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Our Environment: Issue 14 Autumn 1998

Our Environment: Christchurch City Council's Environmental Newsletter

The Rose Historic Chapel

The Rose Chapel (former St Mary's Convent Chapel) is the sole survivor of a group of heritage buildings that once comprised the St Mary's Convent complex for the Sisters of Mercy Order in north Colombo Street. While the convent buildings were sadly demolished in 1994, the chapel was purchased by the Council in order to ensure its retention. Together with the Rose Historic Chapel Trust and Friends of the Chapel, the Council is undertaking the conservation and restoration of this building for its new use as a community facility.

Drawings of the Rose Chapel and proposed utilities extension prepared by Skews Hey Usher

Built in 1910, the chapel was the first of six church designs the Luttrell Brothers undertook as the unofficial Diocesan architects for the Roman Catholic Church. Alfred and Sydney Luttrell established what was to become one of New Zealand's foremost Edwardian architectural practices when they came to Christchurch from Tasmania in 1902 after winning the competition for the design of the White Hart Hotel (now demolished) in High Street.

Among their notable extant early buildings are the former Royal Exchange building 1904, (now known as the Regent Theatre building), the Theatre Royal 1906-08, the New Zealand Express Company building 1905-06, the perpendicular Gothic Revival Chapel at the St John of God Hospital, largest of their ecclesiastical buildings in New Zealand, the parish churches at New Brighton (1911) and Sumner (1912) and the Anglican Church of St James on Riccarton Road in 1922-3.

In around 30 years of practice in Christchurch, the Luttrell brothers' skill and versatility made an impact in the architecture of Christchurch that remains an important and visible contribution to our architectural heritage as is clearly the case with the Rose Chapel.

The Sisters of Mercy, for whom the chapel was built, came to New Zealand in 1850, some 20 years after the order was founded in Ireland. The Christchurch branch of the order was established in 1894 and the St Mary's School opened shortly after this. Though the Luttrell brothers had designed a convent building for the Sisters in 1907, it was not built until 1919; the Sisters decided that the Chapel and school building should take precedence. (The school building was erected in 1912).

The chapel is a small, symmetrical early English Gothic-styled building constructed in Hoon Hay and Oamaru stone. The Luttrells have clearly articulated the internal functions of the chapel - that is the entrance porch, choir loft, nave and sanctuary - by using different roof levels and a geometric tracery window and rose wheel window at the east and west ends respectively. The chapel's new name was derived from the prominent west end rose wheel.

A significant feature of the chapel is the outstanding collection of stained glass windows of which a large number were crafted in the workshop of noted craftsman John Hardman and Co., of Birmingham between 1910 and 1916. With their rich colours and carefully executed designs, these windows make a major contribution to the overall aesthetic and serenity of the interior.

Landscaping has been planned to complement the chapel. Parks Planner Suzanne Weld said that some 60-70 rose bushes have been planted with various themes such as women and children, the arts and religion. Continued maintenance of the rose gardens is being under taken by the Trust and the Friends in association with the Parks Unit. However, the landscape work will not be completed until the structural strengthening and conservation work, overseen by architects Skews Hey Ussher, has been finished. The proposal for the strengthening work has been accepted and Property Officer Grant Ancell says the work is scheduled to start late March this year.

by Jenny May
City Design and Heritage

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