When St Paul’s was consecrated in 1866, it was known as a pro-cathedral (which means a parish church which is also used as a cathedral). The intention was that the church would only temporarily be a cathedral – temporary nature of the arrangement was reflected in the foundation stone of 1865 – the text reads that the church ‘was intended to serve for a time as the cathedral of the diocese’. In the end, however, it held that role for 98 years.

At the time St Paul’s was built, the idea of a pro-cathedral was obviously not well-known.  For example, when Bishop Abraham made a speech just after the opening of the church, he could refer his listeners to the precedent of only one Anglican pro-cathderal – which was in the Isle of Man (and now known as the ‘Cathedral Isle of Man’).

Following from St Paul’s, the idea of a pro-cathedral became more common in New Zealand; for example St Mary’s in New Plymouth was also a pro-cathedral for many decades (and now called a the Cathedral Church of St Mary’s).  At present in Christchurch, St Mary’s Catholic Church is acting as a pro-cathedral, as a result of the damage to the Catholic cathedral, the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament, which was destroyed in the 2011 Christchurch Earthquake.

During my research I have found lots of different names for the church:

  • In the Cathedral Agreement for St Paul’s, it was called a ‘quasi-Cathedral’.
  • In the 1896 annual report for the church it was called ‘the parish of St Paul’s, Thorndon’;
  • in 1913 the report was headed as being for the ‘parish of St Paul’s Pro-Cathedral’. This term became popular in around the 1890s and lasted until the 1920s-1930s.
  • In 1925, in the Diocesan’s Cathedral Chapter Act, when leaders of the church had set their hearts on a new Cathedral, it was described as ‘The Cathedral Church of St Paul until such time as the Diocesan Cathedral has been established’; accordingly after that the annual reports described it as the ‘the Cathedral Church of St Paul’.
  • In 1959 Minor Canon Pirani worded it as: ‘Today’s St Paul’s is a great Parish Church Cathedral – the Mother Church of the Diocese and the Parish Church of the Diocese’.
  • And since the closure of the church for religious services in 1964, and the move of the congregation to the new Cathedral, of course, it has become known as Old St Paul’s.