First Things | 1/1/1991 | Stephen Schmalhofer
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In February 2011, a 6.3-magnitude earthquake devastated Christchurch, New Zealand, killing 185 people and damaging dozens of historic buildings. Among the ruins is the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament, also known as Christchurch Basilica, the spiritual center of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Christchurch. A statue of the Virgin Mary on the north tower became a symbol of hope for the city during the aftermath and aftershocks. The quake had rotated the statue 180 degrees, so that Mary looks out upon the wreckage from the shattered window of the cathedral.

As New York City considers the reconstruction of McKim, Mead, and White’s masterpiece Penn Station, the Diocese of Christchurch has an opportunity to rebuild and celebrate a great Kiwi Catholic architect praised by George Bernard Shaw as the New Zealand Brunelleschi. Francis William Petre was born in New Zealand in 1847, the third of sixteen children. His father, one of the founders of Wellington, was the second son of Baron Petre, a director of the New Zealand Company. The Petres were one of England’s oldest and most influential Catholic families, and Petre’s career shows the influence of his Catholic faith.

Man - Petre - Msgr - Haffreingue - Jesuit

As a young man, Petre attended Msgr. Haffreingue’s Jesuit boarding school at Boulogne-sur-Mer. A better mentor to a future church architect would be impossible to imagine. In 1820, Haffreingue had received a call from God to rebuild the Cathedral of Notre Dame, destroyed in the French Revolution. Haffreingue did not commission a feasibility study, yet generous donations were sent from France and England, allowing him to complete a soaring dome in the style of St. Paul’s in London and Saint-Louis des Invalides in Paris. Without a single committee or consultant, the Prince of Torlonia donated an exquisite altar of Carrara marble, alabaster, gilded bronze, and 146 species of fine stone arranged in...
(Excerpt) Read more at: First Things
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