Old St Paul’s was consecrated (opened as a place of religious worship) on 6 June 1866, by Bishop Charles Abraham, the first Bishop of Wellington. Every year, the anniversary is marked with a consecration service which uses the same hymns and psalms that was used on that day, 150 years ago.
The Consecration Service
The opening of the church was advertised for a few weeks before, when the members of the Anglican church and the public generally were invited to attend.
The Governor of New Zealand, George Grey, arrived at the church 10am, and then as one of the local newspaper reported ‘‘crowds of citizens from Thorndon, Lambton and Te Aro hastened to the church’. Such was the interest on the day that long before the service was due to begin, ‘every available seat was occupied by an earnest and highly respectable congregation’.
Then at 11am the first Bishop of Wellington, Bishop Abraham, who had done so much to push the Thorndon parishioners to build this new church (to replace the decrepit first St Paul’s), and his clergy, came to the doors to the church, to be met by the churchwardens and other members of the congregation. He then moved up the body of the church to the communion table, as the choir made up of ‘the best singers in town’ and the harmonium was played, and he signed the form of consecration.
A communion service then followed, led by the new vicar of St Paul’s, Rev Patrick Hay Maxwell. Unfortunately, Frederick Thatcher, who was both the architect of the church, and until recently the vicar of St Paul’s, was not present at this service, as by this point he had become so ill he had left his position.
We are fortunate that the sermon that the Bishop gave at this first service was printed in the Wellington Independent in full. His sermon discussed Psalm 45 v14, which is about the King’s daughter, whose chief glory was her inner holiness, but who was also clothed in wrought gold; the Bishop connected this story to the beauty of the new church. In the design of St Paul’s, he said:
we have desired to make the clothing of wrought gold, to devote to the service of God the best fruits of skill and art we could produce.
Bishop Abraham paid credit to Frederick Thatcher’s and the importance of his profession as a priest as well as an architect, and said that the church was:
as much the result and product of his faithful ministration as of his designing skill.
He also referred to church’s free seats (in other words, the pews that would be remain free, rather than being reserved for only those who could pay for their own pew). Having these free seats, the Bishops said, will lead to moral and spiritual improvements in the city of Wellington:
as there will be more room for our parishioners, and the poor may have the gospel preached to them.
As well as the newspaper reports about the service, we are also lucky to have a letter written by the Bishop’s wife, Caroline, recording her feelings about the day which you can see here.
The Consecration Brass
The large consecration plaque (as pictured above) near the door of the church records in Latin the day of the consecration, and who was present, and that the church ‘serves the needs of both diocese and parish’. As it turned out, of course, the church remained both a parish church and a cathedral for the next 98 years.
An interesting VIP at this service
Bishop Ditlev Monrad was once of those who attended this service. Moran was once the Danish Prime Minister and a Bishop of the Lutheran church, but had become disillusioned with life in Denmark and decided to emigrate to New Zealand, with a small group of young Danes and his family. He arrived in 1866, arriving, just by coincidence, in time to attend the consercation at St Paul’s.
He and his group settled in the Manawatu, where they successfully cleared a large section of bush. Such was their success that they convinced the New Zealand government that Scandinavians would be good settlers for the country, which led directly to the active recruitment of Scandinavian settlers, and to the Scandinavian towns of Norsewood and Dannevirke.
Monrad himself didn’t stay in New Zealand – but he made one more significant contribution to New Zealand: before he left, he donated to New Zealand his enormous art collection, now at Te Papa, including a large collection of Rembrandt etchings and many other significant works.
Images: main image, consecration plaque, Elizabeth Cox. Bishop Monrad image: Ref: 1/1-018550-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22718531. Sources include Wellington Independent, 7 June 1866, p.5 and Evening Post, 6 June 1866, p.2