Sacred Heart Cathedral, Wellington

Sacred Heart Cathedral
Metropolitan Cathedral of the Sacred Heart and St Mary his Mother

Wellington, Hill St
41°16′36″S 174°46′34″E / 41.2766°S 174.7762°E / -41.2766; 174.7762
Location Thorndon, Wellington Central City
Country New Zealand
Denomination Catholic
Website Sacred Heart Cathedral
Former name(s) St Mary's Cathedral
Founded 1851, 1901
Founder(s) Philippe Viard, 1st Bishop of Wellington (St Mary's Cathedral, 1851); Francis Redwood, 2nd Bishop and 1st Archbishop of Wellington (Sacred Heart Cathedral, 1901)
Dedication 1851, 1901
Consecrated 18 March 1984[1]
Heritage designation Category I (2 April 1985)
Architect(s) Francis Petre
Architectural type Palladian Revival
Completed 1901
Parish Sacred Heart Cathedral Parish
Archdiocese Wellington
Archbishop John Atcherley Cardinal Dew, 6th Archbishop of Wellington (2005–present)
Priest in charge Fr James Lyons (Cathedral Administrator and Parish Priest)
Director of music Mr Michael Fletcher
Parish administrator Mr Frank Doherty

The Metropolitan Cathedral of the Sacred Heart and of Saint Mary His Mother, better known as Sacred Heart Cathedral, is a Roman Catholic cathedral on Hill Street, Wellington, New Zealand. It is the parish church of the Thorndon Catholic parish (founded 1850) and the Cathedral of the Archbishop of Wellington. The New Zealand Parliament is a close neighbour of the Cathedral. However, the Thorndon Catholic parish predates that institution. The Cathedral is part of a Catholic precinct which includes St Mary's College, Sacred Heart Cathedral School, St Mary's Convent – the motherhouse of the Sisters of Mercy in Wellington, the Catholic Centre in which Catholic administration is located, and Viard House which is both the Cathedral parish Presbytery and the residence of the Archbishop.

The church was popularly known as "the Basilica", because of its palladian architectural style.[2] It was designated as the Cathedral of Wellington in 1984 after earthquake strengthening and the addition of the Blessed Sacrament chapel, foyer, sacristy, courtyard, hall (called Connolly Hall) and piazza. The parish of Thorndon was administered by the Society of Mary or Marist fathers for eighty-five years until 1935,[3] although secular or diocesan clergy were also stationed there.[4]

Thorndon has always been the residence of the Archbishops of Wellington except for the period 1935–1954 when Archbishop O'Shea continued to live at Patterson St, Mt Victoria which was his address as coadjutor. The founder of the see, Bishop Viard, and the first two Archbishops, Redwood and O'Shea, were also members of the Society of Mary. Since 1954 all the Archbishops and the resident clergy of the Cathedral have been secular clergy.[3]


The normal Mass times are:

Confessions: before 12.10 pm weekday Masses or by arrangement.[5]


Sacred Heart Cathedral: interior (c. 2005) with baptismal font in cross-aisle (approximate site of tomb of Bishop Viard is to the left of the font); Painting and emblem of the Sacred Heart in the Sanctuary.


Sacred Heart Cathedral has a strong music tradition.[6] There are two instrumental (piano, guitars, organ) and vocal ensembles to lead congregational hymn-singing for at least one Sunday Mass each week.[7]

There are two traditional choirs. The Cathedral choir is made up of a dedicated group of trained singers. This choir sings on most Sundays at the Cathedral at the 10.30am Mass as well as at concerts and special services. While firmly based on Gregorian chant, the choir sings (accompanied by one of the organs or the Cathedral Orchestra when that is appropriate) a wide repertoire ranging from Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, Tomás Luis de Victoria, Thomas Tallis and William Byrd to George Frideric Handel, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Franz Schubert, Samuel Sebastian Wesley, Anton Bruckner, Gabriel Fauré, Herbert Howells, Maurice Duruflé, Ildebrando Pizzetti, Morten Lauridsen, James MacMillan, Douglas Mews, Eric Whitacre, Ola Gjeilo and many other composers including occasional commissioned contemporary works.[7]

