Exquisite Erskine Chapel restored after 38-year wait

Wellington’s historic Erskine Chapel has finally been restored.

The lovely French Gothic-style beauty reopened with a special service on Thursday after being left to the vagaries of time for almost 40 years.

Saving beauty

Built in 1929, the chapel boasts a marble altar, stained-glass windows and a soaring ceiling.

The chapel is considered one of the most important interiors in New Zealand, certainly in Wellington.

Much work was needed to save and strengthen it.

Ian Cassels

Ian Cassels, who bought the abandoned site in 2000, looked to develop it into housing but ran into opposition from heritage groups.

In 2018 the Environment Court ruled he could demolish the school buildings but not the chapel — which had to be saved and strengthened.

“It’s been a 23-year struggle” Cassles told 1News.

Cassels said he was “deliriously happy” with how it looked but regretted the legal battle.

“We always knew we’d be here one day. And yeah, it’s wonderful.”

Returning it to its former glory has cost Cassels at least $7 million – about twice the amount he expected.

“My partner and I, Caitlin Taylor and myself, we are basically the ones paying for it.”

Cassels says it has been a privilege to restore this building.

“We can’t get away from our past, we must honour it and cherish it and do that. But it’s left to individuals basically.

“It really is a big question in New Zealand. Like, heritage should be supported and funded by the community, but that doesn’t happen.”

Nicola Young

Nicola Young, a former pupil and now a Wellington City Councillor, has also been very instrumental in the chapel’s restoration.

She has seen it come full circle.

“It’s a wonderful venue,” she said.

“I hope that I have my funeral here – but not yet” she emphasised with a grin.

Young calls the restored chapel a fantastic asset to the city.

The chapel was once part of Erskine College, a Catholic girls’ school that closed in 1985. Now 97 townhouses occupy the former school grounds.

Young says the project is a “huge win” for housing.

“We need to do more of this kind of thing and make it easier for people that want to do it.”

As a visitor to the Chapel at Sunday’s open day was overheard saying, “See good things happen.”

Heritage stamp of approval

Heritage New Zealand’s Jamie Jacobs says the chapel building was of huge significance.

“This chapel is one of the most important interiors in New Zealand, certainly Wellington. It’s one of the finest French Gothic buildings probably anywhere,” he says.

In answering a question from 1News about conserving old buildings, Jacobs replied, “Everything doesn’t need to be saved but a lot of things should be saved.”

A well-attended open day was held on Sunday, and now the chapel can be hired as a venue for weddings and events.


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