Old St. Paul’s Church, situated at Mulgrave Street in Thorndon, Wellington, is one of New Zealand’s oldest churches. Its exterior, although undisputedly attractive, gives the visitor no real expectation of what treasure and magnificence awaits them inside. Constructed entirely of native wood this lovely cathedral is considered one of the best examples of Gothic Revival architecture in the world featuring stained glass, wooden carvings and rich furnishings.
Once you step through the door of this tranquil sanctuary you will be greeted by the sight of soaring arches and exposed roofing beams in rimu and kauri, the colour of which appear to make the cathedral’s interior glow. The effect is enhanced by the stunning stained glass windows which adorn the building. The shapes, feeling and colour all make it easy to see why Old St Paul’s has been likened to a stripped and inverted hull of an old galleon.
This church was originally opened to the public in 1866 but replaced as the city’s principle cathedral in 1964 at which time its future seemed a little shrouded in doubt. Had steps not been taken by a dedicated few it is likely the building would have been demolished. However, it managed to evade the bulldozers and was saved and restored. Old St Paul’s may no longer be an official parish church but it remains consecrated nonetheless.
Now managed by Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga, entry to this beautiful building is free although donations are encouraged and of course serve the purpose of helping to preserve and mange this historically significant building. The ‘Read this Building’ exhibition inside is designed to help visitors interpret the cathedral’s story and history through its actual structure and materials of wood and glass. Memorial plaques, which include dedications to those who fought and fell in WWI as well as Wellington historian J. C. Beaglehole who was instrumental in saving the cathedral from demolition, can be found on the walls and columns of the interior. Various other memorial items and features including naval flags each contribute their chapter to the cathedral’s fascinating story.
Although Old St Paul’s remains a place of spiritual significance to some it also serves as a community and celebration hub with everything from prize-givings to fashion shows taking place here. Weddings and parties are especially popular but anyone passing by might also hear the sounds of recitals, classical concerts or the overspill of music from a jazz night floating through the doors.
Hourly guided tours are available for those looking to delve a little deeper than the surface details.
Wellington’s historic church – Old St Paul’s
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