The boys' choir is made up of about 15 boys from the neighbouring Sacred Heart Cathedral School. Each boy receives a scholarship which pays for weekly individual vocal tuition and theory lessons. The boys sing occasional Choral Mass during school term.[7]

The Cathedral Grand Organ is situated in the choir loft and the console in the whispering gallery. It was designed and built by Arthur Hobday in 1905 and has been revised and enlarged since with the changing needs of the cathedral.[6]

Sacred Heart Cathedral is also a well-used concert venue (500 people can be seated[8]) for outside orchestras and performance groups because of the building's size and its fine "warm" acoustics.[9]


The Cathedral choir plays a prominent role in liturgical ceremonies in the Cathedral.[6] Its role in two important state funerals and an episcopal anniversary was of particular note.

Sacred Heart Cathedral: interior, about 1901, showing the pre-Vatican II ordering.

Sir Joseph Ward, the 17th Prime Minister of New Zealand, died in July 1930.[10] Ward had prayed daily in the Basilica (or its predecessor, St Mary's Cathedral – see below) for all of his thirty-seven years as a member of the New Zealand Parliament. The requiem mass was celebrated on 9 July by Bishop O'Shea (then Coadjutor Archbishop of Wellington), and Archbishop Redwood, the 1st Archbishop of Wellington, delivered the panagyric. In the words of the NZ Herald, "unbent beneath the weight of his 91 years ... in his scarlet vestment, [Archbishop Redwood] was a commanding and impressive figure." After the Mass, Ward's casket lay in the Basilica where a steady stream of people came and went during the day. It was then transferred across the road to Parliament Buildings by his colleagues and family before being transported to Bluff where the interment took place.[10]

Sacred Heart Cathedral: south aisle and window; to the right, a station of the cross with a "mater dolorosa" sculpture below it.

Michael Joseph Savage, the 23rd, and 1st Labour, Prime Minister of New Zealand, died on 27 March 1940.[11] His funeral gave the Cathedral choir a chance to achieve national recognition, as it was broadcast nationally. The organist was Miss Josephine Mulligan whose contributions included Frédéric Chopin's Marche Funebre at the commencement.[12] The choir consisted of male voices conducted by Rev Father FH Walsh. The Dominion thought that "it was appropriate because of the interest of the late Prime Minister in young people that boys figured largely in the singing of the Mass" which was entirely sung in plain song.[13] The crowd was so great in the church – even the organist needed an official invitation – that the boys in the choir were forced to sing from the chancel galleries high above the altar.[14] The solemn requiem was celebrated by Archbishop O'Shea who in his sermon preached that Savage's life "was a rebuke to all who would seek to advance their interests, whether personal or class, at the expense of social amity and concord" and that Savage would "not leave a single enemy among decent men."[15] Savage's remains were transported to Auckland in a rail journey much interrupted by crowds of mourners along the way.[14] After resting briefly in St Patrick's Cathedral, he was buried at Bastion Point where the Savage Memorial was eventually constructed.[16]

Another great choir occasion occurred earlier, in 1934, for the 60th episcopal anniversary of Archbishop Redwood himself, when "the special music of the Mass was rendered by the Basilica choir of fifty voices under the conductorship of Miss Eileen Dennehy. Miss Josephine Mulligan was at the organ. The music of the Mass was as follows: 'Ecce Sacerdos' (Elgar), Edouard Silas' Mass in C, 'O Sacrum Convivium', and 'Jubilate Deo' ... the plain song was sung by the male voices of the choir, under the baton of Rev. Father Feehly."[17]


The first church to be built on the Hill Street site was the wooden, neo-Gothic, St Mary's Cathedral, blessed and opened in 1851.[18] It was gutted by fire on 28 November 1898, during repainting. It was decided that a new cathedral should be erected near Mt Victoria and a parish church built on the site of the old cathedral.[19]

Maison Carrée, Nimes, front view

However, the new church, called the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, was intended as a substantial building. Its foundation stone was laid in 1899 and the building blessed and opened two years later. The money to build Sacred Heart was partly taken from the fund for the new cathedral. The new cathedral was never actually built. In 1984 the Basilica was elevated to the status of a cathedral and on 18 March 1984, the Cathedral was consecrated by Cardinal Thomas Williams, the fifth Archbishop of Wellington. In 1985, the building was listed as a Category 1 Historic Place.[20]

Sacred Heart Cathedral, Wellington, 1910
The Cathedral in 2015.
Sacred Heart Cathedral: a Portico Column with Ionic Capital and Entablature.

