Our fascination with architecture usually leads us to a church wherever we travel. This was no exception in Wellington. After a quick lunch at Subway, we made our way down to Old St. Paul’s. This former cathedral church is called "old" to distinguish it from the new Anglican church, New St. Paul’s. Old St. Paul’s is no longer a parish church, but since it is still consecrated, it is often used for prayer, meditation, weddings and other services.
The foundation was laid in 1865, one year after Wellington became New Zealand's capital, and then consecrated a year later. It is designed in the Early English Gothic style by Reverend Frederick Thatcher, vicar of the parish from 1861-1864. The church was built using native timbers—rimu, totara, matai and kauri. New Zealand had a lack of stone (unlike England) and used mostly wood for buildings. Wood is also best used in this area due to small earthquakes which can happen from time to time in the area. Major earthquakes occurred in 1848 and 1855.
The south transept was added after the church was built—due to the wind (it is known as the windy city!) The wind and earthquakes also limited the height of the spire.
Due to a large and growing congregation, a new, larger cathedral was begun in 1954 and the decision was made to demolish this church. After twelve years of debates over this issue the church was finally saved by the Crown . The Crown purchased the church and it went through restoration and it is now managed by NZ Historic Places Trust.
Several stained glass windows adorn the church. There is a guide book at the church to guide you through the various windows and their meanings. The organ is very new, only being installed in 1977. The original organ was installed in 1877 but it moved over to the new cathedral in 1964.
The interior of the church glowed from inside with all of the beautiful wood and the sunlight shining in through the stained glass windows. The white wooden clapboard exterior of the church is no indication of what you will see inside.
A collection of flags can be seen hanging in the middle of the church. Two NZ flags: White Ensign of the Royal Navy and the Red Ensign of the NZ Merchant Navy. Two US flags: the US flag with 48 stars and the Second Division Marine Corps. There were military personnel stationed here in WWII and the flags were presented when the left NZ. Many of these service people have made pilgrimages back to Old St. Paul’s many times since the war.
The peal of bells was installed in 1867 and, along with the organ, these were moved to the new cathedral before 1966. The present peal of five bells was installed in 1979. Unusual to bell ringing, the bells are rung from the ground level rather then from the bell tower since the tower is so short.
We had a nice visit with Shirley Nichols, a volunteer guide at the church. A very pleasant and helpful lady, she told us all about the church, its construction, what it is made of and why, etc. We also heard tales of her Scottish father and spending time in London and Scotland as a girl and about the US flag and military as mentioned above. It made for an enjoyable visit.
The church is open 10am to 5pm every day. Close Good Friday and Christmas Day and whenever there happens to be hosting a wedding or funeral.