Cardboard Cathedral: The Full Monty Python?


“…There were a hundred and sixty of us living in a small shoebox in the middle of the road.
MP: Cardboard box?
TG: Aye.
MP: You were lucky. We lived for three months in a brown paper bag in a septic tank….”
Four Yorkshiremen Sketch  Monty Python*

The broken Christ Church Cathedral is not so High Church after its spire toppled in the February 22 quake. At least the proposed temporary substitute won’t be under wraps in a brown paper bag; it will be the full Monty Python if proponents have their way. The proposal for a 10 year-“cardboard cathedral”, designed by world-renowned Japanese architect Shigeru Ban, was unveiled in August*.

His Big Ban Theory has set the cat among the pigeons in The Square.  A cathedral is the principal church of a diocese, containing the bishop’s throne, cathedra  Latin for “chair.” Cathedrals are usually large and imposing-think of Chartres; Notre Dame de Paris; and St. Paul’s Cathedral. The building of a cathedral, especially in the Middle Ages, was a project in which the entire town took part. The citizenry of Christchurch is pretty keen to have a say about “their” Cathedral, temporary or permanent.

Cathedral Aspirations
Cathedrals are divinely aspirational, but is a spire rational in the 21st century?  Some see Cathedrals as remnants of an earlier ecclesiastical hierarchy, though in recent times the activities in Christ Church Cathedral have been accessible to a wide range of people and sometimes even daringly secular, witness the invitation for Helen Clark to speak.

This week the cathedral was placed on the new CERA list of buildings identified due for total or partial demolition. What to do? To partially demolish, repair and reinstate if that is possible?  To rebuild a hybrid stone structure with a wooden spire, as advocated by one enthusiast. Or to start again from ground zero and build a new building with strong, lightweight materials, employing new green technologies and a more functional approach to meeting modern meeting needs in a re-greened Cathedral Square as the centerpiece of the Central City Plan signed off yesterday by the Christchurch City Council?

Schist Schism?
There are all the ingredients of a typical parochial Christchurch stoush diocese wide. Cathedral Dean Peter Beck, who resigned last week to seek a city council seat in a by-election, had hoped to find a site for the Cardboard Cathedral and complete the project in time for the first anniversary of the February quake for a tab of $4 million.

As The Press points out, from the moment the Dean emerged dazed and dusty from the ruins of the cathedral on February 22, he has worked assiduously to provide spiritual and material sustenance and substance for the bloodied city. His forte was building links between the church and the community.

However, C.C.C. staff, while not quite banning the Ban, have recommended to the Council that a cardboard cathedral not be funded publicly nor sited on public land-and certainly not on the proposed venue in sacrosanct Hagley Park*. Otherwise what next? A cardboard motorway through the park to speed up motorized pilgrimages?

The Ban design looks stunning but what else is on the cards? Cardinals to speed up C. of E. and  Roman Catholic rapprochement? Priests in paper cassocks dispensing Chateau Cardboard at communion?  Cardboard congregation cutouts to paper over the cracks in the church, real and metaphorical?

What are the really long term questions and answers to do with the demolition and rebuild of the Cathedral? It’s time for some clear  ex cathedra utterances from the Bishop about the state of Christ Church Cathedral. We accept they will not be infallible.

Overseas letters to the Editor writers are leading the charge to save it, if, indeed, that’s possible: Bruce Whiteside-Gold Coast  “…the Cathedral imposed the image that said ‘this is the city of Christchurch.”  But is it the image we now want to project to ourselves and the world as we complete the first year of the second decade of the third millennium?

Natural break from colonial past? 
University of Canterbury Historian Dr Katie Pickles caused a neo gothic seismic shudder of horror last April when she argued that the lethal February 22 quake offered the opportunity of a natural break from our colonial past.

She argued that the damaged statues of early Canterbury leaders are symbolic of the end of a colonial era in Christchurch. “In getting back up, regrouping and rebuilding after the earthquakes, it is important to recognise that the city has literally broken free from the past once and for all. February 22 is our postcolonial moment. There is much to be proud of in Christchurch’s history, but it is now time to carefully and clearly move on from a colonial history that was already well on its way out before the earth moved.”*

Metropolitan Miasma
As Pickles points out, pioneer surveyors were aware that the swampy nature of coastal Canterbury was unsuited to urban development. The site chosen was the first reasonably dry and slightly elevated area handy to the limits of boat navigation on the Heathcote and Avon rivers. Geology had only just been invented as a discipline and understandably Canterbury’s colonists were unaware of the pitfalls of seismically induced liquefaction. They optimistically believed that nature could be tamed into a garden.

And so Christchurch became “the city on the swamp”, with all its attendant problems of ill health, smog, and difficulties with drainage. The current Council’s vision of “a city in a garden” sounds a little better but doesn’t alter the swampy subterranean realities.

Rev. John Raven, Canon of (the then yet to be built) Christ Church Cathedral-arrived at Port Cooper on Feb 2, 1853. Finding the cathedral’s foundations had not yet been laid he quit the church and, as a loose canon,  tried his hand at sheepfarming, a flock of a different hue, and returned to England 23 years later, having penned these words about waterlogged Christchurch in a longer poem:

“Land where men with brains of fog  Built a city on a bog!…”

Outside the Square
Here’s a literally lateral thinking suggestion I received some time ago from a sometime Anglican with an eclectic perspective. She suggests the following:  ”The Anglican Cathedral moves out to a spare sports stadium where it can expand to hold Anglican congregations from all the damaged churches. In the Square, a sports field grassed over, with maybe a roof like the new one in Dunedin.This field would host games where the players ran with round balls under their arms, except female players who would bounce the ball as they ran. There would be scrums, then shooters would kick the balls into   football nets or put it through  hoops  just as the spirit moved them.(Perhaps using the Square’s controversial Chalice).
The hoops would be guarded by tall females and the nets by short males who can use hockey sticks if they want. This game would be commented on loudly by sports commentators using incomprehensible terms and the proceedings could be shown on large screens so that all the congregation could feel involved….”

