Heart of the City: The Story of Christchurch’s Controversial Cathedral

Edmund Bohan


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From the days even before Christchurch was settled its cathedral has been the focus of ferocious public debate: Where should a cathedral be built? How would it be paid for? Should it be built in wood or stone in an earthquake-prone country? Who should oversee the building? It took far too long to build and its financial position has often been perilous. In recent times there have been fresh quarrels over a visitors’ centre and whether ratepayers should help to pay for necessary earthquake strengthening. And, when the building was left almost in ruins, should it be demolished and rebuilt or should it be restored? And, most important of all to the people of Christchurch, to whom did it really belong?

It has been a tranquil and lovely place of devotion and worship, and a venue for the celebration of civic, national and international events. Thousands of tourists have walked its aisles and climbed its tower. It has won fame for the beauty of its music. Along with the Avon/Ōtakaro River, its silhouette appears on all the city’s official signage. Christ Church Cathedral has stood in its square for close to a century and a half.

Acclaimed historian Edmund Bohan tells the full and fascinating story of this beloved building, from its beginnings in an embryonic settlement to its resurrection after disaster. In a lively, approachable text – well-illustrated throughout – he outlines the cathedral’s remarkable past and brings to life the equally remarkable people who have worked and worshipped there. He details the triumphs and the troubles, and looks to a future in which this instantly recognisable church will once again stand as the safe and welcoming heart of the city to which it belongs.

Additional information

Weight 0.9 kg
Dimensions 15.3 × 23.4 cm

About the Author

Historian, biographer, novelist and former international operatic and concert singer – Edmund Bohan was born in Christchurch on 5 October 1935. After graduating from Canterbury University College with an MA Hons in History in 1959, he worked as a research assistant to the Parliamentary Historian Dr A.H. McLintock, and taught English and History before embarking on a singing and freelance writing career in Australia in 1962–1963, and in Britain from 1964 until 1987. During those years he sang throughout Britain, Europe, Australia, New Zealand and in Brazil in over 2000 performances of more than 170 different major choral, operatic and orchestral works, solo recitals and broadcasts for the BBC, the Australian Broadcasting Commission and Radio New Zealand. In addition, his first books were published.
After returning to New Zealand in 1987, and encouraged by historians Dr Bill Oliver, Sir Keith Sinclair and Jim Gardner, he resumed his studies of New Zealand’s nineteenth century politics (of which he was soon acknowledged to be a leading authority) and New Zealand’s colonial society and culture. In 1990 he was one of the first recipients of the Ministry of Internal Affairs new Awards in History to write the first biography of New Zealand’s youngest and one of its longest serving Prime Ministers, Edward Stafford; and since then has received a number of writing, research and publishing grants from Creative New Zealand for a succession of non-fiction works. Simultaneously, at the prompting of his then literary agent, Ray Richards, he began the Inspector O’Rorke series of historical novels set mainly in 1880s Christchurch but also in America, Greece and London. He also wrote feature articles for The Press, became a regular book reviewer for The Press, New Zealand Books, The Dominion and Landfall, and wrote and presented a series of radio talks for Radio NZ Concert.
He was the 1995 resident John David Stout Fellow at the Stout Centre, Victoria University of Wellington; lectured for the Continuing Education Department at Canterbury University, and delivered seminars for Canterbury and Victoria University History Departments, and the Stout Centre’s and New Zealand Genealogical Society’s conferences on Irish and Scottish influences on colonial New Zealand.
In the 2019 New Year Honours List, Edmund Bohan was awarded the MNZM for services to music, historical research and literature.

Look Inside


ISBN: 9780995143845

Pages: 320

Dimensions: 153 x 234mm

Format: Cased & Jacketed + Ribbon

Author: Edmund Bohan

Published: November 2021