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St Johns shown in a detail from Plan of the city of Christchurch, Canterbury, NZ, 1868 by W.W. Dartnall

Church of St John the Baptist, circa 1868 (Christchurch City Libraries)

Church of St John the Baptist

formerly on the corner of Hereford and Madras Streets, Latimer Square

The Anglican Church of St John the Baptist was consecrated on the feast day of St John the Evangelist, 27 December, 1865. It was the first Anglican church in Canterbury to be built of stone. It stood at 234 Hereford Street, where the Transitional Cathedral is today, until its demolition after the February 2011 Christchurch earthquake.


The church organ

The organ was installed almost a year after the church opened. It was brought out from England, along with the bell and "some other fittings", by Rev H Harper, who had been appointed Archdeacon of Westland.

The story of the unfortunate Mr Brook is, sadly, true. 


Missing time capsule

During the foundation-laying ceremony for the church, June 1864, a glass bottle was buried beneath the foundation stone as a time capsule. It contained: a parchment listing the members of the building committee, the church wardens and the vestrymen, and current copies of three local newspapers. 


The time capsule has not been found.


The foundation removal in 2011 was monitored by an archaeologist. She reported "the site was very messy at the time and the digger operator was simply putting his bucket in the ground and pulling up whatever was there."  The time capsule might have been destroyed in this process, or it could now be underneath the Transitional Cathedral. 


The Freemasons

St John the Baptist and St John the Evangelist are venerated by Freemasons. The Grand Lodge of Freemasons participated in the foundation-laying, and its members actively raised funds to build the church. They donated a stained glass window memorialising a prominent local freemason Archdeacon Mathias


A scramble for seats

In 1871, the Star printed observations about Christchurch made by a “special correspondent” from the Otago Daily Times. The writer found the town “pleasing” overall but lacking in public seating. The museum was “disappointing”. The cemeteries were well-kept, although he noticed the high number of infant graves. He speculated that the city founders were preferring to build low-rise because of the earthquake risk.

His account of the Sunday service at St John’s includes a vivid description of the “unseemly” rush for seats by people who had not paid for a reserved spot. He found the church "not exceedingly beautiful either within or without" and did not like the service: the sermon was 36 minutes long.

Find out more

Church of St John the Baptist (Anglican), 234-236 Hereford Street, Christchurch: A Report on Archaeological Monitoring, 2017, by Katharine Watson and Christine Whybrew (Authority No 2011/484eq) is available for download through the Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga Digital Library


History of St Johns Blogposts by history student intern 2014


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