She may have something. There is, as we all know, a close link between religion and rugby. For many Kiwis the two are indistinguishable, especially in the not quite expired 2011 AD, the year of our sponsor, ADIDAS, with the recently completed quest for the gold RWC Chalice, or at least one of its replicas.

This hand to hand team combat dates back to time immemorial, to 1987 in the year of Our Roger. It occurs on a triennial cycle- a bit more frequently than the decadal Passion Play performed since 1634 as a tradition by the inhabitants of the village of Oberammergau in Germany. 

The RWC Uberammagau has basically the same theme, with All Black rugby coaches being crucified because they haven’t won the RWC. There was a surprising exception in 2007 which caused a schism in our national Holy Rugby Union and led to Deans being exiled to minister to the heathen Ockers, but this was just a prelude to the recent glorification of the coaching grandfather, son and the holy host of players, in the wake of a second finals victory finally.

Big Bang Theory
This all goes to show that God does indeed move in mysterious ways. Here’s what could be earth shaking-indeed cosmic shaping-evidence. Only this week scientists say they have found signs of the “God Particle”. This is Higgs boson, an elementary sub-atomic particle believed to have played a vital role in the creation of the universe after the Big Bang.  Scientists at the CERN physics research centre near Geneva where they have tried to find traces of the elusive boson by smashing particles together at near light-speed in the Large Hadron Collider*.

It’s all a bit like civic debates in Christchurch but more civil, but spot the physics affinity between cardboard and particle board. Maybe the cardboard cathedral champions do have God on their side, on the inside. Which I suppose is pretty much the story of Christ Emmanuel at this time of the year.

Perhaps they could have a quiet word about all this seismic business while they’re in touch.

Merry Christmas and a less shaky New Year!

 *Blinks  Cardboard box sketch-script  Monty Python – Four Yorkshiremen Vid

#Lyall Lukey 17 Dec 2011 My other (bit more serious) blog 


4 Responses to “Cardboard Cathedral: The Full Monty Python?”

  1. 1 arthur pitcher

    With people in the East of Christchurch still without inside toilets since the quakes talk about the Catherdral and it’s future just confirms that Religion and God have had a parting of the ways.
    Where are the leaders that will get their priorities right, I see no sign of them, just self interest and waste.
    God help the people of Christchurch.

  2. 2 Geoff McDonnell

    At long last a sensible blog giving us the opportunity for rational comment on the future of the Cathedral. Bruce Whiteside was right in saying that the Cathedral created an image for Christchurch. However as the blog suggests, perhaps it could be time to change our City’s image and move on. A fitting image would be greater emphasis on the “Garden City” not “The City that shines” as some stupid, naive group of councillors came up with over 10 years ago at a cost of $100,000 to ratepayers.

    As for our Colonial past, we still have the same decisions to make today as did our forebears when they stepped ashore in 1850:
    What do we do now?
    Where do we go from here?
    Like our forebears we should be prepared to make a fresh start and think of the future with faith and optimism. A priority is to give Christchurch a new image and take advantage of the opportunities for improvisation and innovation that will come our way. This means having the courage of our convictions and accepting that cold clinical economics must be the benchmark as we move forward. If this means doing away with parts of our heritage and tradition then so be it. Making a decision about the future of the Cathedral is all part of the process.

    The Cathedral has been deconsecrated. To me that means it has outlived its religious usefulness. Lets look at the cold hard reality.
    The Cathedral existed because of Charity:
    1) Volunteer labour force
    2) Donations from the public
    3) City Council subsidy
    … and while this went on it served 2 purposes:
    1) Created an image for Christchurch
    2) Allowed a select band to use it for various services ……..
    at the expense of allowing a few (Canons Almoner) to shackle Christchurch to the dim dark ages.

    On the other hand, the Christchurch Casino continues to grow in economic importance and as a Social and Cultural asset of Christchurch.
    It exists because of Economic Usefulness
    1) It employs over 500 people at any one time
    2) It provides a service that gives Profit, Hope and Stress relief to thousands of customers. It could be said it actually subsidises Social Welfare.
    3) It actually gives value for money. Look at its repeat business.
    4) It dispenses Charity
    5) It pays various taxes to the Government ….
    and has a Management Structure that is geared to ensuring that the Casino is an asset that helps Christchurch move forward.

    To help us come to a solution to all of this, we should recognise the Cathedral and Cathedral Square for what it gave rise to;
    1) Thugs, druggies, drunks, no hopers and human trash with tattooes and spiders webs on their faces
    2) Allowed dreamers to display crass and meaningless objects e.g that opulent and crass Chalice
    3) Encouraged a group of suspect stall holders which actually cheapened the image of the Square
    4) Created traffic chaos
    5) Became full of Policemen combatting everyday crime which would have made John Robert Godley roll in his grave, He did, his fallen statue is evidence of this.

    Accordingly I would encourage the complete demolition of the cathedral and a grass lawn being put in its place. This should have a fitting monument to the 182 lives lost on February 22nd and be made from the Cathedral masonry.

  1. 1 2012 Overture « Lukey's Learnings
  2. 2 Bomb the Ban? The Cardboard Cathedral « Blugger me

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