Damage to ChristChurch’s landmarks, seen at top, ChristChurch Cathedral, at bottom the Catholic Cathedral (images from itspaulkelly on Flickr, NYTimes.com, papastronsay.blogspot.com, wikipedia.org)

An earthquake in ChristChurch, New Zealand this Tuesday February 22 has damaged the city’s iconic works of architecture, including the Christchurch Cathedral and the Catholic Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament. At least 65 people have been killed by the earthquake, though the number is expected to rise.

Christchurch Cathedral, begun in 1864 and completed in 1904, is an iconic building for the city. Designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott, the structure’s spire rises to 63 meters and was open to the public as a viewing platform for the entire city. The spire has been damaged in four previous earthquakes, including one in 2010. This most recent disaster left the spire entirely destroyed. Photographs show that the tower collapsed roughly at the height of the roofline of the main cathedral’s nave.

ChristChurch cathedral before the 2011 earthquake (image from Flickr user itspaulkelly)

The Catholic Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament, also known as Christchurch Basilica, was also catastrophically damaged in the earthquake. Photographs show that the two towers on either side of the narthex have collapsed, with particular damage to the domes on top of the structures. Thankfully the dome over the crossing appears safe. Blog Papastronsay has more photos of the damage. Designed by Francis Petre, the cathedral is said to be the most significant work of the architect, and the best work of Rennaissance-style architecture in New Zealand.

The Catholic Cathedral is famed for being the subject of a remark by Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw, who compared the building to the work of the Italian Renaissance architect Filippo Brunelleschi. Completed in 1905, the structure has also been damaged in previous earthquakes, though never as severely as this. Reports also note destruction in the interior of the building.

Video footage and photos are being published, including this MSNBC news video on the impact of the earthquake, seen embedded below. TV News New Zealand has harrowing raw footage of the damage as well.

Below, find some other resources on the February 22 2011 earthquakes in Christchurch, New Zealand, as well as the damage to the city’s architectural landmarks.

  • The New York Times has a report on the earthquake, as well as a photo essay including photos of Christchurch Cathedral.
  • Cathnews has this report on the cathedral damage, including George Bernard Shaw’s remark.
  • The BBC live-blogged the disaster, the recording is now available on their website. Also find a summary report of the damage and death tolls, as well as the city’s response.
  • Website Realestateradiousa has an aggregation of video from the earthquake, including footage of previous earthquakes in New Zealand.
  • Blog Papastronsay documents damage to the Catholic Cathedral in detail.

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UPDATE: We discover the following about the Anglican Cathedral of Christchurch in yesterday’s Brisbane Times:

The cathedral in the centre of the city is believed to have largely collapsed.

[The dean of the Cathedral] Dean Beck said they had tried to get whoever they could out of the cathedral, but it was now in the hands of emergency services.

“It doesn’t look good,” he told stuff.co.nz, adding he had “no idea” how many people were inside.

Also, about the decoration of the Cathedral:

Plans for the cathedral were drawn up by English Gothic designer George Gilbert Scott, but influential local architect Benjamin Mountfort supervised the work.

Although the building links into the European cathedral tradition, it features New Zealand influences.

Ceiling timbers of matai and totara came from Banks Peninsula and stone was obtained from nearby quarries.

Artwork on the walls express the Maori, Polynesian and Pakeha culture, with New Zealand flora and fauna depicted in stained glass and in carvings.


An editorial in the New Zealand Herald offers this possibility for hope:

The fall of the cathedral spire, the city’s symbol, is a blow to the visible heart of Christchurch but that loss will be temporary. The restoration of the spire can become a focus for the city’s spirit.

Kyle Chayka was senior editor at Hyperallergic. He is a cultural critic based in Brooklyn and has contributed to publications including ARTINFO, ARTnews, Modern Painters, LA Weekly, Kill Screen, Creators...

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