Christchurch Cathedral, spiritual need or historical delight?
Often witnesses to a large degree of devastation (be it natural or man-made) need to step back and create our own point of reference in order to make it “thinkable” at all. After reading Chessa’s article last week on the Christchurch Cathedral, I recalled similar events and ways of thinking surrounding the reconstruction of a church in my German community after World War II.
Within four days and nights in July 1943 the city of Hamburg was, in large part, destroyed. 40,000 people were dead and one million were homeless. The church of St Mark was burned to the ground the surrounding community was in ruins.
Interestingly enough, the Lutheran World Federation had already initiated a programme for “emergency churches,” which planned to replace church buildings destroyed in the war. These were to be put in place for the forseeable future as no one knew when the country would be able to rebuild new ones.
The architect Otto Bartning (1883-1959), who was an eminent modern Lutheran church builder in the 1920s, was chosen as the designer for a standardized church construction system. The Lutheran church recovery programme was funded by international support and local self-help. The construction system of Swiss pinewood trusses and a lump sum of US$10,000 was provided and the community cleared the site and constructed the foundations.
In the case of St Mark in Hamburg, they created a hybrid by filling in the wooden Bartning-nave between the remainders of tower and choir. A prolific local architect - Gerhard Langmaack – created this particular design and oversaw the work, which was erected by the community (mainly women and children as the men were mostly killed or prisoners of war) in 1948-49.
Another church in Hamburg, St. Nikolai, built by Sir George Gilbert Scott in the 1800s was the wealthiest church in the area and at one time the highest building in the world. It too was damaged severely, however it was mostly demolished and only a few walls and the tower remained. In the hard times of the post-war the community had to prioritize and there was simply no way to reconstruct the church while a million people remained homeless.
I think that the Cantabrians need to prioritize as well; there is an entire city to be rebuilt. In my opinion there are four options:
The damaged cathedral gets thoroughly assessed and rebuilt and restored to its former glory which will take both considerable time and funding.
The cathedral moves to where the rebuilt city moves. Then Shigeru Ban could build his design straight away in an appropriate location at the envisaged new centre of Christchurch. This would also leave more time to collect funding for the old cathedral, if they wished to restore it.
The Cathedral’s remains get fenced off and become a monument to the failure of human efforts as Dallas Graham suggests in his Guardian article directly after the quake.
The cathedral is reduced to those parts that can be assumed safe and then completed with a quake resistant construction as a monument to challenges and ultimate success - honest and without sentimentality; and covered by the Venice Charter from 1964, Article 12.
The people of Christchurch are under huge pressure and they need a place for prayer as well as a spiritual beacon of hope. Thinking about the fate of the cathedral, they and all of us should consider that man can do great things, but we’re never perfect. However, man is given the capacity to learn from his flaws and grow to new levels. Christchurch Cathedral is an opportunity to demonstrate this, challenge and growth.
- Posted Sept. 14, 2011