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Old St Paul's


Old St Paul’s Cathedral (1866)

Our one memorable contribution to world architecture?

Historian Michael King called wooden Gothic churches ‘our one memorable contribution to world architecture’. He may be right. Throughout the country they take their place alongside our other icons, the halls, war memorials and lodges, ‘Selwyn’ wooden Gothic churches and gems such as this one. Architect David Kernohan aptly describes Old St Paul’s, Frederick Thatcher’s wonderful dark timber church, as ‘magnificent, like the upturned hull of a galleon’.

In 1865 Sir George Grey laid the foundation stone. St Paul’s, as it was then known, replaced an earlier church that stood in what are now the grounds of Parliament. It was extended several times under the direction of several prominent architects, but that has merely added to the beauty of capital’s premier Anglican church.

St Paul’s was one of four key battles fought by the embryonic preservation movement during the early 1950s – the others were Christ Church Taita, Partington’s Windmill (Auckland) and Bethune & Hunter’s counting house (Wellington). These threats helped to forge the National (from 1963, New Zealand) Historic Places Trust (now Heritage New Zealand). We lost the secular structures but kept the churches – no thanks to the church in the case of this building, which since 1966 has been in Crown ownership. Heritage New Zealand manages it and it used for weddings, funerals and concerts.

Further information

This site is item number 31 on the History of New Zealand in 100 Places list.

On the ground

The building is curated. Inside are displays and a wide range of memorabilia.



  • Margaret Alington, Frederick Thatcher and St. Paul’s, New Zealand Historic Places Trust, Wellington, 1965

Text: Gavin McLean, 2013

Contemporary images: Andy Palmer. 2012

Historic images:

Alexander Turnbull Library
References: 1/4-009967-F (photographer: F Spencer), 1/2-021154-F, 1/1-025547-G (photographer: William Williams) and 1/2-010900-F.
Permission of the Alexander Turnbull Library, National Library of New Zealand, Te Puna Matauranga o Aotearoa, must be obtained before any reuse of their images.

How to cite this page

Old St Paul's, URL:, (Manatū Taonga — Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated