Churches of North Canterbury


Church Name: Holy Passion of Our Lord

This church was built in 1866 at Brackenbridge, a town planned by Sir Frederick Weld for his Brackenfield Estate near Amberley, in anticipation of the railway passing that way.

Bishop Moran’s 1873 visit, during the interregnum in Wellington following Bishop Viard’s death, does not refer to a visit to Brackenfield, possibly because Weld was by then Governor of Western Australia and there were too few Catholics in the area for confirmation.

Neither does Bishop Redwood’s 1878 report, although he does refer to a church at Leithfield, which may be Brackenbridge. By 1887 Redwood, by then Archbishop, refers to “The pretty little church of Brackenfield was mainly due to the generosity of Sir Frederick Weld, who, as Mr Weld, resided for some years in that neighbourhood”.

The town of Brackenbridge failed to develop when the railway was placed nearer the coast, through Amberley, and in 1954 the church was moved to Amberley . On its new site it was enlarged and the tower was moved to the other side.

The church was estimated to have cost between £450 and £475 to build, Frederick Weld probably having contributed almost all. The church measured 50 feet by 25 feet with a sacristy at the south west corner. It was constructed of native timber with a shingle roof (replaced in the 1930s), its 14 pews capable of seating 150 people. Few nails were used in its construction.

The church had a rood screen, the only church in Australasia so furnished. It was largely removed in the 1930s by Fr Madden who referred to it as “cow bails obstructing the view of the altar”.

Photo courtesy of the Kowai Archives Society.



Church Name: St Patrick

The first St Patrick’s Church was opened in Kaiapoi on January 15, 1882 by Bishop Redwood, a cottage having previously been used as a Mass Centre.

According to one district history: “The Roman Catholics had been using Hutchinsons Store in Peraki Street for their Masses from the middle of the 1860s. By June 1881 there were sufficient numbers to build a church. It was decided to build it on the site of Hutchinsons Store. Designs were submitted to the building committee which chose a design submitted by Theodore Jacobsen. The church, dedicated to St Patrick, was a substantial timber building on a concrete foundation two feet in height. The nave was 44 feet long and 24 feet wide. The church was lit by single-lighted Gothic windows with margin lights of coloured glass in the sides of the building. There was a belfry surmounted by a spire on the western end. There was enough room for 200 worshippers. The church was opened by Bishop Redwood.”  The cost was £1100, including the land, three acres in extent.

(Photo courtesy of Marist Archives, Wellington)



There is considerable doubt if a church was built at Leithfield or if there is confusion with nearby Brackenbridge. However two sources do name Leithfield as having a church.

Bishop Redwood’s 1878 report on the Parishes in what he was proposing would become the Christchurch diocese referred to Leithfield: “At Leithfield, in the neighbourhood of Amberley, there is a neat wooden chapel, poorly furnished in requisites. It is attended once a month. Congregation small and scattered. Sufficient land belonging to the Catholic Church in this locality.”

He does not mention the nearby Brackenbridge church, then 10 years old, and some doubt remains if these were in fact one and the same.

However, Fr M. O’Meeghan, Held Firm by Faith, says about Rangiora parish “By 1877 it had Binsfeld as resident priest, and ten years later had dependent churches at Kaiapoi, Leithfield, Loburn, Oxford, Brackenfield and Hawarden.”



Church Name: St Mary & St Francis de Sales

Designed by Benjamin Mountfort, the first Rangiora church was opened on July 31,1870 by Fr Chervier. By 1885 it was considered too small and a new church was opened on October 17, 1886 by Bishop Redwood, the foundation stone having been laid on September 13, 1885 by Bishop Moran.

The decision to build a new church rather than enlarge the first one appears to have been made because a schoolroom was also needed. The old church served that purpose for many years.

It consisted of a nave, transepts and chancel with a tower at the north-eastern junction of transept and chancel. The walls were clad in vertical boards and battens, the roof was shingled and there was an open-framed north porch. What distinguished the Rangiora chapel was   the complete assurance with which all elements were brought together in a tightly composed, finely proportioned but economical design.

The timber frame was exposed throughout the interior, revealing the unpainted reverse sides of the exterior weather boards.

(Photo courtesy of Marist Archives, Wellington)