The Cathedral is largely built of Oamaru limestone with brick facings. Designed by architect Francis Petre, with an axis of east-west rather than the west-east of its predecessor, Sacred Heart was built on a classical basilican plan. However, its Portico of ionic columns of Oamaru stone, whose pedestals rest on elongated plinths, and a high pediment closely reflect those of a Roman or Greek temple, and, in that respect, its most obvious model is the Maison Carrée, Nimes, which has full-length, Corinthian, columns. The building is within the classical proportions and forms a Parallelogram (accommodating a clerestory with rows of arch-topped windows) of about 42 metres by 19 metres by a height of 18 metres. The main entrance is reached by means of a flight of seven steps. Out of the Portico are three pairs of folding doors. The main pair in the centre give entrance directly to the church (originally, through a vestibule).[21] The Frieze of the Cathedral pediment carries the Latin inscription in gold letters: S.S. Cordi Jesu Dedicatum. A.D. MCMI which may be translated as "Dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. A.D. 1901."

The interior features a main aisle and two side aisles, a large arcaded nave and a large arch forming the entrance to the sanctuary.[20] Walls are built in a succession of arches surmounted by a cornice of stone which forms part of the roof.[21] Series of stone pilasters are ranged against the walls and on the sides of piers. The pilasters in the sanctuary form, with two free-standing columns supporting the cornice, a pleasing assemblage. Their capitals all continue the ionic theme of the portico. To strengthen the building against earthquakes, concrete piers and steel beams were incorporated in the fabric of the building in 1983. The Blessed Sacrament chapel, the foyer entrance and the adjoining Connolly Hall were added to the Cathedral in 1984, They are mainly constructed in concrete.[22] At the same time a large square or piazza was constructed at the east end of the Cathedral and this is used for processions and gathering space, especially on Palm Sunday, during Holy Week and at Easter for the Service of the light and the candle-lit procession before the Easter Vigil Mass. For a period Sacred Heart looked even more palladian when it had twin bell towers topped with domes.[23] These towers (not designed by Francis Petre[24]) were incorporated in the original design but were removed in 1942, following an earthquake.[3]


Sacred Heart

The Sanctuary is dominated by a large painting of the Sacred Heart of Jesus by Enrico Refto above the Cathedra of the Archbishop. At the top of the westernmost arch of the Cathedral, above the Sanctuary is a large, sculpted, Oamaru stone emblem of the Sacred Heart.[25]


The beautiful and ample pulpit just outside the sanctuary beside the northern aisle is still in use. It was installed in 1908 to commemorate the first parish priest of the new Basilica, Father W J Lewis SM, who died in 1907. He had been parish priest when the Basilica was being built. The pulpit was paid for by his fellow priests and records their sorrow at his demise. There was a memorial plaque which listed the details of Father Lewis' life on the adjoining pillar.

Latin memorial tablet for Bishop Viard originally placed in St Mary's Cathedral. Translation:Sacred to the Memory Philippe Viard Born Lyons 11 October 1809 Professed Society of Mary 19 May 1839 Consecrated Bishop of Orthosia & Coadjutor to the Vicar Apostolic Western Oceania 7 February 1845 Appointed Apostolic Administrator Diocese of Wellington 20 June 1848 Proclaimed First Bishop of Wellington 3 June 1860 Died Wellington 2 June 1872 His name is held in Benediction

This was removed to make way for one of the memorial crosses which signify the consecration of the church in 1984. The plaque may now be found at the top of the southern aisle of the Cathedral . The names of all the Bishops and Archbishops in Wellington have recently been inscribed on the panels of the pulpit although the original dedication by the priests to the memory of Father Lewis remains recorded at the base of the structure.[26]

