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Healing the heart of the city: the battle to restore Christchurch's cathedral

Within the months, then years, after the Christchurch earthquake, it was once now not Sue Spigel’s thoughts that wanted therapeutic, however her spirit.

What labored was once her house excessive at the hillside above Governors Bay, the place Spigel, 74, and her husband, Bob, have lived for 20 years. “It was once this position … being right here, cocooned from the remainder of the agony that was once occurring, that in reality helped,” she says, sat along with her again to a big window framing bush, sky and sea.


Drone pictures presentations years of wear to earthquake-struck Christchurch cathedral – video

On 22 February 2011, Spigel were on the Christchurch cathedral, the place she was once artist-in-residence. Her tiny first-floor workshop was once reached by way of a spiral stairwell so slender it will go away her shoulders dusted with chalk.

At 12.51pm, Spigel were about to head down the ones stairs to make a cup of tea when she was once distracted by way of a radio information file. She sat down at the window seat. “The construction shook slightly bit, and I believed, ‘That was once a just right one’,” she says. “However then it all started bouncing up and down.”

Spigel noticed the ceiling come loose from the partitions, flickering mild from the outdoor; she felt blood streaming from her head. “Then the tower fell, that vast piece of masonry, and it was once like a twister. Black mud all over – I couldn’t breathe.”

When the black cloud cleared, it printed “another fact”.

The ground had fallen thru, and she or he was once buried in ceiling forums. Although her arm was once damaged, Spigel controlled to push herself onto the window ledge. A couple of hundred other people had been status within the sq. under, staring again at her. “Everyone was once simply surprised.”

Sue Spigel managed to get herself to the cathedral’s window



Sue Spigel controlled to get herself to the cathedral’s window Photograph: Richard Cosgrove

She was once rescued by way of a police officer, who clambered over piles of rubble to get to her. He and others then helped her climb down a ladder to protection.

The falling tower had brought about main harm to the entrance of the cathedral, its western porch and adjoining partitions. It took seek and rescue groups greater than every week to substantiate that – miraculously – nobody were killed within.

In that point, pictures of Spigel striking out of the cathedral, bloody and dazed, had travelled the sector. Even now, inside of Christchurch, she continues to be referred to as “the lady within the window”.

Sue Spigel pictured at her Governors Bay home near Christchurch 10 years after the 2011 Christchurch earthquake



Sue Spigel pictured at her Governors Bay house close to Christchurch 10 years after the 2011 earthquake. Photograph: Peter Meecham/The Mum or dad

An emblem of wider trauma

Spigel become the face of the wear and tear finished to the cathedral, and with it the town’s spirit. Of all of the structures misplaced that day, its cave in had the best resonance.

The 19th-century neogothic construction were Christchurch’s namesake and defining image, all the way down to the native govt’s brand. It was once now not simply the house for the town’s Anglican diocese – it was once regularly spoken of, figuratively and actually, because the “middle of the town”.

For Spigel, it were her first sanctuary in Christchurch. She and Bob had moved from the USA within the early 1980s, but it surely was once now not till an anniversary provider for nine/11 that she hooked up to the cathedral.

“For the primary time, I felt like I in reality belonged in Christchurch … I cherished the construction, the pageantry, the artwork about the entire position – and the truth that it welcomed anyone.”

Designed by way of the English architect Sir George Gilbert Scott (additionally in the back of London’s St Pancras Station), the cathedral has been described as “some of the maximum very best symbols of the achieve and ambition of the Anglican confession international”.

The sight of it tumbled into rubble, its tower toppled, was once instantly understood as symbolic of the broader trauma and loss suffered by way of Christchurch and its other people within the earthquake.

The cathedral dean Peter Beck advised the BBC on the time: “The center of the town is damaged.” Bob Parker, then the mayor, vowed to rebuild the cathedral “stone by way of stone”: “We’ve misplaced a large number of issues, however this is one we must now not lose.”

As an alternative, for just about 10 years, the cathedral has languished – open-faced, piled with rubble, too dangerous to go into – as new structures have sprung up round it: an unmistakable reminder of the earthquake, at the same time as Christchurch has sought to transport on.

Methods to rebuild?

If the symbolism of the collapsed cathedral was once transparent, the problem – as soon as the mud settled and the rebuild were given underneath method – lay in interpret it.

