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Trinity Cathedral, Auckland, New Zealand
Trinity Cathedral, Auckland, New Zealand.
Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia, Diocese
: It is a true oddity. The brick east end and transepts are
very austere versions of England's Guildford
Cathedral (itself hardly an opulent building). The design
is the result of an early-20th century competition, the execution
of which was then scuppered by the outbreak of World War II.
The design was reduced in size by 50 per cent and lost its planned
tower. Even then the diocese couldn't afford to finish the nave.
It wasn't until 1994 that a nave was built, totally modern in
design and vaguely based on Polynesian architecture with very
flamboyant stained glass. The building thus looks like the bastard
child of Guildford Cathedral and a tent. Were the Anglican Communion
to hold a competition for the weirdest cathedral, this one would
It runs the typical range of Anglican cathedral services with
morning prayer, eucharists, Prayer Book choral evensong, and
weekly services. Some of these feature choirs of boys, girls
and men. Within the cathedral is the Marsden Chapel (where this
evening's service was held) in memory of Samuel
Marsden, known in Australia as the flogging parson, but
who has a more positive reputation in New Zealand as the nation's
apostle, for it was he who conducted the first Christian service
on New Zealand soil. The cathedral is currently looking for
a new dean and the diocese has just gained a new bishop.
Auckland, New Zealand's largest commercial centre, lies on the
North Island on a narrow isthmus. Thus, the city has two harbours
on separate major bodies of water. It straddles a volcanic field
whose volcanoes (all extinct, although the field itself is merely
dormant) consist of cones (mostly quarried away), lakes, lagoons,
islands and depressions. The city enjoys a mild climate. The
cathedral is on the edge of the
Auckland Domain, a large park, and is some way from the
centre of Auckland. Nearby is the huge War Memorial Museum (a
vastly more impressive building than the cathedral), the Winter
Garden and Fernery, and many trendy shops and restaurants in
the gentrified streets.
The Revd Deacon Sarah Stevens.
The date & time:
11 April 2010, 5.00pm.
What was the name of the service?
How full was the building?
The small Marsden Chapel was full with 22 people, six of whom
made up this Mystery Worshipper's party! I fear that without
us the crowd would have seemed a bit more sparse. There was,
however, even in this small group a range of ages and ethnicities.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
We were given the cathedral newsletter by a sideswoman and found
our own seats.
Was your pew comfortable?
Fine, just a plain bench.
How would you describe the pre-service
Delightful, as I could hear the cicadas chirping outside. The
inside was totally quiet and the light in the chapel was dim.
What were the exact opening words of the
"Welcome to Night Prayer."
What books did the congregation use during the
The New Zealand Prayer Book. Some of the service was
read out in the Maori language.
What musical instruments were played?
None. The cathedral has a mighty organ, but this was a said
Did anything distract you?
I distracted myself. I'd not seen the New Zealand Prayer
Book before, and at times when I should have been paying
more attention, I was leafing through it, reading its preface
and comparing to the Prayer Book for Australia. Had
I looked around the cathedral before the service rather than
after, I couldn’t have but been distracted by the most hideous
cathedral furnishings I've ever seen (and I've been to Chichester
Cathedral). Hanging from the nave ceiling is a large red orchid-like
object, a big, bulbous round thing that can be lowered or raised
to assist with acoustics in the nave. So useful, but repulsive.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or
Traditional, restrained cathedral worship. The deacon was vested
in cassock, surplice and scarf. There were no genuflections
and, apart from standing and sitting at the appropriate moments,
no real ceremony at all.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
Which part of the service
was like being in heaven?
Deacon Stevens was clearly profoundly religious. The service
was conducted with a great intensity, but it was a quiet intensity
that drew one in. I was greatly impressed by the strength of
her faith and the joy in this faith that she communicated to
us. She clearly has pure thoughts every minute of the day.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
It was hard to be in the other place with so religious an officiant.
However, looking around, one constantly saw a compromised architectural
scheme, the failure of the church to build with faith and vision,
and the truly vulgar components of the failed design. There
is also a glaring error in one of the stained glass windows.
"Ego sum" (as in "I am the resurrection and the life") ended
up as "Ergo sum" (as in "I think, therefore I am").
The nearby University of Auckland has a classics department,
and I was told that the cathedral regularly receives complaints
about this gaffe from good Latinists. However, my proposed solution
of bringing in an iconoclastic mob to smash the offending window
was rejected by other worshippers.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Along with my entourage, I went off to explore the cathedral
and marvel at its weirdness. We were especially amused by the
joyously tasteless conjunction of the gothic crossing with the
modern nave, where no attempt has been made to harmonise the
two halves of the building.
How would you describe the after-service
Nothing so tedious as coffee. The exceptionally kind deacon
offered to show us the historic St
Mary's Church, which is in the cathedral precinct (having
been moved there in 1892 from across the road and rotated 90
degrees!). That church is as beautiful as the cathedral is peculiar.
It is a 19th century church built with ancient and very aromatic
timbers. The deacon kindly switched on the lights and found
some pamphlets on the church and its windows.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
10 I could easily close my eyes against the fey decor
and immerse myself in the spirituality of the worship.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a
Yes, and especially glad to be an Anglican. Worshipping in the
company of my party of friends and colleagues also added to
the pleasure of the occasion.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
A truly bizarre cathedral but an extremely spiritual officiant.
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