Viard memorial

On a pier beside the South Aisle are three memorial tablets (one in English and two in Latin) relating to Bishop Viard, the first Bishop of Wellington, who died in 1872 and is buried in the Cathedral.[22] He was originally buried in the old St Mary's Cathedral in a brick vault at the foot of Our Lady's Altar. His tomb in the present Cathedral is approximately on the Hill St side of the baptismal font at the cross-aisle (see photograph above).[27] Four years later, the first parish priest of Thorndon, Father Jean Baptist Petitjean, who had arrived in Wellington with Bishop Viard in 1850, died in front of the same altar at the tomb of his bishop. Father Petitjean is also commemorated in Sacred Heart.[28][29]


Inside the Cathedral at the entrance are small statues of the Four Evangelists. These originally stood under the first High Altar of the present cathedral. Near the sanctuary is a statue of St Brigid, patron of St Brigid's Church, Wadestown, which was closed in 2007. Behind the cathedra in the sanctuary is a bronze and enamelled Processional Cross designed and made by Graham Stewart for the visit of Pope John Paul II to Wellington in 1986. The sanctuary contains some important mosaics. Beneath the Stations of the Cross, is a set of fourteen bronzes, Mater Dolorosa, designed by Wellington sculptor, Eve Black, depicting Mary's sorrow as she witnessed her son's journey to the Cross and Grave.[22]


The Blessed Sacrament Chapel, built to the north, at right angles to the main axis of the building, can accommodate about 60 worshippers. The chapel houses five examples of fine English Victorian stained glass from the studios of the Atkinson Brothers. The central window is decorated with abstract designs. The other windows are of saints, two on each side. The saints are (on the left) Patrick and John and (on the right) James and Peter. The windows " ... are a unique collection as no other building in the world contains more than two from these same workshops."[22] The modern glass above the chapel doors was designed and fabricated by Graham Stewart of Christchurch. There is also a fine icon of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and St Mary his mother by contemporary iconographer, Michael Galovic (installed in 2007).[30]

Sacred Heart Cathedral: Statue of Blessed Virgin Mary in the cloister courtyard; windows of Blessed Sacrament Chapel .

In the west wall of the chapel is a small space or ambry where the holy oils (called Chrism) are kept. The ambry is backed by a panel with a gold sculptured image of Christ on it. This panel was a door, once part of the tabernacle of the High Altar of old St Mary's Cathedral.[22] The front of the ambry has a wide red and yellow, glass, mosaic border around the glassed-in space where can be seen the three glass, amphora-like, Chrismaria containing the holy oils. These vessels and their contents are bathed in a somber green light.[30]


In the cloister courtyard beside the foyer entrance of the Cathedral stands the two-metre, cast-iron statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary, made in France ("with heavy Gilt" ) that was lodged, in honour of the Immaculate Conception, on 8 September 1867 high up on the east side of the tower of the original cathedral, St Mary's Cathedral, where it faced the harbour and its gilding reflected "the first rays of the rising sun."[31] The statue was placed in the tower in memory of the consecration of the diocese in 1855[32] to the Immaculate Conception, which Bishop Viard had carried out, after he had proclaimed the newly pronounced dogma, as a specific remedy against any recurrence of the series of severe earthquakes felt in the province of Wellington over several months in that year.[33]

Steps to the piazza and entrance of Sacred Heart Cathedral (carved pou above the cross); Catholic Centre (including the office of the Archbishop of Wellington) at the rear.

The statue fell some 80 feet during the 1898 fire, crashing down from the tower. However it was later salvaged with minor damage.[34] Some eyewitnesses attested that when the Cathedral tower fell, the statue hung momentarily in mid air before descending slowly and gracefully and in an upright position to the ground where it landed completely undamaged.[28][35] In 1984 the statue of Mary, now painted white except for the crown and girdle, was placed in the cloister courtyard to remain "the sign and warrant of her protection of the city."[36]


Amongst the treasures of the Cathedral are a kohatu whakairo (thinking stone – a carved rock of Oamaru stone) situated inside the Cathedral entrance and a pou (a carved wooden pole) in the piazza in front of the Cathedral. The taonga were gifts from Catholic Māori of the Archdiocese and were installed in 1989.[37] They were carved by Porirua master carver Lou Kereopa.[22]