The church, town council, central govt, trade leaders, heritage advocates, architects and artists – to not point out the 250-odd common worshippers – agreed at the construction’s importance however now not, essentially, what to do with it.

More than a few choices – together with reinstating the cathedral precisely because it was once, rebuilding it to a brand new design, and demolishing it and beginning over fully – had been explored and regularly hotly debated.

Final duty rested with the construction’s prison house owners, the Church Assets Trustees, chaired by way of the Canadian-born Bishop Victoria Matthews. For her, spending church coffers (or fundraising) to fix a unmarried construction went towards the “Christ-centred venture”.

Christchurch cathedral pictured on 28 September 2011, seven months after the earthquake



Christchurch cathedral pictured on 28 September 2011, seven months after the earthquake. Photograph: Cameron Spencer/Getty Photographs

In March 2012, Matthews introduced that the cathedral would get replaced with person who was once a “mix of outdated and new”.

The inside track was once met with vociferous opposition from Christchurch citizens who felt hooked up to the ancient cathedral, and that its destiny was once now not the church’s name on my own to make.

Many had been of approach and affect, similar to the previous govt minister Philip Burdon and the overdue mayoral candidate Jim Anderton, who shaped a nonpartisan protest team Nice Christchurch Constructions Agree with (GCBT).

The standoff got here to a head in November, when the Prime Courtroom granted an software by way of GCBT for a judicial evaluation of the diocese’s choice to demolish, halting all paintings underneath method.

The struggle over the cathedral mirrored tensions prevailing within the town on the time, similar to between native and central govt, says Ian Lochhead, an architectural historian and visiting affiliate professor on the College of Canterbury.

He were one of the vital first voices to talk up for Christchurch’s ancient structures after Gerry Brownlee – the Nationwide-led govt’s minister for earthquake restoration, granted considerable energy within the rebuild – declared that the “outdated dungas” [sic] could be destroyed.

“There was once a in style trust that the town had carried out poorly in relation to its seismic resistance, and so it will get replaced,” says Lochhead.

In its eagerness “to get the entirety again to standard” – bulldozing heritage structures that can have been stored, encouraging industrial building, throwing out public session for plans made in haste – the central govt was once observed to be sacrificing Christchurch’s id.

The sense of urgency was once now not best unrealistic, says Lochhead, it ended in demolitions “that didn’t wish to occur, simply because other people sought after all of it tidied away”.

Now, he says, “rarely any” of Christchurch’s 19th- and 20th-century faces may also be observed within the central town – whilst there are extra massive, high-end industrial traits than may also be stored at complete occupancy.

Recovery workers inspect the fallen spire of Christchurch Cathedral on 2 March 2011.



Restoration staff check out the fallen spire of Christchurch cathedral. Photograph: Reuters

Lochhead calls this “disaster capitalism” in motion. “We went from a town that had a wonderful grain to … a smaller collection of a lot larger structures. It’s totally remodeled the texture of the town.”

The ones losses galvanised some who had been combating to avoid wasting the cathedral – however now not earlier than the sour debate over it had made others lose religion in its importance fully.

Forgetting the previous

Mired in indecision, infighting and politics, what had as soon as been an emblem of power for the town become symbolic “of all that was once flawed with the rebuilding”, as a longstanding member of the congregation wrote in 2015.

Even Spigel felt like she needed to guard towards a congregation – and a motive – she had beloved, switching for a time to the innovative Knox Presbyterian church.

“I needed to care for myself,” she says. “So I simply grew to become my again.”

Spigel had no use, or need, to enter the town with its new, glass structures. “I don’t in finding it welcoming, or delightful, in any respect.”

She says it reminds her of a sermon she heard as soon as, about Alzheimer’s illness: “Whilst you omit your previous, you’ll’t put your self in context, and you don’t have any thought who you might be – I believe like that’s what’s came about in Christchurch.”

Ultimately – thru fluctuating public opinion, a prolonged prison motion or even makes an attempt at mediation – in September 2017 the Anglican Synod voted to reinstate the cathedral.

As soon as a central authority running team had discovered that result to be conceivable, “from the church’s perspective, they had been faced by way of an insoluble drawback”, says Lochhead.

Being nowhere just about overlaying the projected $100m price of the venture on my own (it was once due to this fact revised to $150m), monetary fortify from central and native governments and GCBT was once an be offering the Church Assets trustees may now not refuse.

