Although the Anglicanism has never been New Zealand’s official religion, unlike the Church of England in the United Kingdom, for almost 100 years St Paul’s played a role as New Zealand’s semi-formal ‘national’ church. As a result, royal visits have been a feature of the history of the church.
In 1920 the Prince of Wales (later briefly Edward VIII) attended matins at the church. According to letters he wrote back to his mistress while he was here, he had a completely miserable time in Wellington, and in New Zealand generally. It was in Wellington he wrote: ‘It is a rotten way of seeing a fine country … Returned soldiers & shrieking people & school children are all that I shall remember of my visit.’
The Duke and Duchess of York (later King George VI and the Queen Mother) worshipped at the church during their visit of 1927. This is the visit pictured above. No public announcement of their visit to the church had been made, but even so the church was full and the streets around the church were crowded with spectators. The Prime Minister, many MPs and the Mayor were in attendance. The royal couple spent time after the service talking to those who had attended (note the wheeled beds in the image).
The Duke of Gloucester visited in 1934, for which a new altar frontal was made by Emily Steele.
The visit of Queen Elizabeth to Wellington in January 1954, during her first visit to New Zealand, marked an important stage in the life of both St Paul’s and the new Cathedral. The Queen laid the foundation stone of the new cathedral in Molesworth Street on 13 January 1954 in a large ceremony viewed by thousands of people.
A few days earlier, she and the Duke of Edinburgh had worshipped at St Paul’s at a Sunday service which was intended to provide the Queen with an experience of being part of a ‘typical New Zealand church congregation’. Rather than being a service for VIPs, tickets to the service were restricted almost entirely to parishioners of St Paul’s. The Duke read one of the lessons at the service. A beautiful white altar frontal was sewn for the occasion, which remains at the church (see below). See this post for more information about her visit.
The church was also used as New Zealand’s way to mark royal occasions – in 1901 a memorial service was held for Queen Victoria after her death, and in subsequent year the church celebrated the coronation of her son, Edward.
The church decorated for the memorial service for Queen Victoria
Top image: Outside Old St. Paul’s Cathedral, Wellington, Duke & Duchess of York’s royal tour, 1927. Crown Studios Ltd. Ref: 1/2-203500-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/23179937
For information about the Prince of Wales 1920 visit, see this article by David Colquhon, where the Prince’s quote above comes from. See also Evening Post, 10 May 1920, p.7