The curious story of a church that failed the cathedral test – until now – because of land wars

Alf was fascinated to note that the first new Anglican cathedral in the world for more than 80 years has been consecrated right here in New Zealand.

But mostly he is fascinated by the reasons given for the 165-year-old St Mary’s Church in New Plymouth being denied an honour it ought to have been accorded long, long ago.

Radio NZ reported –

St Mary’s was completed in 1846 and was always meant to become a Cathedral but the plans lapsed as war with Maori consumed the attention of settlers.

TVNZ told a similar story.

The site of St Mary’s was chosen for a cathedral by Bishop Selwyn in the early 1840s but it never happened as St Mary’s became embroiled in the land wars.

But whoa there. The bloody land wars finished some considerable time back, unless Alf missed out on something important during his history lessons.

Did some other factor enter considerations?

TVNZ gives a hint.

Maori subsequently shunned the church because of its link to the British garrison and the land wars.

But that’s hardly a good reason and there’s nothing in the conventions governing these things that require Maori to give up their shunning before a consecration can take place.

Otherwise a whole swathe of wonderful cathedrals around England and other countries would not exist

It’s preposterous.

If Maori opted to shun the church, so be it. They could always flock to Bishop Tamaki”s mob (making very sure they took their eftpos cards with them, of course).

Anyway, Maori fought on both sides of the land wars – didn’t they?

Bishop Sir Paul Reeves seems to be hoping the consecration of the church as a cathedral will re-unite the factions.

“My Maori relatives would remind me that St Mary’s was the place where they stored the ammunition and cannonballs that we used to fire on the Maori people,” says Reeves.

But yesterday, Sir Paul and Britain’s Archbishop of York Dr John Sentanu joined to celebrate the new cathedral and install the new bishop of Taranaki, Phillip Richardson.

Richardson says with St Mary’s becoming a cathedral, it becomes a church for all the people of Taranaki and not just the Anglican community.

Jolly good.

But it looks like there has been a whale of hand-wringing and apologising going on, a church appointment has been made of the sort that could only happen in this country, and there’s more work to be done to mollify those who can’t forget what happened way back in our history.

The country’s first Cathedral kaumatua was installed, and the Bishop of Taranaki Phillip Richardson apologised for the church breaching Maori trust by taking the settlers’ side during the Taranaki wars.

The flags and crests of British regiments that fought in the region still line the stone walls and Bishop Richardson says talks will begin on dealing with the symbols so the Cathedral can be a place for all.

Dealing with them?

What does that bloody well mean?

There’s a discomforting load of cringe about all this. Someone will be demanding the authorities dig up the British dead next, to have them reburied far, far away from the world’s latest Anglican cathedral.

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