In August 2018 it signed a three way partnership settlement with Christ Church Cathedral Reinstatement Restricted (CCRL), a central authority entity set as much as ship the venture with a separate fundraising arm. (Lochhead is a trustee.)

A concept design for the reinstated Christchurch cathedral



An idea design for the reinstated Christchurch cathedral. Photograph: Christ Church Cathedral Reinstatement Challenge

“It was once a wedding of 2 fighters … there was once all the time going to be some feeling round that,” says Keith Paterson, the venture director of CCRL.

However in any case, a decade after the crisis, a trail ahead has emerged that – he hopes – will lend a hand the town and its other people to heal. “If lets repair the cathedral and revitalise the sq., it does draw a line underneath the earthquakes … Town will breathe a sigh of aid.”

Simply six months in the past, the cathedral had appeared deserted; there now are indicators of existence within the middle of the town, with development crews on cranes running to make the website online protected to go back to its former glory.

Their temporary is to go back the cathedral to “because it was once earlier than”, however more secure, with extra fashionable amenities and two new structures for guests and occasions.

But if nobody has entered the cathedral since 2011, simply stabilising the website online is a gigantic endeavour. Paterson is underneath no phantasm as to the dimensions of the venture, anticipated to take seven to 10 years to finish.

“For me there was once part of the town that was once principally damaged, and it wanted lend a hand … It was once the civic facet of the construction that drew me to it – and the problem.”

In fact a brand new cathedral would had been inexpensive, he says; however price isn’t the one worry. “You’ve were given to place a worth on heritage, on symbolism.” (Paterson’s personal ancestor has a memorial plaque inside the cathedral.)

The problem, now, is fundraising – with $50m wanted to verify steady development. Philip Burdon on my own has now contributed $5m, however in asking wider Christchurch to get in the back of the cathedral, after 10 years the consider expects to need to fight a degree of fatigue.

It’s hoping to attract on Christchurch’s sturdy English connection by way of focused on heritage and Anglican pursuits in the United Kingdom. Prince Charles is a “royal patron” of the venture.

“The design that we’ve get a hold of will rejuvenate the sq., now not best as an excellent spot for worship however as a perfect civic house,” says Paterson. “… I’ve were given without a doubt that the end result will probably be very good – if other people generally is a little bit affected person.”

Within the context of heritage preservation or even crisis restoration, professionals say, 10 years of dialogue and 10 years of development is negligible. However firstly of this subsequent degree, questions are being requested inside of Christchurch as to the place it is going to lead: into the town’s long run, or its previous.

Prince Charles and Camilla Duchess of Cornwall visite Christchurch cathedral with the prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, on 22 November 2019



Prince Charles and Camilla Duchess of Cornwall visited Christchurch cathedral with the high minister, Jacinda Ardern, in 2019. Photograph: Tim Rooke/Rex/Shutterstock

Naomi van den Broek, an musician and performer lively inside the arts sector, says the cathedral has been “held to ransom” by way of individuals of the Christchurch established order, and denied the chance to adapt along the remainder of the town.

Restored to its prior state, the cathedral will probably be “a memento, or a museum piece”, says van den Broek: a neglected alternative to construct a “gorgeous speaking level … that appears ahead in addition to again”.

However Te Maire Tau, the director of the College of Canterbury’s Ngāi Tahu Analysis Centre and a trustee of the reinstatement venture, says he understands the “Pākehā tribalism” that was once provoked by way of the specter of shedding the cathedral. “You had outdated Christchurch pronouncing ‘That is who we’re, that is what we’re … we’re nonetheless right here, we exist’, and I believed, from our finish, that was once one thing to be revered.”

At a time when Christchurch dangers shedding its id, it is very important recognise that connection to the previous, and the town’s Ecu historical past, says Tau. “Folks live to tell the tale symbols … there’s that hollow within the sq.. The church must be there.”

Without a doubt, the central development website online is a day by day reminder of the earthquake when many in Christchurch really feel that it not defines them.

For Spigel, the trauma of that day and the lives that had been misplaced nonetheless lies “simply underneath the skin”.

“I’m looking forward to the cathedral to be reinstated – I simply hope it’s finished earlier than I die. I would like to return in there … to listen to tune, the bells ring once more.”

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