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New Zealand Historic Places Trust - Pouhere Taonga

Holy Trinity Church (Anglican)

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122 Avonside Drive, Linwood, CHRISTCHURCH

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Holy Trinity Church (Anglican). Photographed by Melanie Lovell-Smith 1/02/2002. Copyright NZ Historic Places Trust

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Photographed by Melanie Lovell-Smith 1/02/2002. Copyright NZ Historic Places Trust

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Photographed by Melanie Lovell-Smith 1/02/2002. Copyright NZ Historic Places Trust

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Register Number
Registration Type
Historic Place  - Category I
Canterbury Region
Date Registered
City/District Council
  • Christchurch City Council
Legal Description
Pt Lots 1/2 DP 26713
Other Names
  • Church of the Most Holy Trinity
Brief History
The parish of Avonside, formed in 1855, was one of the first to be established in Canterbury and in 1857 its original church was the first to be consecrated in Christchurch. The original Holy Trinity Church was constructed of cob, and at the time of its consecration was described as having 'no great pretensions to architectural beauty, but is what we should deem in England a good plain but characteristic parish Church.' Between 1859 and the early 1870s the church was extended. Benjamin Woolfield Mountfort (1825-1898), the pre-eminent architect in nineteenth-century Canterbury and a member of the congregation, was involved in the design of these extensions, which included a timber vestry and bell turret (both 1869).

It had been apparent from 1868 that more space was required to accommodate the growing congregation, and that parts of the existing church had been damaged by the weather. A parishioner, Mrs Jane Palairet, offered to pay for the construction of a new chancel designed by Mountfort, if the church agreed to pay for the construction of a new organ chamber. This offer aroused much debate, as some members were unhappy about the inclusion of the proposed chancel screen. The inclusion of the screen and Mountfort's design generally reflected both his High Church views and his commitment to the principles of the Ecclesiological Society. This society had begun at Cambridge University and by the 1840s had issued a series of publications that propounded various principles for the building of churches, as part of the mid nineteenth-century High Church or Anglo-Catholic movement. These included the need for the chancel, nave and transepts to be clearly differentiated both internally (by the use of a chancel screen) and externally. The previous year, 1872, there had been a heated debate in the local newspaper over the 'Romanising' of the Easter service at Avonside and the possible addition of a chancel screen was seen as part of this debate. The final agreement between the vestry and Mrs Palairet saw Mountfort's chancel screen being omitted. It was later erected in 1901 by Mrs Palairet's daughter in memory of her mother.

Mountfort's nave was never built because of ongoing issues with funding. Instead the old cob nave remained, with Mountfort's transepts and chancel joined at its eastern end. This combination was described by Johannes Andersen: 'in building the new, the old was not destroyed, and the two stand gracefully and appealingly side by side' although other contemporary commentators found the combination uneasy.

Mountfort designed the interior of the chancel and its fittings and this remains a particularly significant part of the church. The floor and lower walls were tiled while the upper walls were painted with a buff background overlaid with a pattern in dark red, broken with bands of grey and roundels of white with vermillion flowers in their centre. The timber roof of the church was also painted with geometrical patterns and the 'rich and glowing' interior that this created has been likened to Mountfort's most elaborate secular commission, the Canterbury Provincial Council Chamber.

In 1905 Cyril J. Mountfort (1852-1920), Benjamin's son, replaced the original cob section with a new nave. This differed from his father's original design in that the nave was broader, and he designed the aisles with paired cross gables. The tower Benjamin Mountfort had planned for the west end of the church remains unbuilt. In 1953-1954 Paul Pascoe, a grandson of a former incumbent, Canon W. A. Pascoe, designed the west end of the present church, which finally removed the last part of the pre-1870s church.

Holy Trinity marked a new phase of Anglican church-building in Christchurch, when the temporary churches of the 1850s and 1860s were replaced by more permanent structures. This church is especially important as a Mountfort-designed building, and within Mountfort's career it is notable as his first Anglican church to be built in stone. Mountfort's original design reflected contemporary notions about the correct form for Anglican churches and the interior contains the most complete example of a High Victorian Gothic chancel in New Zealand, despite the decoration on the upper walls having been painted over. The church is surrounded by an historic graveyard which contains the graves of a number of notable Cantabrians including Sir Julius von Haast (1822-1887), explorer, geologist and driving force behind the development of the Canterbury Museum; William Rolleston (1831-1903), a former superintendent of Canterbury province; and Benjamin Mountfort himself. Historically this parish was one of the first to be established in Christchurch, and the church continues to be the centre of Anglican worship in Avonside.
Current Use
  • Religion - Church
Notable Features
Also significant is the lych gate at the north entrance to the churchyard. This is the only survivor of a pair of gates designed by Mountfort in 1872. Once again the money for these was provided by Mrs Palairet.
Construction Dates
  • Designed: 1873 (circa)
  • Original Construction: 1874 - 1877
  • Addition - Stone Nave (Cyril Mountfort): 1905
  • Addition - West end added (Paul Pascoe): 1953 - 1954
Other Information
This historic place was registered under the Historic Places Act 1980. This report includes the text from the original Building Classification Committee report considered by the NZHPT Board at the time of registration.
Entry Written By
Melanie Lovell-Smith
Entry Date
Information Sources
  • Johannes C. Andersen, 'Old Christchurch in Picture and Story', Christchurch, 1949
  • Art New Zealand, I J Lochhead, 'High Victorian Architecture in Christchurch: Three Mountfort Churches', No.49, Summer 1988/89, Auckland, pp. 84 - 89
  • 'The Church of the Most Holy Trinity, Christchurch, New Zealand', Christchurch, 1996
  • Conservation Plan, Chris Cochran, 'Holy Trinity Church Avonside, Christchurch Conservation Plan', 1995
  • Lyttelton Times, 28 February 1857.
  • Jenny May, 'Above the verandah', Christchurch Press, 11 May 1996, p.14, Thursday, 28 March, 1872: Saturday 30 March, 1872: Monday, 1 April 1872; Tuesday, 2 April 1872.
  • New Zealand Historic Places Trust, Books & Articles: Akaroa, Lyttleton and Christchurch, Historic Buildings, Landmarks and Sites, Pamphlet published by the Canterbury Regional Committee of the NZHPT, 1981 edition
  • Parish of Avonside, 1957, Christchurch, 1957
  • S Parr, Canterbury Pilgrimage:the first hundred years of the Church of England in Canterbury, New Zealand, Christchurch, 1951
  • Frances Porter (ed), Historic Buildings of Dunedin, South Island, Methuen, Auckland, 1983., Jonathan Mane, 'Pilgrim Churches', pp. 68 - 81
  • The Sun, 'Avonside was first consecrated church in Canterbury', Christchurch, 20 February 1932, p.17
  • University of Canterbury, Files: Index of Anglican Churches, Christchurch. Catalogue of Ecclesiastical Architecture and Stained Glass. Compiled by Fiona Little 1979-81 (held vertical file, University of Canterbury, School of Fine Arts Reference Room)
  • W. Trevor Williams, 'A short history of the parish of Avonside, Christchurch, New Zealand, 1855 - 1955', Christchurch, 1955


Information on this page is correct to the best of the Trust's knowledge. If you have any additional information you would like to share with the Trust, please contact the Registrar. You may wish to contact the Trust to view our paper records.