Diocese seeks Christchurch Catholic Cathedral treasures

Ten years on from Christchurch’s devastating earthquake, the Catholic Diocese is seeking the treasures that once graced the Catholic Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament.

Among the items that have gone missing is a pair of angels.

So has one of the marble Stations of the Cross designed for the cathedral’s centenary in 2000 by late Christchurch sculptor Llew Summers.

Summers’s family is offering a reward for information leading to the safe return of the fifth station carving, ‘Simon helps Jesus carry the cross’. The family thinks the artwork was stolen.

Summers’ partner and artistic executor, Robyn Webster, says she is immensely grateful that church authorities managed to retrieve all the other marble panels. However, the loss of one means the set is incomplete.

She would not say how much the reward was for, but said it was “reasonably generous”.

“He carved only one set, and they held great significance for him. Without the missing Station, it is less likely that they will find a home in [a] new cathedral.”

Although several items have been confirmed damaged or are now known to be missing, deconstruction work underway at irreparably damaged cathedral has produced many treasures and memorabilia thought to have been lost.

Triona Doocey, archivist for the Catholic Diocese of Christchurch, has been documenting the finds (pictured) on Facebook.

Among the finds are decades-old time capsules, a St Vincent de Paul charity collection box full of outdated currency, and a nativity scene.

But two bronze angels – in round panels set at each end of the altar dating back to 1905 – were found to have gone missing.

“Obviously at some point over the 10 years someone thought that they’d pop in and take the bronze angels,” Doocey says.

She intends to publicise the loss on social media: “I’m hoping someone will go ‘So-and-so has those in their room’.”

“Items that they just don’t know what to do with, they bring to me,” Doocey says.

She enjoys returning the items to the owners – it is fun to be able to dig them out and say, ‘This is yours’,” she says.

Many of the Cathedral’s precious items were removed for safekeeping ahead of the February 2011 earthquake, including the Tabernacle doors and crucifix by artist Ria Bancroft.

The number of treasures found so far is remarkable given the damage to the basilica and how long the site has been left in disrepair, Doocey says.

“It’s been said all along that it’s opportunistic salvage. It really was touch and go because of the masonry collapsing, asbestos, all sorts of issues like that.”

Where possible, items with liturgical use will be cleaned or restored and put to use. “It makes much more sense for them to be out and in use – they don’t belong tucked away,” Doocey explains.

Items that are too damaged or costly to repair, or not worth keeping, will be given to Canterbury Museum or parishioners in consultation with the bishop, or put on display in the new cathedral to honour the old one.


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