restore and strengthen the walls to 100% and beyond… safely and effectively. Details can be seen at, follow the links to “Make-safe”





The White Elephant in the Room


So, let us assume that past experience at other wounded Cathedrals and the considered opinion of restoration specialists around the world is correct and the cathedral can be restored safely at a reasonable cost… That does not address the issue of dealing with a White Elephant: an expensive old Cathedral that doesn’t meet all the needs of a modern Church.


There would have to be a commitment, from all that seek to save the Cathedral, to fund an endowment for the Cathedral’s operations and maintenance. Government would have to increase its contribution to this community asset. A worldwide appeal could be made, especially tying into the announcement that the Cathedral would be restored…and the raising of the Spire.   The raised international awareness of the recovery and rebuild efforts would provide an opportunity to welcome visitors to view the ongoing work of restoration and contribute to that effort. Yes, it will take something of a leap of faith that the resources will come available, like fishes and loaves.


This dedicated funding for the Cathedral would free up money to go to the rest of the Diocese that otherwise might have gone to the Cathedral. Alternately, a portion of funds raised for the endowment could be dedicated to the repair and strengthening of the other Churches of the Diocese


With the loss of so many buildings around Cathedral square, certainly room can be found or made to allow the Cathedral space to expand. Looking at the aerial images, it appears that the north side of the Cathedral is a likely spot. If the war memorial could be moved to a more prominent spot in Cathedral square, it would allow plenty of room for a “Bishop’s Hall” with all the amenities and space lacking in the current Cathedral. If more space was desired, there is plenty of vacant property to be had in Cathedral Square. Perhaps a parcel close to the north side of the Cathedral could be obtained. An underground “rabbit cloister” from the Bishop’s Hall could provide easy, safe access without crossing a street. Perhaps re-routing a street a bit would do the trick.   After the quake, all things are possible.


Of course, money would have to be raised for these improvements. Depending on funding, they could be built during or after the restoration of the Cathedral. There is an interesting opportunity for the Bishop’s Hall.   The make-safe plan envisioned above requires the harvesting of a small forest of mature Douglas fir trees to shore up the structure of the Cathedral. They are very strong and valuable building materials. As the walls are restored and strengthened, the large shoring timbers would be pulled out of the Cathedral, having done their duty. They could be reworked and reused to build a beautiful, solid, quake-resistant, “green”, traditionally crafted timber framed Bishop’s Hall with all the modern amenities. By making good use of those trees, we save money and set an example of good stewardship to God’s earth. Indeed, the children of Christchurch could get involved by sprouting and replanting trees for the future.



Are there other issues to be addressed to make a restored cathedral more useful in the modern world? If so, let’s work together.



Moving forward



So…If we find our courage, put on our thinking caps and roll up our sleeves and pursue that option of stabilization and repair, what would that look like?


Without going into tedious details, the work might progress something like this: in six months, the building would be safely stabilized and the Heritage items recovered for safe keeping. In two years, the Bell tower and spire could be up and the bells ringing; the repair and strengthening to 100% of the North and South walls would be nearly complete and the rebuilding of the new reinforced West wall and repair of the West porch well underway. The first two years work would go through about $5 million.



By year three, the crew would be ramped up to speed and moving along smartly. Depending on the condition of the remaining stones of the rose window and the skill of the stone carvers, the Rose window could be reset by into its position in the reinforced west wall sometime in the third year. You can figure on a budget of four to five million a year for labor and materials for about three years and two million a year as the project winds down.    All up, roughly twenty million would do, but it never hurts to have a bit more raised for contingencies.


Five to seven years of dedicated work should see the old girl back to her old self, only stronger….a beacon to the Church and City she serves.


By contrast, the current plan calls for the deconstruction of the cathedral down to the level of a few meters. If any care is taken to retain heritage fabric and items, I would expect that effort to cost $3 to $5 million and take 6 to 8 months. For the money, time and effort, the church gets its heritage items recovered, a cathedral shaped garden wall and a large pile of heritage bits-and-pieces in off-site storage. A new Cathedral might be $50 million (or more) and years or decades of bitter division in the future.


The difference between the two approaches is the same difference between the tragedy at the Cross and the triumph of the Resurrection.




Tragedy or Triumph


The real tragedy for Christchurch is not the loss of the old beloved Cathedral, although that would be loss aplenty. The real tragedy is the missed opportunity to use the rebuilding of the Cathedral to draw the whole church and city and community together. It really is about the people. Repairing, restoring and strengthening the Cathedral could be a huge catalyst and fitting metaphor for rebuilding the Community of Faith and the community-at-large.


The controversy over the fate of the Cathedral has unleashed forces that threaten to tear the community and the body-of-faith apart, limb from limb. It is within our power, if we work together, to harness and redirect those forces to build rather than destroy.


The Diocese is facing a horrific shortfall of money due to insurance pay-out problems. Harnessing those forces and redirecting them for good would go a long way toward closing the financial gap. So too would a repaired, restored and strengthened Cathedral at reasonable cost.


As Bishop Matthews said in her news release of 2 March, “We would not be responsible stewards if we ignored the financial realities.”


The option to repair/restore and strengthen in place is a reasonable, feasible, safe and affordable option that was never considered in the earlier deliberations. The Church Leadership would not be responsible stewards if they ignore it and the significant advantages it offers to the Church’s finances, ministry and outreach.


I urge the Bishop, the Church Property Trustees, the Cathedral Chapter, the Standing Committee, the Canon Almoners and all within the Anglican Communion in Christchurch to consider the weight of what I have shared here. Carefully, openly and honestly consider this option. Be of good faith and due diligence. Let us have the conversation.


I urge the Mayor, City Council, CERA, National Government and the Crown to do everything required to facilitate and support the restoration effort and accommodate the modern needs for space and amenities.


I urge all Cantabrians and all friends of Canterbury everywhere to rise to the occasion. Lend your voice, resources, heart and muscles to the effort.


I’m reminded of the wisdom of King Solomon, “Remove not the ancient landmark, which thy Fathers have set”. I pray that the Bishop is equally wise.


This is a defining moment in the life of the Church and of the City. For better or for worse, future generations will know us by what we do now.


Respectfully submitted,

Spe fortis,



Marcus Brandt,


East Greenville

Want to Help?

Ring the Cathedral office (03)366 0046  or email and leave a message of support for the plan.  Offer to help as work crew, cooking, logistics, or any other way you can help.  Donate financially too.


Contact the Mayor and your Councillors and urge them to cooperate with the Cathedral and support the plan fully.  Follow this link: 




IMPORTANT:  Ask the Church to stabalize and reinforce the Cathedral .   Refrain from further demolition of the Cathedral until this plan can be fully considered.




Bishop announces deconstruction of Cathedral.

OK...the Bishop has anounced that the Cathedral is to be deconstructed.  Have a read of the Open Letter to Christchurch and see if that decision makes sense to you.   If not, work with us...and find ways to change minds and hearts and save the Cathedral for future generations and the service of God.

Timber Framer's Guild and UK Carpenter's Fellowship pledge support


The Timber Framers Guild (Canada and US) together with the UK Carpenter's fellowship have offered their full support to this proposal and have offered to help augment the skills and resources of Canterbury.  They offer to assist by using their member's skills and efforts to prefabricate and help to assemble and raise the needed timber framed sections of the Steeple. 


Visit their web sites for more information: and