See also


  1. Dan Kelly, p. 155.
  2. In Roman Catholic ecclesiastical terms, Sacred Heart Cathedral is not a Minor basilica. See: List of minor basilicas in the world.
  3. 1 2 3 Charles Fearnley, p. 149
  4. Dan Kelly, p. 162.
  5. "Service times", Sacred Heart Cathedral (Retrieved 26 November 2014)
  6. 1 2 3 "Music at the Cathedral", Sacred Heart Cathedral (Retrieved 26 November 2014)
  7. 1 2 3 Programme Notes, Noel: A concert of Advent and Christmas music, Sacred Heart Cathedral, Wellington, 5 December 2012.
  8. "Ministries", Sacred Heart Cathedral (Retrieved 26 November 2014)
  9. John Button, Dominion-Post, 6 October 2014 (Retrieved 23 November 2014)
  10. 1 2 Michael Bassett, Sir Joseph Ward: A political biography, Auckland University Press, 1993, pp. 283 and 284.
  11. Barry Gustafson, From the Cradle to the Grave: A biography of Michael Joseph Savage, Reed Methuen, Auckland, 1986, p. 271.
  12. "State Obesquies for Prime Minister", The Weekly News, 4 April 1940.
  13. "Basilica Male Voice Choir under Father F H Walsh DD", The Dominion, 29 March 1940.
  14. 1 2 Dan Kelly, pp. 140 and 141.
  15. Andrea O'Neil, "Thousands mourn state 'father'", The Dominion Post, 22 September 2015, p. A4.
  16. Earnest Simmons, The Story of St Patrick's, Catholic Diocese of Auckland(?), Auckland, 1985, p. 20.
  17. "Pictorial Record & Narrative of the Episcopal Jubilee" Catholic News, Wellington, May 1934, quoted by Dan Kelly, p. 129
  18. Charles Fearnley, pp. 145–148.
  19. Dan Kelly, pp. 75–78.
  20. 1 2 New Zealand Historic Places Trust, Sacred Heart Cathedral, Wellington (Retrieved 17 August 2014)
  21. 1 2 Dan Kelly, p. 83, quoting The Tablet, 7 February 1901.
  22. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Metropolitan Cathedral of the Sacred Heart and St Mary His Mother, Hill St, Thorndon, Wellington: A Short Guide, Sacred Heart Cathedral Parish, Thorndon, 2011(?)
  23. Te Ara: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand: Photograph of the Cathedral showing bell towers. (Retrieved 23 November 2014)
  24. Dan Kelly, p. 141.
  25. Dan Kelly, p. 148.
  26. Dan Kelly, p. 95.
  27. Dan Kelly, P. 23.
  28. 1 2 Charles Fearnley, P. 148.
  29. "Catholic pioneers: Fr Jean-Baptiste Petitjean", Catholic Archdiocese of Wellington (Retrieved 23 November 2014)
  30. 1 2 "Sacred Heart Cathedral: An oasis of peace open daily", Sacred Heart Parish, 2012.
  31. Dan Kelly, pp. 18 and 19.
  32. Charles Fearnley, p. 146.
  33. Dan Kelly, p. 13.
  34. O'Meeghan, pp. 172–175.
  35. see: Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament, Christchurch describing a similar event in Christchurch 112 years later.
  36. O'Meeghan, p. 177
  37. "Unique gift to cathedral", Zealandia, 22 January 1989, p. 1.


  • Charles Fearnley, "The Basilica of the Sacred Heart, Catholic: Hill St", in Early Wellington Churches, Millwood Press, Wellington, 1977, pp. 145–149.
  • Dan Kelly, On Golders Hill: A History of the Thorndon Parish, Daniel Kelly/Parish of the Metropolitan Cathedral of the Sacred Heart and of Saint Mary His Mother, Wellington, 2001.
  • Michael O'Meeghan SM, Steadfast in hope: The Story of the Catholic Archdiocese of Wellington 1850–2000, Dunmore Press, Wellington, 2003.

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